LASC5: Conference to Build a Stronger Movement to End US Militarism and the Militarization of Latin America

Militarism and the Militarization of Latin America

LASC5: Education and Strategy Conference to Build a Stronger Movement to End US Militarism and the Militarization of Latin America
Washington, DC – April 8-10, 2011
Pre-Register Now

Sponsored by: Latin America Solidarity Coalition in Conjunction with School of the Americas Watch Days of Action (April 4-11, 2011)
Register now to attend an informative and exciting conference to build a larger movement to end US militarism and the militarization of US relations with Latin America and the world. Join Latin America solidarity activists, people of faith, academics, youth and students, anti-war and immigration activists, labor, women, and all sectors which are working to build a better world. The United States is at a crossroads. Down one road lies permanent war, a stagnant economy and loss of liberty. Down the other lies a new world of cooperation, prosperity and freedom. This conference is all about how we can work together to travel on the road to a new and better world.

Please join us for a weekend of plenaries and workshops to educate and inspire each other and to plan actions, strategies, and organizing tools to build a greater movement to overcome US militarism. Participate in SOA Watch’s Days of Action including lobbying and direct action to shut down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, better known as the School of the Americas. Agitate for closing US military bases in Latin America and for an end to US militarization throughout the Americas and the world. Click HERE to register.

We recognize that US militarism affects both the entire world and everything about our daily lives. If you are working to end US wars, morally stand in favor of peace, are in solidarity with the oppressed,

are working to end racism and the criminalization of immigrants, stand solidly in favor of our First Amendment freedoms, or are working to create new economic models that defend the interests of workers and farmers over those of corporations and bankers – then you should attend this conference to build a strong and unified movement against US militarism.

Some topics covered by this conference will include: US military bases, military spending, immigration and border militarization, coups, war profiteers, privatization of war, closing the School of the Americas, foreign

military and police aid, growing our skills in media, research, and other organizing, counter recruitment and support for active duty resisters, US relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Honduras, etc., organizing within sectors to resist militarism, cross movement organizing, domestic costs of militarism, direct action, and much more.

Register HERE and visit the LASC web page at www.lasolidarity.org frequently to see updates on workshops, plenary speakers, direct actions and other preparatory information. Visit the SOA Watch Days of Action web page for details on actions scheduled from April 4-11, 2011. We recommend that you plan your trip to participate in SOA Watch’s activities before and after the conference.… Read More

The FBI’s ‘War on Dissent’

Posted: October 1, 2010 01:27 PM

FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley points out that last week’s raids on anti-war and solidarity activists in Chicago and Minneapolis came just days after a “scathing review” by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which slammed the agency’s post 9/11 “terrorism investigations” of peace and social justice groups.

The FBI is conducting a “war on dissent, rather than terrorism,” she writes.

The IG report apparently “gave no pause to the FBI,” which is “continuing to do more of the same,” Rowley writes.

The FBI’s “anti-terrorist” activities highlighted by the report (which covers 2002 to 2006) included investigations of pacifist groups such as Catholic Workers, Quakers and the Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh. Environmental and animal rights groups were put on terrorist watch lists.

The report reveals “shameful red-baiting at its worst,” editorialized the Boston Globe, which argued that the net effect of the FBI’s activities was to stifle dissent.

It’s “a reminder of how easily civil liberties can be cast aside during suspicious frenzies,” wrote the New York Times in its editorial column, noting cases in the report where the FBI “trumped up routine civil disobedience violations” as “potential terrorism.”

And with federal officials commenting on the newest raids repeatedly referring to an “ongoing criminal case” and “a law enforcement investigation,” it’s worth noting that the IG report revealed that FBI Director Robert Mueller gave false information to Congress when he testified that surveillance of the Merton Center was “an outgrowth of an FBI investigation.”

Instead, as the Globe noted, it was a “make-work assignment” on a “slow day.”

The raids are being taken as a sign that the FBI is eager to exploit the huge opening afforded by a Supreme Court decision in June that found that a law banning “material support” for designated terrorist organizations could legally prohibit speech and advocacy – even advocacy in support of human rights and international law.

