How Was Your Trip?
American Univ. Returns from Colombia
(Photo: Ben Beachy)
An interview with Leiha Edmonds, member of an American University delegation to Colombia in January
Check out our upcoming Colombia delegations
WFP: What made you want to go to Colombia in the first place?
LE: My initial decision to go to Colombia was inspired by the “World” section of the New York Times and academic articles assigned for class. As a college student studying International Relations I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching the topics of labor relations, terrorism , developing nations and US relations with Latin America. The news of the FARC kidnappings and later the demobilization of paramilitary troops in Colombia had been points of discussion for a number of semesters. But I was looking for an opportunity to actually experience and understand what was going on within the nation, outside of textbooks and news reports. I was interested in meeting people and seeing the culture, in order to have a more human approach to my understanding of the politics and conflict in Colombia.
WFP: What meeting or activity on your trip was most impacting? Why?
LE: The most impacting moment was at the Giraldo’s farm outside of Cali, where we met with the families of victims of state violence. We spoke with parents and sisters and aunts who have lost their children or fathers to military attacks supposedly against the FARC. Their loved ones were killed in these attacks under the false pretense that they were connected to the guerrillas. Often the victims were students or impoverished farmers and their legal cases against the state were unable to get to trial. It was a highly emotional experience and it was difficult not to see your own parents or family members as you heard their stories of loss.
WFP: What's one new thing you learned about US military aid to Colombia that the US public needs to know?
LE: The US public needs to know that our tax dollars are going to fund a megalithic project of militarism and fear politics in Colombia. During my trip with Witness for Peace I saw that few Colombian citizens actually see the benefits of the US military aid in the nation. Rather, many campesinos and low income families are victims of the violent policies of the government, which works in conjunction with the United States as US-funded military agents carry out violent attacks against citizens in hopes of eradicating FARC members and preventing drug trafficking.
WFP: What's one new thing you learned about the free trade agreement that the US public needs to know?
LE: The US public needs to know that the free trade agreement with Colombia has not been created to help farmers and Colombian businesses but rather to directly benefit US multinational corporations located within and outside of Colombia. Under the FTA, these corporations would gain greater access to the Colombian market and be able to fully overwhelm the industrial and agricultural sectors of the nation. Those sections of agriculture and industry that Colombia protects currently would be swallowed by large US companies that small Colombian entrepreneurs simply cannot compete with. During my trip, the delegation continuously met groups who told us that the FTA would be used to benefit multinational corporations that are already responsible for displacing countless numbers of Colombians.
WFP: What part of the trip was most fun?
LE: Meeting the people of Colombia, who were always very warm and loving towards our delegation, was without a doubt the best part of the trip. Sharing meals and experiencing daily life with people throughout the nation was such a rewarding experience.
WFP: What message did Colombians ask you to take back to the US?
LE: The message that my delegation most frequently heard from Colombians: that it is our government and its political and economic policy that they feel causes a great deal of the strife and conflict in their nation. Additionally, that we, as US citizens have a clear role to play in trying to end the violence in the nation. We demand Colombian products, like flowers, coffee and fruit, that rely on a low-wage, union-busting atmosphere of increased production. Our government’s policies affect the lives of Colombians, like the war on drugs, which continues to be a failing war--not due to the magnitude of cocaine exported, but due to the large demand in the United States that continues to fund narcotics trafficking. US citizens have a role to play in ending the violence because we play an important role in keeping the Colombian people at a point of economic disadvantage and victim to abuse by the state.
WFP: What would you tell others considering traveling to Colombia with Witness for Peace?
LE: Be prepared for a life changing experience. Traveling to Colombia with Witness for Peace is not a choice to be made lightly. It’s an incredible journey and after spending only 10 days in the nation you will be moved to action, whether raising awareness about human rights violations or petitioning your representative to stop funding Plan Colombia and not approve the FTA. After learning so much, you simply will feel compelled to act. An intense 10 days of learning with Witness for Peace will last within you for a long time. It’s impossible not to think of the people you have met or the information you have gained every time you see a bottle of Coca-Cola or read the news.
Click here for a list of our upcoming delegations to Colombia.