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Colombian people’s leaders speak in Florida, School of the Americas Protest in Georgia

By Cassia Laham |
November 28, 2014
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Leaders of Colombian peoples movement with Florida supporters.
Leaders of Colombian peoples movement with Florida supporters. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Fort Lauderdale, FL - 20 antiwar and international solidarity activists gathered in Pembroke Pines, Nov. 25, to hear two leaders of the Colombian human-rights movement speak about their country and U.S. intervention. The event was the final stop on a nationwide speaking tour.

The guest speakers are well known in Colombia. Gustavo Gallardo is the International Relations Coordinator of La Marcha Patriotica and July Henriquez is a human rights lawyer. La Marcha is one of the largest and most active social justice movements in Colombia and it continues to face heavy and deadly repression by the Colombian government. In fact, because of their involvement in the leftist movement, Gallardo and Henriquez were forcibly displaced from their home city of Barranquilla to the capital of Bogota.

The two brave activists spoke about the thousands of political dissidents displaced, disappeared and assassinated by American-trained Colombian forces. They also explained the history of Western imperialism in South America and how the U.S. continues attempting to impose its political and economic will on the Colombian people. They also talked about how most of the military officers who direct the Colombian paramilitaries are trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning Georgia. Thousands die at the hands of the Colombian government death squads every year, including as many as 4000 trade unionists over 25 years.

The School of the Americas trains thousands of South American military officers in deadly tactics, including torture and assassination, in order to do the U.S. government’s bidding throughout Latin America. The Colombian leaders both spoke at the annual protest outside of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia two days earlier.

In his speech, Gallardo referred to Colombia as “the Israel of Latin America.” Like Israel, Colombia is a strategic base for the U.S. to launch economic and military warfare against the people and governments in the surrounding countries.

Gallardo expressed how many of the destabilization protests and killings that occurred in neighboring Venezuela over the last year were actually conducted by Colombians trained by the U.S. Gallardo compared this to the destabilization efforts in Syria, where so-called rebels were trained and armed by the U.S. in order to take down a government resisting U.S. domination.

After Gallardo spoke about the U.S. military and economic agenda, July Henriquez focused the discussion on “U.S. prison imperialism.” She explained how the U.S. seeks out new markets for its private prison industry. She said Colombia and several other countries in Latin America are being used to expand this industry. Hundreds of private prisons, run by American-based companies, are emerging throughout Latin American and Africa as places to dispose of political dissidents and social justice activists.

Henriquez argued that these private, for-profit prisons are designed by the U.S. and used in the countries it dominates. In Colombia, where death squads and political repression are severe, private prisons are used to dispose of the poor and the displaced in society. In Colombia the prisoners are being used as cheap labor for private businesses as well.

Members of the audience asked what they could do to express solidarity with activists in Colombia fighting for change. Gallardo and Henriquez responded, “Make sure the right information permeates American society; protest your legislators and demand that they stop creating and funding policies that further U.S. imperialist aims in Colombia.”

A great bond of solidarity was felt between the activists from the two countries. Feelings of hope were expressed as young people of the U.S. and Colombia continue to struggle for peace and justice.

People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism and Racism (POWIR) sponsored the talk and the national tour was organized by the Alliance for Global Justice.