The court overruled repeated findings by lower courts that the law’s provisions restricting speech are unconstitutional.

“For the first time ever, the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment permits the criminalization of pure speech advocating lawful, nonviolent activity,” wrote David Cole, Georgetown professor and attorney for the Humanitarian Law Project in the case.

He points out that by advising Hezbollah and other groups on election procedure, as he did in Lebanon last year, former President Jimmy Carter arguably committed a crime punishable by 15 years in prison, under the Supreme Court ruling. (Indeed, Carter spoke out against the ruling.)

Under the new “material support” interpretation, anti-apartheid and solidarity activists in the 1980s could have been subject to harassment and prosecution, as National Lawyers Guild ‘s Bruce Nestor points out. (NLG has opened a hotline and issued a know-your-rights guide for activists harassed by the FBI.)

Back then, U.S. activists communicated and worked with the African National Congress and the FMLN of El Salvador, both considered terrorist groups by the State Department — while the U.S. government actively or tacitly backed large-scale, brutal repression by the existing governments of South Africa and El Salvador. Today, with repressive apparatuses dismantled, both the ANC and the FMLN are governing their nations through fair and free elections.

In 1991 a federal judge ruled that multiple FBI investigations of the Chicago chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, based on unsubstantiated charges of “terrorist” activities, violated the 1981 consent decree in the Chicago Red Squad case. That decree barred investigations of activities protected by the First Amendment. (It was vacated last year.)

If the FBI is serious about investigating material support for terrorism – and not cracking down on domestic dissent – they could raid the corporate offices of Coca-Cola. Several union leaders have been killed and hundreds of union members at Coke bottling plants in Colombia have been detained and tortured by paramilitaries working with plant management, according to the labor-backed Campaign to Stop Killer Coke.

Such a focus on real material support for terrorism by the FBI is not likely, alas, since earlier last month the State Department certified Colombia is “making progress” on human rights (“though there continues to be a need for improvement,” the department reported to Congress, mentioning the small problem of impunity for human rights violations) — and thus worthy of $30 million in military aid for fiscal year 2011.

This despite a recent report from the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the U.S. Office on Columbia showing that Colombian army units receiving U.S. aid “allegedly kill more civilians and frame the deaths as combat kills,” as Global Post reports. This gets them “job perks and promotions.”

Extrajudicial killings of civilians surged significantly in regions that received the largest increases in U.S. aid, the human rights groups found.

Talk about material support for terrorism. That’s our tax dollars at work, friends.

From the Palmer Raids through McCarthyism and COINTELPRO and on to today, the FBI has policed and suppressed political dissent. The September 24 raids are just the opening chapter in the latest episode.

A dozen or so activists have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in Chicago on October 5. There, as Nestor points out, they’ll “have to answer questions: Who do you know? Who do you talk to? What do you think? And if you don’t answer them you can sit in jail for 4 or 6 or 8 or 18 months until the grand jury term ends.”

It’s “an attempt by the federal government to criminalize anti-war organizing,” writes Ron Jacobs at Counterpunch. The Grand Jury Resistance Project has called on the government “to end the use of grand juries as a political tool to suppress political dissent.”

It’s “a declaration of war on the activist left, in which grand juries are deployed as omnibus weapons of political persecution under an infinitely expandable anti-terrorism rationale,” writes Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report. “The constitutional lawyer in the White House has tossed the founding document into the National Security State shredder.”

The newly-formed Chicago Committee Against Political Repression has called a rally and vigil at the Federal Building, 230 S. Dearborn, for October 5 from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m. The national Committee to Stop FBI Repression says there will be rallies that day in dozens of cities.… Read More

Indigenous resistance, from Colombia to Palestine

Anna Baltzer writing from Lopez, Colombia, Live from Palestine, 16 September 2010

 

A teenager sits above the Toez Indigenous Reserve at dusk. Her community has been repeatedly threatened with displacement by the Colombian government.

