International protests against Clinton's Colombia visit
Demonstrations across the United States and around the world took place on Wednesday, 30 August, to coincide with US President Bill Clinton's trip to Cartagena, Colombia. The main demands were: ``Stop the US war against Colombia! No to Plan Colombia!'' In Dublin, a soliodarity vigil was held on Wednesday evening outside the US Embassy in Ballsbridge, organised by Trocaire, AfrI and friends and the family of Fr. Brendan Forde, an Irish priest working in Colombia.
On Wednesday, President Clinton met with Colombian President Pastrana to ``underscore America's support for Colombia's efforts to seek peace, fight illicit drugs, build its economy and deepen democracy''. This refers to Plan Colombia, a $1.3 billion aid package primarily directed at military support to wipe out coca production.
Plan Colombia is opposed by human rights and nongovernmental organisations working in Colombia because they believe it will provide no exit from the quagmire of 30 years of conflict. These groups include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Peace Brigades International, Franciscans Justice and Peace Commission, Trocaire, Christian Aid and many other local and international organisations working in support of human rights and peace, including AfrI. The plan relies on funding and training of the Colombian military, gross abusers of human rights. The US has formed an alliance with an army that refuses to disengage from drug trafficking and from the notorious ``paramilitaries'' - the Colombian term for right-wing death squads. The US is trying to persuade the European Union to support Plan Colombia politically and financially.
The EU is due to decide on this issue in September 2000. The Dublin government's response to the Plan has so far been ambiguous.
Colombia is already the third largest recipient of US military aid in the world. The aid package, part of the proposed $7.5 billion ``Plan Colombia,'' includes 60 combat helicopters, counterinsurgency training by US Special Forces, and defoliation efforts with lethal chemicals and dangerous biological agents like the ``Fusarium oxysporum'' fungus.
``This aid package has nothing to do with narcotrafficking,'' Teresa Gutierrez of the IAC stated. ``These weapons are clearly aimed at escalating the civil war that has gripped Colombia for 50 years, at the very time that Colombian President Andres Pastrana claims to be looking for an accord with the insurgencies.''
``Clinton is visiting Colombia just two weeks after Colombian soldiers massacred six children in Pueblo Rico on 15 August,'' IAC West Coast Co-coordinator Gloria La Riva said. ``Government-linked death squads have killed scores of others since then. That is the real impact of US military aid and Plan Colombia.''
In Ireland, the impact of the paramilitaries in Colombia and the long-running conflict on the lives of ordinary people has been brought home dramatically with news of the recent massacre in the Peace Community of La Union, Uraba State, where Irish Franciscan priest, Fr. Brendan Forde, currently works and lives. The community, which has declared itself neutral in the conflict, was entered by paramilitaries on 8 July and six male members were massacred. The paramilitaries stated that they would be back and told the community to leave their land. The community are still on the land but live in a state of constant fear and tension. These massacres are not isolated events. Over the last six months, there have been 235 massacres in Colombia. Paramilitary actions almost always involve the state army in full or tacit support. Eighty percent of all human rights abuses are carried out by the paramilitaries in tandem with the military.
More information and Urgent Action leaflets available from Trocaire and Afri. Trocaire: Tel (01) 288 5385 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org AfrI: Tel: (01) 496 85 95 Email: email@example.com