Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Leaders of the Buenaventura Civic Strike Threatened

Photo source:comité paro civico Buenaventura facebook

International news about Colombia depicts a similar narrative: a picture of a Colombia that, after more than 50 years of civil war, has become the model of peace, making it a safe place for tourists to visit and for international businesses to investment. They cite the Peace Accords that were signed by the Colombian government and the FARC in 2016. What international discourse fails to address, however, is the reality faced by many human rights activists in the country today. The organization Somos Defensores cited that aggressions against social activists increased by 6% since last year.

We fear every day for the safety of our partners and the community leaders we accompany, as they experience a number of threats while doing their work. Right now, we are especially concerned for the safety of the leaders of the civic strike in Buenaventura. “Human rights work has become a very delicate matter,” said a member of the Civic Strike Committee (Comité del Paro Cívico), “women leaders have disproportionally faced harassment,” she added. The Buenaventura Civic Strike, which took place this past May was a three-week long strike in which the residents of Buenaventura peacefully protested the State’s historic neglect of the city. Rather than addressing the people’s concerns, the government responded by sending the National Police and Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) to suppress the protest. The ESMAD attacked the peaceful protesters using U.S. made munition. The civic strike ended when the Colombian government agreed to negotiate with the people of Buenaventura. Since this negotiation, the leaders responsible for organizing the strike have become targets to those who find their leadership threatening to the status quo. The threats come in different forms: intimidating phone calls, suspicious men in motorcycle following them home. There have even been cases in which the brakes of the vehicles of the civic strike leaders have been tampered with. Many of the leaders have had to change their phone numbers in an attempt to suppress the harassment and threats. Many are afraid to report the threats to the ombudsman’s office because of fear that denouncing will only make them a more visible target. The National Protection Unit has been distributing bulletproof vest and phones as one strategy for protection. However, the leaders don’t feel that this is enough, and many, in fact, feel that it only makes them more visible to those who wish to harm them.
These social leaders along with many other leaders in Colombia face danger for taking the position of defending civilians, their lands, and the right to a dignified life. Ensuring the safety of social leaders is crucial for a sustainable peace. These leaders see beyond themselves and their own comfort. They continue to work despite the threats. It is important that the international community understand that, despite the Peace Accords, social leaders continue to be persecuted, yet their presence is crucial for building a durable peace in Colombia. We urge the officials within the US State Department and congressional leadership to pressure the Colombian government into taking the necessary measures to better protect social leaders in Buenaventura and in the rest of the country. Finally,  U.S. aid to ESMAD used to violently repress civilians must stop!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

U.S. Pressure for Forcible Eradication a Factor in Tragic event in Tumaco, Colombia

Photo source: El Espectador

The deaths of at least 6 rural farmers in Tumaco, Colombia on Thursday, October 5th showed yet again the high cost in human lives and human rights of the "War on Drugs" and its militarized approach. More than 200 rural farmers, or campesinos, were gathered to impede forcible eradication of the coca plants when the National police shot at the large crowd wounding a reported 20 people and killing at least 6, very possibly more. Due to lack of a distribution infrastructure for other crops and absence of the rule of law, coca is the local population's only realistic option for making a living. Accounts by the Colombian authorities claim that police and soldiers opened fire after FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) dissidents launched cylinder bombs at the crowd. However, first-hand accounts by the community indicate that the Colombian National Police opened fire indiscriminately into the crowd. The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, supports the claims made by the security forces, despite evidence and local sources accounts.

The National Police’s actions were brought into question again for shooting at human rights defenders and tampering with evidence from the incident. As part of a verification mission on Sunday, October 8th, a brigade of national and international human rights organizations including Justapaz, Justicia y Paz, the UN, and OAS gathered in Tandil, a place near where the massacre had taken place. According to a denouncement by Justapaz, when members of the delegation approached the area where a possible cadaver laid from the incident, they were shot at by the National Police. Vice President and former National Police head Naranjo has said publically that the police acted improperly, and four police members have been suspended because of their role in the massacre. Also, the local commander apologized  for the attack on the verification commission.