“They only see our water, our land, our trees. They don’t care about us. They want the land — without the people on it.”

These words are not of a Palestinian farmer but of Justo Conda, governor of Lopez Adentro Indigenous Reserve in southwestern Colombia, whose community was repeatedly threatened with displacement under former president Alvaro Uribe Velez. Uribe, recently appointed by the United Nations to investigate Israel’s fatal attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, has a notoriously horrific track record on human rights. Less explored are the clear parallels between his government’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples of Colombia and Israel’s abuses of the indigenous people of Palestine.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced people in the world, numbering as many as 4.9 million. According to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement more than 286,000 Colombians were uprooted from their land in 2009 alone. Approximately ten percent of the Colombian population has suffered forced displacement, many of them indigenous communities, afro-Colombian descendants of former slaves, and campesinos (farmers).

Like Israel, Colombia is the largest recipient of US military aid in its hemisphere. Six billion US tax-dollars over the past ten years have placed Colombia third in the world for US military assistance, after Israel and Egypt. Armed with US weapons and political backing, Uribe’s government and other armed actors have forced out millions through extrajudicial assassinations and terror tactics, clearing the way for the exploitation of natural resources by the government and multinational companies. Always in the name of security and the “War on Terror,” Colombian soldiers have burned villages, ransacked homes and destroyed the livelihoods of communities who have taken the radical decision of staying on their own land.

For many indigenous communities, this is not the first time they’ve been uprooted. With the Spanish invasion five hundred years ago and the founding of Colombia three hundred years later, indigenous peoples have been repeatedly forced to flee their fertile valleys rich with water and minerals, moving further and further into the Andes mountain ranges where the climate is harsher and the land less arable. Now the government wants to take even that land, leaving the communities trapped — community members say if they head higher into the mountains they may be threatened by guerillas who are fighting to maintain control of those areas, while going down into the valleys they will face aggression from paramilitaries, corporations and the army.

There is something eerily familiar about this violent and calculated expulsion and it is no surprise that Israel has now become Colombia’s number one supplier of weapons, advisor on military organization and intelligence-gathering and model for “fighting terror” (“Report: Israelis fighting guerillas in Colombia,” Ynet, 10 August 2007, as cited in “Uribe’s appointment to flotilla probe guarantees it’s failure,” Jose Antonio Gutierrez and David Landy, The Electronic Intifada, 6 August 2010). But like the Palestinians, the people of Colombia are not prepared to abandon their homes and livelihoods without a struggle. Almost twenty years ago, up against a military armed to the teeth, the indigenous communities of southwestern Colombia developed their own form of protection: La Guarda Indigena (The Indigenous Guard).

 

Justo Conda, governor of the Lopez Adentro Indigenous Reserve, standing in front of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca flag with the ancestral staff that identifies him as a member of the indigenous guard.

Standing before the flag of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca in the indigenous reserve of Lopez, Governor Conda explained:

“The Colombian government does not represent us, so we have constructed our own system of security. In each indigenous community, individuals are selected to serve for one year defending our land. Each indigenous guard receives a staff, passed down by its previous user, which represents the authority and responsibility of the position. Guards carry their ancestral staffs everywhere they go. It is received voluntarily; nobody is paid to defend their people. And although everyone in our communities would fight for our freedom, the staffs indicate those of us who have been physically and psychologically prepared during the year to defend our people and our land.”

Governor Conda added:

“In the face of a highly-militarized state that consistently denies us our basic rights, the indigenous guard is the only defense we can exercise. We have declared ourselves neutral, allied with neither the guerillas nor the army. We are offering a peaceful solution based on an end to colonization and respect for life and culture. We have no weapons or guns. We don’t need weapons or guns to exercise control. Our guards stand outside our gates, armed only with their colorful staff — a symbol of our strength and our values. And although we have received many threats, many authorities have also come to respect the indigenous guard.”

Conda explained that at the end of each guard’s term, he or she chooses a successor and the authority and responsibility rotates. Next to Conda, the current community guards stood up one by one, a diverse group of men and women; young and old; a pregnant woman; a village elder. They held the staffs, each meant to reach as high as its carrier’s heart.

