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Colombian Peasant Leader Speaks Out Against U.S. Intervention

Part Two of an Interview with Miguel Cifuente
by Thistle Parker-Hartog and Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
December 31, 2004
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Members of the Colombia Action Network, Thistle Parker-Hartog and Meredith Aby, interviewed Colombian peasant leader Miguel Cifuente, the executive secretary of the Cimitarra River Valley Peasant Association. For reasons of space we broke the interview into two parts. The first part can be found in here.

A Colombia Action Network (CAN) delegation of student and anti-war activists traveled to Colombia to investigate the effects of U.S. military aid. Evidence given to the delegation shows that paramilitary death squads coordinate their activities with the U.S.-backed Colombian military.

Fight Back!: How do the campesinos resist against the increased militarization and the repression?

Miguel Cifuente: We have a denouncement system that allows us to know if it is a military operation or not. So we verify that that is a military operation. Then we simply send letters to the whole world telling them to respect life and goods and everything and the campesinos, because that is the function of the army. And then it becomes more difficult to say that it wasn’t them and that it was someone else. [The military often claims that the atrocities were committed by other forces.]

We resist by organizing the population. So, when we know that there will be paramilitary incursions and we want to try to make the state put a little more social investment in the region, we do action campaigns. In the ‘80s there was a campesino organization, the Magdalena Medio Campesino Coordination (Coordinadora Campesina del Magdalena Medio) that resisted, doing various marches, looking for vindication for the campesinos. In ’96 there was another very large march at the location of San Pablo and at the location of Barrancabermeja, trying also to make the state invest in the development of the region. The agreements made were always violated. In ’98, we did a mobilization from the Cimitarra River Valley and from Southern Bolivar with 10,000 campesinos. President Luis Pastrana signed a series of agreements with us, like refinancing a development plan for human rights in the Magdalena Medio, which was never financed. They also agreed to create a search blockade against the paramilitaries, which they also never created.

What we are fighting for today is a fulfillment of that agreement. It was created because of all of our pressure, but they have suspended it. So we have done various takeovers. We have taken over the Defensoria del Pueblo [similar to a human rights division of the Attorney General’s office] here in Bogota, on two occasions. We have taken the Bucaramanga city offices, the Jondon city offices and the Barrancabermeja city offices. And we have worked together with other social organizations, like the displaced [individuals forced off the land by the military, paramilitary or combat operations]. In that way, we have always been involved in these activities protesting government policies, the paramilitarization and the militarization of the region.

Fight Back!: What would you like the American public to do to show support for your work and for the campesinos here in Colombia?

Miguel Cifuente: Fundamentally, in order for us to move forward with the goal of resisting the forced displacement, we need international accompaniment, brotherhood with the people of the United States or with the European people, because that is the practice that we have noted works and a way we can resist.

I think that you should continue your commitment to be conscious of what the government of the United States, with Colombian government, is doing, like financing the plan for war - Plan Colombia. Practically it is a foreign intervention in all internal matters, political, social, economic, with the excuse of the war on drugs. I think that the American people should look further. I believe that the U.S. is spreading war to all places, not just to Colombia. But, yes, Colombia is one of the countries that receives the most military aid and economic assistance from the United States.

So in the event that you could suspend all manner of aid, I think that we Colombians could find a solution to the conflict that we have. We believe that the armed conflict, which has lasted 40 years, has to be given a political solution, a political resolution. And it has to be the Colombian people who have to come up with that political solution. In the sense that the United States has interests of whatever type, like through the multinational corporations, in all the economic and natural resources and the social control of this country, this will not do. The United States will never have the authority to participate in that process. So, I believe that we Colombians have to arrive at that political solution.