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Colombia Action Network Founding Conference a Huge Success

by Jess Sundin |
May 1, 2001
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This is a photo of Jose Fernando giving a speech.
Jose Fernando, leader of Colombia's oil workers, calls for an end to all US intervention in Colombia. (Fight Back! News Jessica Sundin)

Chicago, IL - 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 Bogotá, 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.

Find more information about the Colombia Action Network on the web, or call them at 312-777-4001 extension 1404.