Acute confrontation persists as the police continue to forcibly eradicate the coca plant. Paradoxically, voluntary substitution of coca with licit crops is a cornerstone of the internationally acclaimed peace accords between the government of Colombia and the now demobilized guerrilla army of the FARC, which has had a strong presence precisely in Tumaco.
So why is the central government of Colombia willing to order forcible eradication? One significant factor is the pressure the U.S. government is exerting for short-term "results," defined as acreage of coca eradicated. Voluntary substitution takes time and intentionally planned support in order to succeed. Although, forcible eradication can happen comparatively quickly it has not succeeded. At most it suppresses coca cultivation. Truly changing the panorama requires a longer term approach that provides genuine alternatives to the small growers. This event is proof that the Colombian government is willing to do anything, even violate human rights, to show eradication results to the pressuring U.S. government. We urge the U.S. government to support voluntary substitution in the framework of the Peace Accords and to help fund rural development in coca-growing areas.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Municiones estadounidenses utilizadas durante represión violenta del Paro Cívico en Buenaventura, Colombia

Dígale a su miembro del Congreso que, de acuerdo con la Ley de Leahy, suspenda inmediatamente la ayuda, incluidas las municiones, a la unidad antidisturbios de la ESMAD de la Policía Nacional Colombiana.
Acción Permanente por la Paz está seriamente perturbada por el uso de municiones estadounidenses -específicamente los gases lacrimógenos y las balas de goma- en la violenta represión estatal del Paro Cívico en la ciudad de Buenaventura. El puerto afro-colombiano históricamente ha sido abandonado, empobrecido y asolado por el conflicto.
El martes 16 de mayo de 2017, aproximadamente 89 organizaciones de la sociedad civil, unidas bajo la figura del Comité del Paro Cívico, iniciaron un paro cívico indefinido en Buenaventura. El viernes 19 de mayo, la Policía Nacional y el Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD) atacaron un bloqueo pacífico, utilizando gas lacrimógeno, helicópteros, bombas aturdidoras y balas de goma contra niños, mujeres embarazadas, jóvenes y ancianos. Trágicamente, el martes 30 de mayo, nuestra organización acompañada colombiana, La Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz,  también nos informó que en el contexto de esta intensa represión, dos residentes de Buenaventura fueron asesinados por el grupo paramilitar Gaitanista. Y al menos seis personas han sido reportadas heridas desde que el ESMAD comenzó a disparar contra civiles con armas de fuego, comenzando en la madrugada del miércoles 31 de mayo.
Después de los ataques del 19 de mayo, Acción Permanente por la Paz pidió a los funcionarios
del Departamento de Estado de los Estados Unidos y a la dirección del Congreso que presionaran al gobierno colombiano para que lograra una solución pacífica a los auténticos problemas planteados por el paro cívico. Desafortunadamente, a medida que la violenta represión estatal ha continuado, el gobierno colombiano ha negado repetidamente la solicitud del Comité Cívico de declarar una emergencia económica, social y ecológica. Y los informes han proliferado sobre el l ESMAD usando fuerza indebida, incluyendo el uso de los gases lacrimógenos y las balas de goma, contra la comunidad afro-colombiana que protestaba pacíficamente en las calles, así como contra miembros de la comunidad (niños entre ellos) en sus hogares. Lamentablemente, esta represión violenta se utiliza efectivamente para facilitar la continuación de los intereses de empresas privadas quienes benefician del uso del puerto. ¡Dígale al Congreso que esto debe parar!
Fotos de las latas de gas lacrimógeno recogidas de estos ataques muestran que están inscritas con la insignia de la línea de sistemas combinados tácticos (CTS) de la compañía estadounidense de productos de seguridad Combined Systems, Inc. (CSI).
Las protestas en desarrollo en el puerto afro-colombiano de Buenaventura subrayan que la ayuda de los Estados Unidos al ESMAD está directamente en conflicto con los $20 millones de dólares asignados bajo el Fondo de Apoyo Económico para el año fiscal 2017, el cual el Congreso ordenó distribuir a las comunidades afro-colombianas e indígenas. La ayuda estadounidense sería mejor empleada para atender las demandas de las manifestaciones, en lugar de reprimirlas.
A pesar de la represión por parte del Estado colombiano, las manifestaciones de unidad de la comunidad han continuado, y las conversaciones han avanzado entre el Comité del Paro Cívico y los representantes del gobierno. El 29 de mayo, los negociadores acordaron crear un fondo especial para ayudar a resolver los problemas sociales, ambientales y económicos dentro de la región. Pero la represión debe detenerse para que se realice un progreso real.
Estamos en solidaridad con nuestros socios colombianos que arriesgan sus vidas para defender a sus comunidades y regiones: ¡dígale a su representante que deje de ayudar al ESMAD represivo ya!
En solidaridad,
Acción Permanente por la Paz 

US Munitions Used in Violent Repression of Ongoing Strikes in Buenaventura, Colombia