Colombia’s indigenous communities have a long history of popular resistance. In the 1920s, tribes collectively boycotted taxes imposed by the government on indigenous people to live and work on their own land. Since then, councils have been formed to decide how to recuperate territory and resist expulsion. Although their presence preceded European colonization, indigenous Colombians are often treated as foreigners and invaders.

The response to organized indigenous resistance to displacement has been brutal. Last year alone, four members of the small Lopez Adentro community alone were assassinated (“The Struggle for Survival and Dignity: Human Rights Abuses Against Indigenous Peoples in Colombia,” Amnesty International, 23 January 2010 [PDF]). According to human rights advocate Felix Posada, 1,400 indigenous persons were assassinated during Uribe’s eight-year tenure, representing one percent of Colombia’s total indigenous population. Colombia has the highest rate of indigenous killings in Latin America, numbering 114 last year, reported Posada behind bulletproof doors in his office in downtown Bogota.

Right-wing paramilitary groups are suspected in many of the incidents, despite the Uribe administration’s claim of their demobilization in 2006 (“Colombian Paramilitaries’ Successors Called a Threat,” Simon Romero, The New York Times, 3 February 2010). The “disarmament” was widely seen as a publicity stunt in which individuals dressed up as militants handed over their guns in photo-ops in exchange for a handsome reward. Countless cases have confirmed collaboration between the Colombian army and the paramilitaries (renamed “organized delinquents” these days), the latter often doing the dirty work in exchange for power and immunity.

 

A mother at the Lopez Adentro Indigenous Reserve.

In October of 2008, following direct action by the Indigenous and Popular Minga (Community Mobilization) of La Maria in Piendamo, soldiers entered the municipality and vandalized cars, forced inhabitants out of their homes with tear gas, stripped men in front of their neighbors and set fire to residents’ huts, beds, bicycles and even children’s dolls (Video: “La Maria Piendamo,” 22 October 2008). A mass march from La Maria was met with soldiers and helicopters, leading to a stand-off of stones, sling-shots and ancestral staffs versus the army’s tear gas and live ammunition (Video: “Minga de la Maria Piendamo,” 22 October 2008).… Read More

My body is my house, my house is my territory.. I will not give away the keys

International Summit of Women and People of the Americas against Militarization

In August, Colombia hosted the first “International Summit of Women and People of the Americas against Militarization,” which was attended by almost 3000 people, including around 200 international delegates from the Americas and Europe. The event provided a unique space for organizations and social activists to come together to share, denounce, and visibilize the effects of militarization and war on the bodies of women, territories, and civil society, with the objective to systemize the experiences of resistance against militarization and to define a strategic agenda to coordinate a social movement of women and people for the defense of territories. Although the Colombian Constitutional Court deemed the agreement leasing seven Colombian bases to the U.S. unconstitutional on the second day of the summit, the focus of the attendees remained centered on building a strong opposition to the rise of U.S. military presence in Latin America.

The summit, convened by the Social Movement of Women Against the War and for the Peace, came out of a long process involving 60 Colombian social organizations that have spent the last four years developing a common agenda against militarization. According to Betty Puerto of the Women’s Popular Organization (OFP), the goal of the movement is to eventually present a proposal of peace from women to the Colombian national government urging a political negotiation to the armed conflict, along with various measures to assure that human rights are protected in Colombia. The Social Movement of Women was spearheaded ten years ago by the OFP, when they began to collect information about the suffering of women caused by the effects of the internal conflict. Jacqueline Rojas, the Barrancabermeja regional coordinator, said that they later opened to the movement to other regions of the country, where other organizations already had initiatives, and began a campaign of popular education in schools and neighborhoods, teaching the effects of militarization on the bodies of women and civil society.

The movement now includes indigenous communities, labor unions, housewives, Afro-Colombian communities, political organizations, church organizations, academics, student movements, displaced people, small-scale farmers, community mothers, and regional peace processes, all of whom were represented in the summit, united under the slogan “We do not birth sons and daughters for war.”

