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Historic Conference in El Salvador

"Stand In Solidarity with the People of Colombia"

by Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
August 1, 2001
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This is a photo of FARC member and his dog Pepe.
Colombian rebel - member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and his pet dog Pepe. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

San Salvador, El Salvador - Participants from over twenty countries met here for the International Gathering in Solidarity and for Peace in Colombia and Latin America, July 20-22. People from across Latin America, Europe, Canada and the United States came together for three days, giving their solidarity to the popular movement and rebel forces of Colombia. Speakers included revolutionary leaders, union activists, indigenous activists, academics, and leftist politicians.

"This conference was especially important for North Americans because of the long history of U.S. military aid and intervention in Colombia, and throughout Latin America," said Colombia Action Network delegate Anh Pham of Minneapolis.

U.S. involvement in Colombia is on the rise since last year, when Congress adopted Plan Colombia, which sent $2 million a day in military aid, advisors, and chemicals to Colombia.

At this historic conference, participants heard first-hand of the of the growing environmental crisis and of the increase in human rights abuses by government-organized death squads, which are funded by the U.S. military aid package, Plan Colombia. The purpose of conference was to stand in solidarity with the people of Colombia, to unite in opposition to Plan Colombia, and to back the Colombian people's right to self-determination and national sovereignty.

The conference was hosted by the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), the second largest political party and former guerrilla army of El Salvador. Though this was the first annual conference for peace in Colombia, the Salvadoran people are not new to international solidarity.

While U.S. politicians claim this aid is an effort to fight the "war on drugs", conference panelists repeatedly addressed the real purpose of U.S. warfare in Colombia. U.S. military personnel and weapons - conventional and chemical - are being used to fight the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - Army of the People), the largest guerilla army. The FARC controls 40% of the countryside, and enjoys the support of poor and working people. The U.S. government is concerned that U.S. political and economic interests, including oil resources, in the region are threatened by the strength of the FARC-EP.

Rick Jacobs, a delegate from the Twin Cities based Anti-War Committee described Colombia's civil war, "It's the courageous people of Colombia fighting for freedom, democracy, and their lives against the allied forces of the Colombian oligarchy, the drug mafia and its paramilitary armies, international oil and mineral interests, international finance, including the IMF and World Bank, and the U.S. government. Colombians are fighting against this alliance in different ways - some in the countryside and in the cities, some are organizing in the streets, and others are fighting underground."

Jacobs continued, "It was clear that all of Latin America knows what's going on in Colombia - who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. If the U.S. wanted to go after big drug traffickers, they could ask any Colombian where they live, and catch them just like that. Instead, the government has formed an alliance with Colombia's worst elements."

In an effort to silence opposition to Plan Colombia, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador tried to prevent the conference from happening at all. Julie Schechter, the Embassy's point person on human rights, convinced the University of Central America to back out as the conference location. This interference did not stop the event, but conference had to be moved to three different locations. When Schechter briefly attended the conference, she was chased away by pressure from U.S. activists.

Tom Burke, of the Chicago Colombia Solidarity Committee, said that the role of the FARC-EP and the ELN (Army for National Liberation) representatives was crucial to the success of the conference. "In the United States, our media and our government give us incorrect messages about the revolution in Colombia. I think it was very important that the two largest revolutionary groups in Colombia were represented at the conference." He continued, "They had the opportunity to combat the stereotypes that our government and the Colombian government promote, and to see the international solidarity with their fight for a just future for Colombia."

Jennifer Molina from the Colombian Action Network was inspired. She stressed, "I felt the conference gave excellent analysis on the relationship between the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement for the Americas) and Plan Colombia. We had international unity in seeing the FTAA as the economic arm and Plan Colombia as the military arm of U.S. imperialism. And we actively strategized about responses to U.S. intervention. I feel so energized about the movement we are building - to construct social justice across borders."