Sarah Buchner was a member of the University of North Carolina at Asheville SDS.
Angela Denio was part of an August 2009, a delegation of U.S. students, trade unionists and anti-war activists who traveled to Colombia to meet with leaders in the struggle there. The Colombia Action Network and the Campaign for Labor Rights, two grassroots organizations here in the United States fighting against U.S. intervention in Colombia, hosted the trip.
“I knew what I heard in the U.S. media about the benefits of U.S. tax money and aid to Colombia was true only for the rich. I wanted to see for myself what the reality is for Colombians,” said Jeremy Miller, a member of the Colombian Action Network when explaining his decision to go on the delegation. Members of the Colombia Action Network and the Campaign for Labor Rights arranged meetings with peasant, indigenous and student groups, as well as with political leaders, unions, political prisoners and families of Colombians killed or imprisoned by the government.
The first union the delegation met with was the National Peasant-Farmer Federation, FENSUAGRO. They unite farmers from all over Colombia to struggle for land reform and everyday rights for rural workers. It is the largest rural labor organization in Colombia and is unwavering in its principled defense of workers. Because of the work they do, this union is the most targeted for violence by the wealthy and their pro-government death squads.
During a rural community meeting, a FENSUAGRO leader told the delegation, “75 of our members are currently in jail. We fight for a public policy that favors the peasant farmer and we are always clear about our demands. Because of this the government works daily, looking for ways to finish us off. The government tries to connect us to the FARC [the largest armed rebel group in Colombia], in attempts to discredit us. The Uribe government goes after anyone who defends the working class. They claim that we are not the victims of violence, that we are the aggressors. Farmers have no support from the government. No rights even to housing or health care. The government does not care for the poor and has completely abandoned us to poverty. Human life is worth only the value of a bullet.”
The stories from other groups told much of the same - of being afraid to leave the house in the morning, of being followed, of having family members killed by death squads, of being arrested for implausible charges - all of this because of the fight for the rights of workers and peasants, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians, everyday people. “I was shocked to hear the stories of the university students in Bogotá. They are doing the same kind of activism we are here in the U.S., but because of it, they are facing death threats, they are being imprisoned or assassinated,” said Sarah Buchner of New Students for a Democratic Society, another delegate on the trip, speaking one night after a particularly intense day of stories.
- During the trip, the theme that repeatedly came up was “what is most important for us as U.S. activists to bring back?” We decided to bring back the stories and pictures but also something more: to drive home the message that the terrible violence in Colombia is directly connected to the United States government. We can do something to change that, to stop it. It is the U.S. government that foots the bill for the war and violence that happens in Colombia. The people of Colombia are very clear on this. The people the delegation met with had all sorts of ideas about ways to build a better Colombia and about ways for peace. But all of them were united in saying U.S. intervention must stop, that the seven proposed U.S. military bases in Colombia would do nothing to end violence in the country and would serve only to increase it, that peace in Colombia would only come with the end of U.S. violations of Colombian sovereignty.
- [FightBack! Eyewitness report from solidarity delegation Report by Angela Denio | September 8, 2009]