Monday, October 18, 2010

Colombian Minorities Develop Policy Proposals for the New Santos Administration

By Andrea Bachmann

Last weekend more than 17,000 people gathered at Bogota’s National University for the inaugural meeting of the Congreso de los Pueblos - the “Peoples’ Congress.” Known as the Minga in previous years, the event was originally established in 2008 to unite indigenous groups from different regions in a shared struggle for their cultural and traditional rights.

This year, organizers decided to expand, renaming the event to reflect a more diverse attendance. Indigenous groups joined Afro-Colombians and other ethnic groups, labor unions, students, and various social organizations from across the country to express their solidarity, discuss the mutual challenges they face, and develop proposals for the new Santos administration.

On Friday October 8th, participants arrived by the busload and marched to the university, transforming it from campus to small community. Cooking fires roared, drums and flutes sounded, soccer matches ensued, and even a few small stores emerged along rows of tents and buses.

Indigenous guards lead the Peoples' Congress in the event's final march through Bogota on Oct. 12

Over the following three days, Congress attendees took part in round table discussions organized by problematic topic, by occupational sector, and by region of origin. All were given the opportunity to offer input on issues such as land and labor rights, institutional violence, education, economic development, and human rights. The conclusions reached at these meetings were then compiled into a proclamation, "Word of the Peoples' Congress: The Country's Proposal for a Life of Dignity."

On its fifth and final day, the Peoples' Congress culminated in a march from the National University to the Plaza Bolivar, a central plaza in downtown Bogota, where organizers formally presented the proclamation and musicians led the crowd in a final celebration of unity. The movement - now three years in the making - showed unprecedented growth that is only expected to continue in years to come.

Andrea Bachmann is a Witness for Peace intern based in Colombia.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Students and Musicians Support Colombian Sugar Cane Workers

by Andrea Bachmann

In Bogotá this past Sunday, October 3rd, student organizers joined several music groups and social organizations to host a concert in support of Valle de Cauca sugar cane workers who are facing judicial proceedings for the 2008 strike against unjust working conditions.

During the strike on June 14, 2008, over 18,000 sugar cane cutters and their families organized to demand fair wages and better working hours. For exercising their constitutional right to protest, six leaders of the strike are being tried for crimes against the state, including conspiracy and sabotage. They now await the verdict of their trial.

Strike leaders address supporters at “Cortazo.” Two signs in front of the stage read, “We are in solidarity with the June 14th Sugar Cane Cutters’ Movement” and “Protest is not a crime.”

At Sunday’s "Cortazo" concert, a host of supporters gathered to demonstrate solidarity with the sugar cane workers and the strike, known as the June 14th Movement. The six prosecuted – four sugar cane cutters and two advisers to a senator’s office – were present to hear various musicians denounce the judicial action against them and to express to the crowd both their gratitude and their firm commitment to this fight for justice.

The six leaders facing prosecution, from left to right: Alberto Bejarano, José Oney Valencia, Oscar Bedoya, Omar Sedano, Raul Chacon, Juan Pablo Ochoa.

Andrea Bachmann is an intern with Witness for Peace.