The summit took place at a moment when U.S. imperialist forces are carrying out aggressive strategies of re-colonization to reposition and recuperate from the crisis of the capitalist system, according to the women of the movement. This has had dire effects on the people of the entire region; inequality, unemployment, violence, sexism, and poverty are becoming endemic in Latin America.

Colombia is no exception – a country abundant in natural resources such as minerals, petroleum, carbon, water, and biodiversity, where 65% of the population lives in poverty on less than $5 a day and 56% of Colombians are unemployed or underemployed, according to Felix Posada of the Popular Center of Communication in Latin America, who gave a talk on the Colombian context the first day of the summit.

The territories of Colombia, and likewise all of Latin America, are being exploited by transnational companies, who use the tactics of militarization, war, displacement, and murder of the people to claim control of territories. U.S. economic interests are protected by U.S. military bases, which are strategically positioned all over the continent, and have been used to exert influence and control over the region. Although the history of U.S. military intervention in Latin America is well known, many feel the trend continues – the plane that carried the Honduran president out of the country after a military coup last year stopped at a U.S. base, suggesting U.S. participation. Berta Cáceres, a summit atendee and resistance leader in Honduras, thinks the CIA was behind it.

Violations of human rights are further aggravated by U.S. presence – in Colombia, U.S. military personnel contracted by an oil company to protect a pipeline participated in the massacre of 17 civilians in 1998. A recent study published by FOR found that despite legal mechanisms to prevent U.S. military aid to Colombian army units that commit human rights violations, not only has the U.S. provided assitance to such units, the number of extrajudicial executions went up in more than half of the units after they received aid linked to Plan Colombia.

The implications for women living around bases are even grimmer, where the number of rapes goes up dramatically, with a 98.6% impunity rate for the perpetrators, according to summit speaker Ana Maria Diaz, the sub-director of Investigation at the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ). A 2009 annual report released by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights shows the state can be held responsible for 65.8 % of sexual violations in Colombia (committed by both public forces and paramilitary groups linked to the public forces). Diaz claims that other sources point to an even higher rate, with the military as the major perpetrator. Another concern of Diaz’ is that U.S. soldiers in foreign countries generally receive diplomatic immunity, meaning they can’t be tried for their crimes in foreign countries, and there are numerous cases of sexual abuse committed by U.S. personnel, sometimes to young girls, that remain in impunity. Prostitution rates also skyrocket around bases, with military-sanctioned “entertainment houses.”

To see these effects first hand, international delegates from 19 different countries participated in humanitarian commissions to twelve different heavily militarized regions around Colombia in the first days of the summit. They found evidence of multinational companies around the country allied with police, military, and paramilitary forces to end social organizations and gain control of territory, according to the report written and presented during the summit. They found women to be extremely victimized in these regions due to the militarization, and social movements to be severely stifled by the state.

 

In Barrancabermeja, the delegates joined over 2000 Colombian activists from the organizations that make up the Social Movement of Women Against the War for two days of seminars, workshops, and speeches. Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has been involved with the Movement for sometime, told the effects that the largest business in the world, war, has brought to Colombia – cadavers floating down the Magdalena River, women’s corpses missing a head or arms, and more than 5000 false positives, civilians killed and dressed up as guerrilla by the army.

Women presented the topic and talked about the issues they faced from various perspectives: indigenous, small-scale farmers, Afro-Colombians, urban dwellers, union leaders, artists, and internationals were all represented. One afternoon the Movement held the largest march to happen in Barrancabermeja in 8 years; participants carried banners, candles, and rocks to remember those who had lost their lives in the conflict.

On the last day of the summit, the group caravanned to Puerto Salgar, home to the air base Palenquero, one of the seven bases “given” to the U.S. in the 2009 agreement. According to a study contracted by the Social Movement of Women and released at the summit, prostitution has grown at an alarming rate in Puerto Salgar since the installation of the base. The study also showed the strong influence the base has had on cultural, political, and social life in Puerto Salgar. The women held an 8-hour vigil in front of the base, complete with musicians, speakers, dancers, and theater acts. One impressive youth dance group from Barrancabermeja highlighted the devastation to the environment and civilian life in the city due to oil company control.

