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OREGON DAILY EMERALD: Group takes Colombian displacement issue to the government

by Ian Geronimo
April 20th, 2010

Activists from the Latin America Solidarity Committee visited the federal courthouse yesterday afternoon to urge members of the U.S. Congress to support a new House resolution that addresses the large-scale internal displacement of populations in Colombia.

As part of their “Face the Displaced” campaign, members of the Eugene organization are focusing on publicizing Colombia’s current political situation, which has led to millions of displaced civilians, by urging people to support House Resolution 1224, a bill that would pressure the Colombian government to deal with the large-scale displacement.

Forty years of multi-party conflict between the Colombian army and armed groups, including insurgent groups — notably the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — has fostered the internal displacement of almost 5 million Colombians, or about 10 percent of the country’s population, according to the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement. Solidarity committee spokesperson Scott Miksch said because Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his administration have done little to fix the problem — and in his estimation may actually be contributing to it — responsibility resides with the U.S. to reduce financial support of the current paradigm.

“We’re gonna bring the notice to our representatives here that there’s legislation in Congress that puts pressure on the Colombian government,” Miksch said. “By withholding military aid, by ending assistance to the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ we can put pressure on the Colombian government to make things right.”

The committee is also part of a campaign to shut down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a Spanish-language combat training school located at Fort Benning, Ga., formerly known as the School of the Americas.

“Our main focus is, of course, the internally displaced people of Colombia, but we are raising the issue of the School of the Americas at the same time because there’s a real intersection in Colombia with the amount of soldiers that go to the School of the Americas, get trained by the U.S. in various military tactics, and then go back into their native country and create the situation that leads to so many displaced people,” Miksch said.

Miksch said despite the school’s renaming in 2001, notable reorganization had not occurred. He also said the school, which is still contributing to political violence in Latin America, has often come under public scrutiny for training notorious human rights violators such as Manuel Noriega and Leopoldo Galtieri.

“There wasn’t any real change that we know of; the trainers, the philosophy they are teaching, the facility where they train them at, none of that changed at all,” he said. “You’re still having people graduate from WHINSEC — that’s what they’re calling it now — who go on to commit human rights violations.”

Peg Morton, who visited Colombia in 2006 with a group that accompanied thousands of displaced Afro-Colombians outside Bogota, said the armed groups on all sides often target civilians because of land interests.

“Colombia is a very rich country as far as the resources it has under the ground and as far as its soil,” she said. “It’s various economic interests that are involved in pushing the ordinary people, who are just trying to survive with dignity, off of their land.”

She agreed with Miksch that the Colombian government is perpetuating the problem of displaced peoples.

To read this article in the Oregon Daily Emerald, click here