Colombia Action Network
Colombia Action Network
CAN Founding conference
Around one hundred people gathered in Chicago April 7 and 8, for a historic meeting of Colombia solidarity activists from across the U.S. The Colombia Action Network (C.A.N.) is the first national network to bring together a true diversity of people to oppose U.S. intervention in Colombia and to support the self-determination of Colombian people struggling for peace with social and economic justice.
Colombians and people from the U.S., young and old, men and women, revolutionaries and pacifists, union members and students, all united around a common goal of building what one Chicago-based activist called "a tent that's big enough for all those who oppose U.S. intervention in Colombia."
People came to Chicago from as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Burlington, Vermont. A van-full of activists drove from Morristown, New Jersey. Other activists came from Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Duluth, Minneapolis, all over Illinois, and from the small town of Steven's Point, Wisconsin.
Some participants shared frustrations over having been excluded from past coalition efforts. "I support all Colombians fighting for progressive change, including the guerrillas. That's not a popular point of view in the U.S., and many human rights groups spend half their time adding to State Department propaganda against the F.A.R.C. and other guerrilla groups'" said Meredith Aby. "I think it's time for U.S. activists to focus on opposing the role of the U.S. government in Colombia, and let Colombians decide the future of their own country."
The conference opened with Heather Truskowski, of Chicago's Colombia Solidarity Committee, denouncing U.S. aid to Colombia's brutal military and paramilitary forces. She said, "We need to come together and build a movement that can stop U.S.-sponsored attacks on the Colombian people." C.A.N. participants and Chicago-area activists led workshops on topics such as Organizing 101; Human Rights and the Social Movement in Colombia; and Eyewitness Colombia - A Report from the Demilitarized Zone.
Jose Fernando Ramirez Lozano, a 21-year trade union leader, and president of the Oil Workers Union of Bogota, closed the first day of the conference with an inspiring talk. He is a leader of the left-wing Patriotic Union and is active in the Peasant's Association of the Cimitarra River Valley of Barrancabermeja, an area that has witnessed countless attacks on peasant leaders. After the conference, Ramirez set out for a coast-to-coast tour that will include speaking at the Labor Notes conference in Detroit, Michigan.
"We are fighting kilometer by kilometer against the paramilitaries. El Salvador's death squads, the Nicaraguan Contras, the self-defense groups in Colombia, they all have the same father - U.S. imperialism. And they are all trained at the School of the Americas," Ramirez told the crowd. "That is why your solidarity as North Americans is so important to us."
He continued, "Because as defenders of human rights, we come into conflict with multinationals and those who hold power. We have been declared military targets - the C.U.T. has 10,000 dead. We in the oil workers union have lost over 130 people - the last one was killed two weeks ago. But we can't allow them to kill our hope."
That spirit of hope moved the C.A.N. activists to take action. They sent a statement of solidarity to the Colombian media, and agreed to take a series of joint actions to stop U.S. military aid. In spring and summer, activists will pressure local congress people in dozens of U.S. cities. In the fall, the C.A.N. will mobilize for protests in Washington, D.C.
Sundin meets Raul Reyes
Jess Sundin, of the Colombia Action Network, led a small delegation of three North American activists to Bogatá in July 2000, to attend a conference responding to U.S. military aid. The delegation also traveled to the area in Southern Colombia controlled by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army.
- I met Comandante Raul Reyes in July 2000, at a guerrilla camp outside of San Vicente del Caguan, Southern Colombia. My visit was the FARC's first from U.S. solidarity activists. At the time, the FARC-EP was in the midst of a dialogue with the Colombian government which took place in the area I visited, an area cleared of all U.S. and Colombian military and police forces, and where the guerrillas operated openly.
- After having a taste of life in town, and a visit to the site of the dialogues, we were driven around winding, rutted dirt roads, into the mountains, and to a semi-permanent FARC encampment, where Comandante Reyes was based, along with about 40 other men and women.
- He acted as our principal host during my week inside FARC-controlled territory. My first night at camp, he invited us to join him for dinner. After dinner, we shared a few rounds of vodka, and a smoke for those who wanted it. He asked about the political situation in the United States, and how North Americans viewed the struggle in Colombia. Then, the Comandante shared his views, and that of the FARC, on the political situation in Colombia, the significance of the dialogue with the government and the prospects for peace.
Sundin told Fight Back;
- It was an incredible opportunity, and an honor, to meet with Comandante Raul Reyes. He was my host in Southern Colombia. He's a very warm and thoughtful man, who told me time and again that he was so pleased that we were there.
- Like so many of the people I talked with, he asked me to bring back a message of peace and solidarity. Members of the FARC are outraged by the escalation of U.S. military intervention. They believe that progressive people in the U.S. - revolutionaries, activists, people of faith, young people, union members - are their allies in trying to bring peace with justice to Colombia.
- The guerrillas and civilian activists alike told me that the single most important thing people in the U.S. can do is bring an end to U.S. involvement. I agree with them - to solve Colombia's problems and build a future, the best people to do that are Colombian's themselves.
- That's why we need to build a national movement that can really challenge U.S. policy. We can take inspiration and lessons from what was done here in the movements to end the war against Viet Nam and to get the U.S. out of Central America. That's just what we're doing with the Colombia Action Network. With committees in cities and towns across the U.S. - and we need more - we are building a national network that can say no to U.S. intervention in Colombia.