CNY-Colombia Solidarity

by Laura MacDonald

Since returning from a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia last March, it has remained very important to me to work to support the people of Colombia in their resistance to the continued militarization and privatization of their country, especially since both of these troubling trends would not be possible without the financial backing of the United States. So I am extremely excited to announce the formation of the Cajibío-Central New York Sister Partnership. Cajibío is a region similar to one of our counties, located in the province of Cauca in southwestern Colombia. While in Colombia, we were privileged to make the acquaintance of Marylen Serna Salinas and her husband John Henry Gutierrez, two dedicated organizers with the Small Farmer Movement of Cajibío.

The people of Cauca have been subject to violence on the part of the armed actors in Colombia’s conflict, particularly the right-wing paramilitaries, who have documented connections to Colombia’s military. In addition, there is widespread poverty, exacerbated by violence and economic globalization. The civil war in Colombia is dominated by the quest for control of the nation’s land and resources. There are many powerful interests struggling for control, including guerillas, paramilitaries, multinational corporations, and drug cartels, many of whose interests are intertwined. They want the land not for its agricultural capacity but for oil and other natural resource exploitation, infrastructure, and huge development projects. Groups such as campesinos (small farmers), Afro-Colombians, and the indigenous, whose cultures and livelihoods depend on the land, are pushed off through violence, threats, unfair economic policies, and aerial fumigations.

Formed in 1990, the Small Farmer Movement of Cajibío arose out of the need for unity among these various groups, with the goal of strengthening the work already being done and creating a more organized structure of resistance. The Small Farmer Movement of Cajibío is centered on the “Plan for Life,” a proposal for alternative development created by 687 community representatives over the course of a four day summit. With an emphasis on non-violent resistance and the strengthening of civil society, the Plan for Life is structured around seven work areas: Health, Education, Agro-Environment, Territory and Authority, Culture and Identity, Infrastructure Projects, and Political Organizing.

Marylen and John Henry stressed the importance of building international solidarity. The Small Farmer Movement has developed a proposal for groups from other countries that would like to work together with them and support their work. One of the reasons for international solidarity is to serve as a form of non-violent self-defense for threatened communities. The violence that has characterized the Colombian conflict is dependent on the impunity granted to the perpetrators. Because the victims are poor and often without access to the means to raise awareness of what has happened, and because they face threats of further violence, they are effectively without a voice. International solidarity can make violence and threats of violence visible on an international level. One way that we in Central New York hope to accomplish this is by setting up an alert network to spread the word when organizers or others in the Cajibío community are threatened. We can then apply pressure where it is needed. Simply making it known that the situation is being followed by people in the United States can make a great deal of difference.

Secondly, international solidarity can be a means for us to help support the civil society that US aid to Colombia – tilted so heavily towards the military – neglects. In our sister relationship with the Small Farmer Movement of Cajibío, we will be working jointly on a nutritional improvement program. Due to widespread poverty in the area, many local women have been forced to work for large area farms, undermining the productivity of their own small plots of land. This forces many mothers to be away from their children and prevents them from growing their own food.

In response to this situation, women in the community have created places where they can care for the children while their mothers are at work, provide the kids with basic foods, and give them a pre-school education. We will be working with the Cajibío municipal committee of Community Mothers and the leadership council of the Small Farmers’ Movement of Cajibío to improve the nutrition of these children by raising funds for the establishment of community gardens. Each garden will be used by about ten families. We are developing a campaign where individuals, families, or groups can sponsor a garden.

We are very fortunate to be involved with this group. They are extremely well-organized and dedicated to nonviolent grassroots solutions to the problems faced by Colombians. ¡Viva la solidaridad internacional!

Anyone interested in learning more about the CNY-Cajibío Sister Partnership can contact Laura at <> or (315) 422-4924.