Monday, March 30, 2009

Coal mining: Conservation and Cocaine at hand to help.

“I remember Trinidad lending me his wellies, as I turned up with totally inappropratie brand new white trainers. He was always taking care of people”

“I remember being in a meeting with him when the paras arrived outside. He kept everyone calm with his soothing words and composed response to the terrifying situation

The four-day meeting opened with the warm sharing of memories of two members of CISCA, killed in 2005 and 2006. Re-knowing that every action and every word that we make is part of a process that stretches both back and forward is for me a beautiful part of CISCA, the Committee for the Social Integration of Catatumbo. Their aim, as a social organisation, is not just to respond to human rights violations nor in opposing the imposition of a huge open cast coal mine though they do both of these and more. Unlike so many seemingly single issue organisations that emerge and fade in the UK, their vision is none less than the audacious plan to rebuild the social fabric of Catatumbo and to live, as campesinos, on their lands with each other and nature in a deeply respectful and contented way, through their community based development plans, known as “Planes de Vidas” – Plans for Life.

The first paramilitary invasion of their territory in 1999, in El Tibu, left 800 people killed or disappeared and 20 thousand fled their homes. The AUC paramilitary occupation continued until late 2004, when the supposed demobilisation began. In August 2004 CISCA held their first gathering of associations with the necessary accompaniment of La red as paramilitaries were closeby. Faced wth juntas de accion communal (community action groups) in shreds, community shops destroyed, people with little hope, large displaced populations, staple food crops poisoned as part of the ‘war on drugs’, they set about the task of reconstructing the social fabric with a awe inspiring determination.

They are a long way from their aim yet the culture of organising in juntas breathes on. Juntas began to re-organise themselves in associations on a municipality levels and these associations form part of CISCA, a space for regional coordination. Over the past five years they have encouraged more and more communities to rebuild the networks of solidarity economics, rebuild their cultural lives, rebuild their community organising where they can resolve local conflicts, confront corrupt mayors, repair their roads, demand that roads are paved so they are passable in the rainy season; to rebuild the possibilities and dreams of living a campesino culture that has been violently under attack.

My four days in the village of Maracaibo, with the guerilla and the army alternatively making their presence known, eating a combination of rice, yuca, grated cheese and eggs I learnt what I know; I want to breathe my life’s vocation, I want a coherent healthy rich life; I am in awe at the wisdom, humbleness, intelligence and kindness of the people I was with. I am envious of their culture that we are so far from having the capacity to build in the UK.

I love pouring over maps, exploring all the detail that is contained in the illustration; each colour, each different style of line gives me a piece of information with which I build up an image of a reality. This map, put together as different associations shared information with each other, tells of a new stage in history arriving to confront CISCA’s vision and plans for their region.

Conservation International Colombia have recently contacted several associations asking for help in conducting an investigation into the flora and fauna within the parque forestal (area above the dotted green line) related to a plan to change the perimeter of the forestry reserve. As long as the zona de interes minero (mining interest area) is within the forestry reserve it cannot be exploited. Conservation International are not telling the associations what their real motive is. So far, they have been giving conflicting information and trying to get agreement from one association by lying to them about supposed support they already have from another association.

Conservation International public line is that it is ‘real world fact’ that multinationals are going to mine and so best to work with them to preserve biodiversity. What they don’t mention is the role they have played in ensurng this supposed objective fact becomes true. They have been described as “the trojan horse of multinationals” undermining local resistance and alternative community based development plans in order to facilitate their corporate partners entry into rural areas.

The strategies used to get territorial control of natural resources in Catatumbo have been many:
o Paramilitary massacres were the most extensive and brutal in the two municipalities, Tarra and Tibu, where the potential mining area is located.
o The majority of fumigations and manual erradication in Catatumbo has occurred in the potential mining area.
o Detentions of campesinos for growing coca is predominantly in this area.
o And now a Multinational Conservation Corporation has arrived.

I asked why the government did not lift the forestry reserve immediately after the paramilitary violence, when the social organisations were their weakest and the habitants had fled from their lands. Why have they waited and now they have to find a way to displace the same people again in order to extract the coal reserves? I received varying answers; after the horrors that occurred in the area they did not expect people to later return to their lands; people did not leave the area, they hid deeper in the mountains; the quantity of human rights violations reported was very high and multinationals could not have entered in that period as it would have been obvious that they were benefiting from the massacres and colluding with paramilitaries.

So after a first wave of violent displacement, then returning to their homes and beginning to rebuild their lives the people in this area of Catatumbo are facing an uncertain future. The state needs them out. The imprisonment of campesinos for growing coca leaves the wife and children in a precarious situation and Cisca conjecture that families will then be forced off their land through necessity, bullying or physical force.

I knew that coca is used as a convenient pretext already, but our process of collectively piecing together this specific cold calculated horrific plan still made me swear heavily out loud in english.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Accompanying my penpal in Bogota

An article i pulled together for indymedia. To see photos visit

False Positives are State Crimes

“False positives”, recognised in International Law as extrajudicial killings, have been part of Colombian reality for more than twenty years. Civilians, normally peasant farmers or young people from the lowest income sectors of society, are killed under official orders and later presented as guerilla killed in combat in order to show them as deaths in the so-called “war against terrorism”. This allows the Colombian military to gain rewards or inflate the statistics of the war.