Witness for Peace is gravely concerned about the use of US munitions--specifically teargas and rubber bullets--in the violent state repression of the ongoing general strike (Civic Strike) in the historically abandoned, impoverished, and conflict-ravaged Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura.
On Tuesday, May 16th, 2017, approximately 89 civil society organizations, joined together under the umbrella of the Civic Strike Committee (Comité del Paro Cívico), began an indefinite general strike in Buenaventura. On Friday, May 19th, the National Police and Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) attacked a peaceful blockade, using teargas, helicopters, stun bombs, and rubber bullets against children, pregnant women, young people, and elderly individuals. Tragically, on Tuesday, May 30th, our Colombian partner organization The Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission also reported that, in the context of this intense repression, two residents of Buenaventura were murdered by the Gaitanista paramilitary group. And at least six people have been reported injured since ESMAD reportedly began shooting at civilians with firearms, beginning in the early morning on Wednesday, May 31st.
Following the May 19th attacks, Witness for Peace called on officials within the US State Department and congressional leadership to pressure the Colombian government to reach a peaceful solution to the genuine problems raised by the Strike.
Unfortunately, though, as violent State repression has continued, the Colombian government has repeatedly denied the Civic Strike Committee’s request to declare an economic, social, and ecological emergency. And reports have proliferated of ESMAD using undue force, including teargas and rubber bullets, against the Afro-Colombian community peacefully demonstrating in the streets, as well as against community members (children among them) in their homes. Sadly, this violent repression is effectively being used to facilitate the continuation of private interests profiting by use of the port. Tell Congress this must stop!
Photos of tear gas canisters collected from these attacks show that they're inscribed with the insignia of the Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) line of US security products company Combined Systems, Inc. (CSI). (*Scroll below the signature for more on CSI, as well as US arm sales and security aid to Colombia.)
Ongoing protests in the Afro-Colombian port of Buenaventura underscore that US aid to ESMAD directly conflicts with the $20 million allocated under the Economic Support Fund for FY 2017, that Congress mandated assist Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. US aid would be better spent addressing the demands of the demonstrations, instead of repressing them.
In spite of the repression by the Colombian State, demonstrations of community unity have continued, and talks have moved forward between the Civic Strike Committee and government representatives. On May 29th, negotiators agreed to create a special fund to help address the social, environmental, and economic problems within the region. But the repression must stop for any real progress to be made.
We are in solidarity with our Colombian partners who put their lives on the line in defense of their communities and regions: tell your representative to stop aid to the repressive ESMAD now!
In solidarity,
Witness for Peace

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Acción Urgente y Denuncia de APP Sobre Respuesta Violenta del Estado Contra el Paro Civico en Buenaventura, Colombia

Graphic from the Civic Strike reading: "Buenaventura and Chocó demand solution, not repression."

Acción Permanente Por la Paz está profundamente preocupado por la respuesta del gobierno colombiano al paro general en la ciudad portuaria Afrocolombiana de Buenaventura y la región del Pacífico. El martes 16 de mayo de 2017, 89 organizaciones de la sociedad civil, unidas bajo el paraguas del Comité del Paro Cívico, iniciaron un paro general indefinida en Buenaventura, planeada con bastante antelación. Esta huelga general también está sucediendo en el departamento de Chocó.

Buenaventura y el Pacífico colombiano han sido áreas históricamente abandonadas y victimizadas por el estado colombiano durante todo el conflicto armado. La mayoría de la población ha sido y sigue siendo víctima de desplazamiento forzado, y se estima que el 80,6% de la población de Buenaventura vive en la pobreza.

Los organizadores del paro están pidiendo que el gobierno colombiano declare una emergencia económica, social y ecológica en virtud del artículo 215 de la Constitución colombiana. Han exigido lo siguiente: 1) Aumento de la cobertura de atención médica (tratamiento médico preventivo, avanzado y medicina tradicional); 2) Recuperación y conservación de ecosistemas degradados; 3) Aumento del gasto en educación en todos los niveles, desde la primaria hasta la universidad; 4) Apoyo gubernamental para actividades culturales y recreativas; 5) Saneamiento básico e infraestructura, y el funcionamiento público y comunitario de los servicios públicos; 6) Acceso a la justicia y reparación de las víctimas individuales y colectivas; 7) Planificación urbana y vivienda nueva; Y 8) Fortalecimiento de la producción regional, junto con medidas económicas, judiciales y políticas que generen empleos dignos y salarios. Todo esto se puede encontrar en la página Facebook del Comité del Paro Cívico.