Colombian Senator Gloria Ines Ramirez spoke of the need to continue the struggle, and a message of encouragement to the Movement was read aloud, written by Clara Lopez, the president of the Polo Democratico, the only major Colombian political party to oppose to the U.S.-Colombia bases agreement.… Read More

Welcome Supporters of Colombia

March 20th: From Baghdad to Bogota: No More Blood for Oil!
On March 20th the Colombia Action Network stands in solidarity with the anti-war movement! We join with the anti war movement to demand an end to US intervention in the Middle East and an end to the occupation of Iraq! Unfortunately, while the US increased its attacks on Iraq, it also quietly escalated a conflict in another part of the world: Colombia.Since 2000, the US has been funding a war against the Colombian people through its aid proposals entitled Plan Colombia.Colombia, after Israel and Egypt, is the 3rd highest recipient of military aid from the US, and their government is using American tax dollars to kill trade unionists, human rights workers, and civilians.This is a brutal effort by the US government, just like in Iraq, to push forward another agenda determined by corporate economic interests.

Plan Colombia
Since 2000 the U.S. has invested three billion dollars in Colombia’s civil war. Most of the aid is fumigation chemicals, attack helicopters,weaponry, hi-tech surveillance planes and equipment. U.S. military aid to Latin America has more than tripled in the past 5 years. In 2003, the Bush Administration won more increases in military aid and involvement, including a $100 million military aid project to protect Occidental’s oil pipeline in northern Colombia.That money was attached to the Bush administration’s request for funds for the war in Iraq. Bush states his goal is to arm the Colombian government in an effort to fight “terrorism” and to defeat the rebel armies. Bush is attempting to connect his military interests and his rhetoric with the U.S.’ ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Colombian human rights, labor and other activists are calling for an END to U.S. military aid and intervention. Paramilitary death squads work hand-in-hand with the Colombian military, and reap the benefits of US military aid.The paramilitaries and military are responsible for 80% of Colombia’s human rights violations—the worst record in Latin America. Political assassinations and disappearances are all too common, and trade unionists are the hardest hit.U.S.corporations even employ paramilitary groups to intimidate, threaten and murder Colombian union leaders. Coca-Cola is now the subject of an international boycott campaign, because of its use of paramilitary violence against its union workers.

The US’ interests in Colombia
Much like Iraq, Colombia has oil. Mexico,Venezuela and Colombia provide a substantial amount of the oil the US uses. Corporations like BP Amoco and Occidental Oil want to increase their holdings in the country,however Colombia is not a ‘safe place for investment’ with a long-standing civil war. Both guerrilla armies feel that Colombians should receive the economic benefit of their natural resources and fight against the oil industry’s expansion into new territory—including swindling Indigenous lands.

US Out of Colombia!
On Feb.2nd Bush proposed a federal budget for 2005,which includes a proposal for 700 million in aid to Colombia— including 109 million to finance a special Colombian military brigade to protect an oil pipeline and to train and equip new military leaders. Call Congress and the president to say NO to continuing Plan Colombia! Call 202-224-3121 for the Capitol switchboard.Call to say money for human needs not for war in BOTH Colombia and Iraq!

Join the Boycott of Killer Coke!
In response to the call from workers, the Colombia Action Network has been leading a boycott of Coca-Cola products from coast to coast.They have organized two days of student protest in 2003 with over forty campuses and eighty student groups participating in one or both of the national days of action.The national days of action have given students the opportunity to stand together at their separate campuses and demand that their universities break their exclusive contracts with Coca-Cola, and to educate other students on the connection between Coke and the right wing paramilitary death squads in Colombia. Join the CAN in our next day of national coordinated action on April 15th!. Stand with people across the country against the U.S.’ sponsorship of the murder of trade unionists!… Read More