[English translation of “Exitoso conversatorio sobre la Paz y la Marcha Patriótica en Colombia”]
By Santiago Escobar – Barrio Nuevo
The first forum on the Patriotic March for Peace in Colombia successfully took place this past May 22nd at Beit Zatoun, in Toronto, Canada, and was organized by Barrio Nuevo and Latin@s.
The objective was to initiate a dialogue about the urgent need for peace in Colombia. The forum also touched on diverse topics related to the armed conflict in Colombia and the current situation of the popular movement.
Alex Utrera, journalist and Human Rights Activist, who resides in Canada for safety reasons, presented on the dire reality of over 8000 political prisoners remaining in Colombian jails, and the oppression by the Judicial system. She also mentioned the fact that there are 62,000 disappeared and more than 3,000 extrajudicial executions resulting from the “democratic security” policy implemented by former President Alvaro Uribe Velez. “Rule of Law [ESTADO DE DERECHO] is non-existent in Colombia and human life is not respected, let’s not forget that there are thousands of political prisoners, most of them illegally detained, without due process, humble people, unknown and forgotten. There are currently more than 400 people suffering terminal illnesses due to the sub-human conditions in Colombian prisons. Today, more than ever, they need international solidarity, as do we who want a quick political solution to the armed conflict that has only caused hurt and bloodshed to the Colombian people,” concluded Alex Utrera, ending her powerful presentation.
Next, Rangel Ramos, union and Human Rights activist who is also residing in Canada for security reasons (after he denounced Alvaro Uribe Velez when he was Governor of the Province of Antioquia, Colombia) presented. He discussed the current state of unions in Colombia and its contribution to the current political conjuncture and popular organizing in Colombia. “Belonging to a labour union in Colombia is being sentenced to death. Since 1984 more than 2800 unionists have been murdered, 762 during the time Uribe Velez was President (2002-2010.) What is most alarming is that there isn’t a single person that has been detained or charged…” said Ramos. He also mentioned the fact that Alvaro Uribe Velez, before becoming President, was listed by the Pentagon as drug trafficker Number 82 in a list released by them. There are also 5 million internally displaced people, 70% of people live under the poverty line, 15% are unemployed, and 45% underemployed. Colombia holds the infamous third place worldwide in income inequality. 7 million hectares have been taken from peasants and 60% of the land is now owned by paramilitaries and the politicians involved with them.
Participants in the discussion also denounced the involvement of the United States and the imposition of a Free Trade Agreement as an instrument of domination to the detriment of the Colombian people. Similarly, the “war on drugs and terror” by means of Plan Colombia, today Plan Patriota, financed by the USA, which has allocated over 10 billion USD and installed seven military bases in Colombian territory, attempting to destabilize the entire region.
More than 2,472 documented extrajudicial executions by members of the Colombian armed forces were denounced (also known as “False Positives.”) These executions included the killing of impoverished youth from cities and rural areas that were kidnapped and presented as members of the guerrilla, a clear example of the Government’s policy of State Terrorism.
During the forum it was made clear that there is currently a great opportunity for achieving peace in Colombia. However, there is still a difficult and long way ahead, because the internal and economic power, and the mafia that profits from war, will try their best to stand in the way of a much desired peace.
A letter of support and solidarity was signed by those present to denounce the harassment that members of Marcha Patriotica experienced.
We are aware and conscious that this is a long term process but we are full of hope and excitement to know that another Colombia is possible. Colombian brothers and sisters, you can count on our solidarity and support. We remain attentive on how we can contribute our share from Toronto, Canada.