Mientras que la huelga general en Buenaventura ha sido bien organizada y en general pacífica, los movimientos sociales locales y también el senador colombiano Alexander López, recientemente denunciaron la conducta violenta y provocativa de la Policía Nacional y el Escuadrón Anti-Riot Móvil (ESMAD) el 19 de mayo. Cuando la ESMAD fue ordenada a despejar un bloqueo pacífico, utilizaron gases, helicópteros, bombas aturdidoras, tanques y armas de fuego contra niños, mujeres embarazadas, jóvenes y ancianos. Hay reportes de bebés muertos por los gases, y también informes de pescadores artesanales amenazados por el grupo paramilitar gaitanista por su participación en el paro. Muchos informes nacionales de prensa se han centrado en algunos casos de saqueo, mientras que no han discutido las demandas de los organizadores del paro y la tremenda organización que se requirió en la planificación y el mantenimiento de las protestas.

Acción Permanente por la Paz apoya las demandas de nuestras organizaciones socias, y también demandamos que el gobierno de Estados Unidos y la Embajada de los Estados Unidos en Colombia contacten al gobierno colombiano y exijan que:

· Los ciudadanos de Buenaventura y de todos los departamentos del Pacífico colombiano puedan ejercer su derecho a protestar libremente y con seguridad

· Las amenazas y los ataques contra los organizadores de la huelga y los participantes, particularmente de los grupos paramilitares, se tomen serio y se investiguen a fondo

· El diálogo del gobierno colombiano con los organizadores de la huelga para considerar seriamente sus demandas y cumplir en forma oportuna cualquier acuerdo concertado

Estamos en solidaridad con nuestros socios colombianos que ponen sus vidas en la línea en defensa de sus comunidades y regiones: por favor, pida al Departamento de Estado y al liderazgo pertinente del Congreso que haga las anteriores demandas al gobierno colombiano.

En solidaridad,

Acción Permanente por la Paz

WFP Urgent Action and Condemnation of Violent State Response to General Strike in Buenaventura, Colombia

Graphic from the Civic Strike reading: "Buenaventura and Chocó demand solution, not repression."
Witness for Peace is gravely concerned about the Colombian government’s response to the ongoing general strike currently taking place in the Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura and the Pacific region. On Tuesday, May 16th, 2017, 89 civil society organizations, joined together under the umbrella of the Civil Strike Committee (Comité del Paro Cívico), began an indefinite general strike in Buenaventura, planned well in advance. This ongoing general strikeis also taking place in the department of Chocó.
Buenaventura and the Colombian Pacific have been areas historically abandoned and victimized by the Colombian State throughout the duration of the armed conflict. A majority of the population have been and continue to be victims of forced displacement, and an estimated 80.6 percent of Buenaventura population's lives in poverty.
Strike organizers are calling for the Colombian government to declare an economic, social, and ecological emergency under article 215 of the Colombian Constitution. They've demanded the following: 1) Increased healthcare coverage (preventive, advanced medical treatment, and traditional medicine); 2) Recovery and conservation of degraded ecosystems; 3) Increased education spending at all levels, from elementary to university; 4) Government support for cultural and recreational activities; 5) Basic sanitation and infrastructure, and the public and community operation of public services; 6) Access to justice and reparations for individual and collective victims; 7) Urban planning and new housing; and 8) Strengthening of regional production, along with economic, judicial, and political measures that create dignified jobs and salaries. All of this can be found on the Comité del Paro Cívico’s Facebook page.
While the general strike in Buenaventura has been highly organized and mostly peaceful, local social movements, as well as Colombian Senator Alexander López, recently denounced the violent and provocative conduct of the National Police and the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) on Friday, May 19th. When the ESMAD was ordered to clear a peaceful blockade, they used gases, helicopters, stun bombs, tanks, and firearms against children, pregnant women, young people, and elderly individuals. There are reports of babies dying due to the gases, and also reports of artisanal fishers being threatened by the Gaitanista paramilitary group for their participation in the strike. Many national media reports have focused on some instances of looting, while failing to discuss the strike organizers’ demands and the tremendous organization that went into planning and maintaining the protests.
Witness for Peace supports our partner organizations’ demands, including that the US government and US Embassy in Colombia contact the Colombian government and demand that:
·       Citizens in Buenaventura and in all departments of the Colombian Pacific be able to exercise their right to freely and safely protest
·       Threats and attacks against strike organizers and participants, particularly from paramilitary groups, be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated
·       The Colombian government dialogue with the strike organizers to seriously consider their demands and follow through in a timely manner on any agreements made
We are in solidarity with our Colombian partners who put their lives on the line in defense of their communities and regions: please tell the State Department and pertinent congressional leadership to make the above demands to the Colombian government.
In solidarity,
Witness for Peace