Replacing Destruction with Hope:
A CNY Alternative to Plan Colombia

by Dana Brown

Colombia is in the midst of an ongoing "civil" war that has had catastrophic effects on its civilian population. Paramilitary and guerrilla forces are infamous for their human rights abuses inflicted on the poor, including assassinations, forced displacement, persecution, and arrest. In addition, the inequitable distribution of Colombia's resources has led to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few and great poverty for the vast majority of Colombian families.

The war in Colombia is a long and complicated story, and atrocities have been committed by all sides. The root causes of the war lie in economic and political injustices that have existed for over a century. The persistence of the Colombian war is owed, in great part, to the continued international (mostly US) intervention in the conflict and exercise of political and economic pressure on the country. Many see the Colombian conflict as the embodiment of the "War on Drugs," but the war started long before the production of coca became prevalent in Colombia. The war continues, but not because of a conflict involving drugs - although economic dependence on cocaine is certainly an obstacle in the struggle to achieve a lasting peace.

John Henry

Under the guise of the "War on Drugs," the US has provided over $4 billion of "assistance" to Colombia over the past five years under Plan Colombia, an "aid" package aimed at eradicating coca crops and preventing the flow of illegal drugs into the US. Unfortunately, Plan Colombia has proven to achieve little more than lining the pockets of US corporations; spraying killer chemicals onto people, their homes and subsistence crops; and creating dependency on foreign aid. Approximately two-thirds of the "aid" money from Plan Colombia has returned directly to the US due to a stipulation that the money must be spent to buy helicopters and weapons from US corporations. This aid has only fueled the fire in Colombia by focusing on clearing land for oil exploration and keeping Colombia safe for corporations, without regard for its people.


Despite the rather grim picture I have painted, one of the most inspiring things in the world to me is the work of brave, creative, and determined Colombians who have decided to promote alternatives. Some communities in Colombia are facing the challenges of their country head-on by proposing innovative alternatives to the violence and destruction of the war. One such community is Cajibío, located in southwestern Colombian state of Cauca. The Movimiento Campesion de Cajibio (MCC - the Small Farmers' Movement of Cajibío) has successfully organized thousands of residents to come together and create a Plan for Life (a blueprint for local sustainable development and political education) that does not rely on funds from the Colombian government. Not accepting government aid frees the community from the obligation to practice destructive agriculture techniques - like monoculture - and allows them to create sustainable practices which would not be threatened by the fluctuating government support.

Following a legacy of solidarity and sanctuary, the Central New York community has come together once again to open its arms to a community in need. People from the Syracuse, Ithaca and Cortland areas have chosen to partner with Cajibío to provide an alternative to the exploitation that has dominated US/Colombian relations for so long. Through our Sister Community partnership, we support Cajibío's efforts to develop organic agriculture projects, nutrition and preventative health care programs, a youth-led alternative school initiative, and social and political education projects.

This October we will be blessed with a visit from John Henry Gonzalez Duque, a religious and community leader from Cajibío. John Henry has extensive experience working with cooperatives, land defense organizations, families, housing activists, youth groups, farmers and human rights defenders in Cajibío. He is the person who initiated a coalition of these groups, giving birth to the MCC. He has held many local leadership positions and served as a national representative of campesino organizations in signing peace accords with the government in 1999.

In addition to giving several public lectures, John Henry will meet with local farmers, credit unions, renewable energy businesses, schools, church groups, the Ithaca Ecovillage and more. He will also accompany a group of us to Chicago, Illinois for the first ever "Partnering for Peace" conference, where members of US and Colombian communities involved in Sister City projects or other partnerships will share experiences and discuss how to deepen our relationship of collaboration, education, and aid.

GET INVOLVED

John Henry will speak on Monday, October 10 at 7 pm at the Westcott Community Center (826 Euclid Ave., Syracuse) and on October 12 at noon in Syracuse University's Maxwell School. Contact Ann at 478-4571 for specific location. Free.

To get involved with the Sister Community Project, please contact Ann Tiffany: anntiffany@a-znet.com or Dana Brown: cuslar@cornell.edu, 607-255-7293.


John Henry's visit is not only an important way to continue to educate the Central New York community about the plight of the Colombian people and the hope and inspiration of the Small Farmers' Movement of Cajibío, it is an opportunity for us to share our resources with Cajibío as well.

Join me in embracing John Henry and the entire Cajibío community!

 

Dana is the Coordinator of the Committee on US/Latin American Relations (CUSLAR) in Ithaca, NY. She's thrilled to be working on such an inspiring project and is looking forward to visiting Cajibío this winter with other CNYers.