I am part of Espacio Bristol-Colombia's penpal protection plan [1] and yesterday I met my penpal and her husband for the first time. Their two sons were killed together while travelling to the nearest town to buy some more cattle by the army. A large number of extrajudicial killings in Casanare occur in municipalities where BP, a multinational oil company, has activities and are all carried out by the 16th Brigade, who have been historically contracted by BP.[2]

They made the difficult decision to leave their farm for 5 days and travel to Bogota to take part in yesterday’s assembly of victims of extrajudicial killings and the march this morning against false positives.

They are fearful of what may happen to them as other people who report state crimes have received threats or in worst case also been killed. Yet they are determined to remain brave and to keep some hope alive that they will find some justice one day. Today she handed me a letter that she had written with the help of her son which I have just read at home.

“Con mi familia he luchado en sobresalir adelante sin hacerle daño a nadie siempre haciendo el bien….Despues de que los mataron, noa ha dejado un vacio muy grande en mi familia, ya que tendremos que soportarlo hasta el fin de nuestra vida cotidiana”

“with my family, I have struggled to improve without doing any harm to anyone, always doing what is right…after they were killed, it has left us a large whole in our family since every day we have to endure the pain”

Three other people from Casanare participate in the mobilisation. They are family members of victims of state crimes and also penpals with Bristol residents.

The Coordination Colombia-Europe-United States and the Colombian Platform for Human Rights, has reported more than 1400 of these cases since 2002 when the the democratic security policy of President Uribe began. This odious practice was officially recognised in September 2008 when 19 young people were disappeared in Soacha, a poor neighbourhood of Bogotá, and then later found in mass graves in rural areas more than 500km away.

Colombia lives a bloody war. In the last 11 years there has been 3000 mass graves, more than 30000 disappeared, 4.2 million displaced and 23000 kidnapped, figures that shed light on the victims of this conflict.

The Network of Solidarity and Friendship (La Red de Hermandad) stands in solidarity with the victims of paramilitarism, para politica and State crimes.

We demand from the Colombian government:

The immediate end to the persecution and imprisonment of the members of social organisations, unions, human rights defenders, journalists, students, peasant farmers, indigenous and those who democratically oppose the government.

Truth, justice and reparation and no more repetition of crimes against human dignity.

We call on the national and international community to echo this demand and contribute to the construction of a true democratic society en Colombia, supported by peace, social justice and the comprehensive respect for human rights.

Extrajudicial killings are state crimes

Truth, justice and reparation for the victims of state terrorism in Colombia.

United to recover our memory for a Colombia that does not forget.

No more mass graves.
No more forced displacements.
No more kidnappings
No more state crimes
No more extrajudicial killings.
No more crimes against humanity.

[1] for an explanation on the penpal protection plan.

2] To learn more about the grave humanitarium crisis in Casanare and its relation to the oil industry:
Report of the International Solidarity Mission Roque Julio Torres Torres, Casanare, Colombia

BP in Casanare, by Cos-pacc

A Tourist in Colombia

My quiteness comes from being on holiday with Y~ for a while, yet this has not caused quietness in my pondering mind. There is much I’d like to share about being read as a tourist. Primarily it is a much less enjoyable and priviliged experience than when I am with La Red.

I am seen as someone to make money from, understandably as my very ability to be in there home town comes from having money, and I refuse to accept the bullshit of travellers who claim they have no money to give, and negotiate down as much as they can just so they can stay travelling for longer – a privilige that the fuckers who are ripping us [white westeren tourists] off will never have.

I am much more visibly sexualised, that is I got a lot more sexual hassle walking down the streets, most of the time easy to ignore, but a few times I bit back and got an apology.

It made me really realise the beautiful privilige I have through doing my work, the wonderful insights I am invited in to see in people’s communities; accepted, trusted and seen as an ally.

It made me realise that I have very different criteria for what is a good place to go and relax and be on holiday than others. There is little chance of relaxing if gross injustice is staring me in the face as I am swinging in a hammock. And so begins my rant of Parque Tayrona, Colombia’s second most visited national park and apparentely as “must go place”. The moment Y~ and I arrived we wanted to get out of this artificial environement, created as a piece of propoganda for the Colombian government to show how they conserve the natural environment, run as a business by a paramilitary controlled company that charges extortionate prices for people to get it, thought very kindly lets the indigenous they kicked out come back for free on special sacred days.

We stayed the night and the following day opted for the 5hour walk out, stunning rock formations, trees, and a deserted inidigenous village – El Pueblito. On the display boards it says there was a population of # thousand until the Spanish arrived. No mentions of how many people were living there when the land became a national park. The village has no residents, the park ranger told me that people were not allowed to live in the park, and refused to answer directly my question of whether they were forced to leave. There was an indigenous man there, whose job it is, is to register all visitors in a book. I apologised for being complicit in the continued displacement of his peoples.

My very presence as a paying tourist, great for business, is what prevents his community living there. Maybe at some point the company and state will decide it is good for business to have indigenous living in pueblito and they will be allowed back but only if they play the role of nice cutey dressed traditional indigneous and certainly not as indigenous building their cultural practices and process like is happening in Cauca.

So I wouldn’t recommend Tayrona. Beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder, but also in the knowledge of the beholder.

I would recomment Bocachica, a fishing village on the Island of Tierradentro, Cartagena and Minca, a village in a coffee growing region in the hills behind Santa Marta were beautiful. Both with real, living, breathing, changing communities that are adding to their existing economies with small-scale tourism. Both with warm and kind people who proudly showed off their community to us, and wanted to chat and share opinions about our shared world and let Y~ and me see a glimpse of life for people in these places.