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Colombian Women's Movement - a Struggle for Life and Survival

November 17th, 2004


­Fourteen U.S. women visited Colombia with a Witness for Peace delegation October 31-November 11 to stand in solidarity with the Colombian Women of Peace, to learn about their struggles for justice and the impact of over $3 billion dollars in US assistance through Plan Colombia. We returned to the U.S. inspired by their courage and willingness to struggle for justice even in the midst of war. We returned home deeply disturbed by US support for this war against the poor.

People told us, “This conflict can not be resolved through war and military conflict.” The root cause of the conflict is deep poverty and the land issue. Sixty seven percent of the Colombian people live on less than $2 a day and 56% of these live on $1 a day. This means that they are hungry all of the time. As long as the majority of the Colombian people do not have access to health care, education, descent housing and land, the war will continue. “We need social investment not billions of dollars in military assistance from the United States.”

This war has caused massive displacement - 3 million people have been pushed off of their land. Seventy percent of Colombia's Gross Domestic Product is used to pay the external debt and the Colombian government only spends five percent on social services. Because of this, hospitals are being closed across the country, children are denied an education and there is growing poverty.

We traveled southwest of Bogotá to the state of Cauca. In December four years ago, thousands of peasant farmers blocked the Pan American highway for thirty days in an attempt to focus the government's attention on their growing poverty. 26,000 people participated in this action. The government's response was to send in the Colombian Army and with them the related paramilitary death squads. People began to disappear, some were assassinated and massacres took place.
Across Colombia we heard evidence of the collusion of the Colombian military and allied paramilitary death squads. We were told, “People are assassinated around military bases. Murders occur every day. This is called social cleansing and is carried out by the paramilitaries. We are being persecuted by our own government.” People told us that the paramilitaries are part of the state. They wear military uniforms during the day and paramilitary uniforms at night.” Some people reported that since the Colombian military came to their area and with them the paramilitary, disappearances increased by 100%. During our visit to the United States Embassy in Bogotá, we asked, “We know that the Colombian paramilitary forces are on the US State Dept terrorist list. What therefore is the US Government doing to break the ties between these two groups? It would appear that US tax payers, through the over 3 billion dollars given in military assistance to the Colombian military, are indirectly supporting a terrorist organization.

We heard from reliable sources that every family has been touched by the violence. Women and children are the most severely affected. Women are used not only as war trophies but thousands have been displaced and as heads of households must bear the burden of supporting their children.

Nevertheless, US tax dollars support war. We asked the US Embassy personnel, “Since poverty is the root cause of the war, why then is 80% of our tax money through Plan Colombia going into military aid and only 20% for social and economic development?'

When we asked the women what they ask of the US government we were told to tell our government officials:
·        We oppose the militarization of civilian life.
·        We oppose the violent trade agreements such as the Andean Free Trade Agreement and the FTAA currently being negotiated. This will only further deepen poverty on Latin America and cause further unrest.
·        We oppose the fumigation of small farmers subsistence crops.
·        We oppose President's Uribe's Patriot Plan much like your Patriot Act, which supports war and limits civil rights.
·        We demand an end to this war project. We want the armed actors to talk and negotiate an end to the conflict.
·        We want resources to be invested in health, education and housing.
·        We demand a dignified way of life.
·        We oppose the legalization of the paramilitaries.
Tell your government to stop pouring fuel on the fire here in Colombia. Stop military assistance. Urge them to support a negotiated end to the conflict and provide drug treatment in the United States to reduce the market for drugs.
Thank the US people who have come to accompany us. We have felt your solidarity and this has made it possible for us to continue to work.
Gail Phares, WFP SE