Major Demonstrations Against US Colombia Policy Set for April 20-22 4/12/02

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Foes of increasing US involvement in Colombia are urging and expecting thousands of people to turn out in protests scheduled for San Francisco and Washington, DC, next weekend. With the Bush administration ready to ask Congress to drop conditions limiting US military involvement to anti-drug efforts, making the US government a partner with the Colombian state and its paramilitary allies in their decades-long civil war against leftist guerrillas as part of its ill-defined "war on terror," a broad coalition of faith-based, human rights, social justice, anti-war, leftist, and drug reform organizations has come together to call for a National Mobilization on Colombia (http://www.colombiamobilization.org).

"We are building an effective anti-war coalition," said Sanho Tree, head of the Institute for Policy Studies' Drug Policy program, one of the groups endorsing the protests. "We are expecting thousands of people from various constituencies, and they are all coming together over Colombia," Tree told DRCNet.

Organizers plan a series of teach-ins, workshops, and a large demonstration on the Mall in Washington on April 21. The DC protest will culminate in a march with creative civil disobedience on April 22.

The need for a popular mobilization against US policy in Colombia is more urgent than ever, organizers said. "This shift from counternarcotics to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism is mission creep turned into mission gallop," said Tree. "Members from both parties and both the Clinton and Bush administrations had previously promised the public that this was strictly counternarcotics and reassured the American people that they were not getting involved in the Colombian civil war. Now, here comes the administration, in the midst of the Enron scandal, seeking $98 million to protect oil pipelines," Tree said.

"This is turning into a very serious military quagmire," Tree continued. "There is no definition of victory in the war on drugs, the war on terror, or the war against the guerrillas. What happens when the first helicopter with US citizens aboard gets shot down? What happens when the guerrillas attack the oil pipeline again? Do we then turn tail and run? No, the usual American response is to retaliate and escalate. This is going to be another Vietnam," Tree warned.

The US government has pumped almost $2 billion into Colombia since the Clinton administration unveiled Plan Colombia three years ago. As reported in DRCNet and elsewhere, those efforts have not managed to dislocate drug trafficking organizations, reduce the amount of coca and opium grown in Colombia, or reduce drug consumption in the US. They have, however, contributed to an ever-bloodier conflict that has left 2 million Colombians refugees in their own country, wreaked havoc on the environment through widespread pesticide spraying, and helped deepen the political polarization of the country and the region.

Some observers worry that the Colombia protests will be less effective because of other demonstrations scheduled for the same weekend in Washington. Opponents of the "war on terrorism" have organized events for the same weekend. And demonstrators on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are expected to take to the streets by the thousands as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon comes to town on Monday. But the Colombia mobilization will continue nonetheless.

The coalition has organized around the following demands:

  • End US military aid to Colombia and the Andean region.
  • End US funding of counter-narcotic aerial eradication in Colombia and the Andean region.
  • Dramatic expansion of drug treatment and prevention in the United States.
  • US support for comprehensive sustainable economic development alternatives throughout the Andean region, as well as efforts for peace that include the full participation of civil society.
  • US help for alleviating the conditions of refugees and those people internally displaced because of the conflict.
The mobilization also espouses nonviolence in its own actions as well as supporting exclusively nonviolent, negotiated political solutions to the conflict in Colombia. The mobilization does not support or endorse any armed actor in the Colombian conflict.

Among the broad spectrum of groups endorsing the protests are Amazon Watch, American Friends Service Committee, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, Church of the Brethren, Colombia Human Rights Committee, Colombia Support Network, Committee on US/Latin American Relations, Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean (EPICA), Global Exchange, Global Ministries of the Disciples of Christs, International Labor Rights Fund, International Rivers Network, InterReligious Task Force on Central America, League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mennonite Central Committee, Pesticide Action Network North America, Rainforest Action Network, School of the Americas Watch, United Electrical, Radio, and Machines Workers of America (UE), War Resisters League, Witness for Peace, and dozens of state and local peace and justice groups.

Drug policy organizations endorsing the protests include Common Sense for Drug Policy, the Institute for Policy Studies' Drug Policy Project, the November Coalition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Veterans for More Effective Drug Strategies.

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