Nimia Vargas' speech compels us to action
This was a very compelling call to action to prevent further U.S. aid for perpetuating war in Columbia, and to instead redirect the funds to better serve the people. The translated version as I heard it, of Nimia's speech is here, and the questions and answers, mostly asked in Spanish, will be posted later.
Kathleen Jeurgens opened with a song in Spanish, called "It's not enough to Pray".
Nimia Vargas, co-founder of Colombian Network of Rural Women and the Network of Choco Women, has been active for many years in Columbia, teaching rural women organizing groups, and most recently on March 8th, International Women's Day.
Translated version of her speech went pretty much as follows:
"We are going through a difficult period. This is not a period that involves one or two or three years. What has given rise to the problems we have faced in Columbia is the invisibility of some of the society, the inequalities between different sectors of society, and the lack of resources for them. The people who work and work are not visible.
The fact that there is government corruption, the fact that the government is carrying out their activities of corruption on the backs of the people, this is not well understood. I'm sure you are aware that there are over 40 million people in Columbia. Of these over 11 million of them are of African descent. And 3 million of these are also indigenous. Many have been displaced within the country. Of these, 50% are of african-american descent, scattered throughout many regions, including Bogata, near Panama, and.... [other places I could not understand ]
At the time our country is facing this war and conflict, the african and indigenous peoples are those that are suffering the most. What is worrisome for us is that the media speaks of the guerillas and the miltary, but never of the paramilitary.
And in this conflict also we are worried that the Mestisa [sp?] women of african descent are facing the worst, because:
1) their husbands are being killed
2) their children especially adolescents are being taken to join the military ranks of the warring factions and the paramilitary, lured by the promise of payment.
3) they are fleeing their homes to become part of the growing ranks of poor people in marginalized communities.... Perhaps some of you have seen the women with children begging with signs that say "displaced"
We are concerned about the fumigation that is taking place in the guise of destroying the coca. The coca is considered to be medicine by indigenous people. What makes coca in a sense poisonous/dangerous is the chemicals that are used to process it. You are well-aware that these chemicals come from the United States. So we don't understand in regards to houw the U.S. and our gov't seems committed to stopping drugs by using chemicals sent by the U.S. to apparently stop coca growing. The coca production has increased 25%.
And as the increase of coca planting takes place and fumigations take place, we see the effects in the destruction of other crops, animals, poisoning of water, children getting skin rashes and being born with deformities.
So we don't see how this policy can be effective in ending of coca production or drug trafficking. We have proposed another way.
Our group, rural wormen organization, we have proposed to our government what is seen by many to be an idealistic proposal, but that we see as viable; To provide minimal salaries to people so they can survive and plant their own crops. Because coca is how they can feed their family. It seems that the [columbian] government has paid no attention to our proposal. We think that the farmers have a right to grow coca in order to feed their families at this point.
We don't see it as [being a need for] using different or new resources. Resources are being spent already on fumigation, it is just a matter of redirecting these resources.
A little history: In 1957 the [columbian] government approved the "2nd Law", stating that in lands the black community inhabited, these were considered empty lands, by the Pacific. In 1993 "Law #70 was passed, as a way to correct the law in 1959. In some sections of this Law #70, it states that there will be collective title to te lands given to people of African descent, in essence that no other people will have a right to live in these lands, in an attempt to improve development near the Pacific.
But paradoxically/ironically, when the giving of titles was first happening in 1996, Paramilitaries entered the areas, desplacing and massacring people from areas these people live in. When the 1st land title was given collectively to people in N. Choco, next to Panama, the Paramilitaries massacred 38 people and 400 families were displaced.
In the Ande[sp?] municipality, quite a few people were killed, children orphaned and families displaced. In the Anton Bahuan Bahu [sp?] in 1997 where the 2nd and 3rd titles were to be given, many massacres and displacements occurred.
And the ones who have committed these atrocities have been the paramilitaries. I am not saying that the guerillas don't intimidate or kill people. But the guerillas and military is not my focus, because the news focus is already only on this, but the news doesn't cover the paramilitaries actions. And what's curious for us as leaders for the region, is to hear that there are proposals from the U.S. and Columbian governments to have funding increase for really big projects in our area. This does not mean that we are opposed to development in our area, but we are calling for these dicussions on these proposals be held in public, with input from the public that will be affected, not behind closed doors, as is happening currently. And that these negotiations be made in the interests of the people.
And also, in the Pacific, I want to mention that they have discovered not only the greatest biodiversity, but also urnaium, petroleum, gold and platinum. And that this flora and fauna that is so precious is being called "the lung of the world".
But in all this, the government at least up to now has paid very little attention to reason. We don't have electricity, the worst roads and despite talk for years to build a hydroelectric plant, this has not occurred. And also we don't have enough food.
We think as women that it is crazy that the politics of the Bush Administration in terms of changing the use of the resources to end drug trafficking should be used instead to eliminate the guerillas. As women we believe war is not the answer, that the trainings of soldiers at the School of the Americas, or sending more guns is not going to solve our problems. It is only going to make them mor acute.
We believe that the promoting of war is not the answer. But as it stands, around 97% of the resources sent are used for war. Only 3 % are used for development. The problem is not the military or the paramilitaries so much as the disinvestment that has taken place, the lack of social justice, and the disrespect for human beings. It's truly unjust that there is a "Law 121" for african people and agrarian reform, and that when we put forth efforts to try and implement these laws, there are no resources. I could tell you that my organization been touched by the war; Particularly that 3 years ago, one member of our group that was aspiring to be mayor was killed, and 10 women had to leave because of death threats; That we are committed to peace and dialogue with armed actors, and that we fear to do so because these activities are prohibited.
But I will wait for the question and answer session to go into greater detail. Thank you."
Announcement of upcoming events:
Sunday nite april 14th at 5 PM at SEIU union hall 2526 SE 36th St CAFTA event. Contact (503) 236-7916 for more info.
Monday April 15th Tax Day protest at Holliday Park 1 PM and then at Pioneer Square at 5 PM with a 6 PM march to the Post Office.
Wednesday April 17 Historical documentary on the Chicano Movement, 7 p.m. at the Guild Theatre, 829 SW 9th (btwn Yamhill & Taylor)
May Day dedicated to the rights of immigrant workers, that the U.S. Supreme Court just denied have any such rights.
Groups folks can join or contact for more info:
*Latin American Working Group: this is a coalition of over 60 religious, grassroots, human rights, policy and development organizations that strives to influence US policy toward Latin America and the Carribbean so that it promotes peace, justice and sustainable development.
For info, email email@example.com. To be added to this listserve, email firstname.lastname@example.org; website: http://www.lawg.org/colmar18.htm
*Peace in Columbia Action Group is a group working locally on issues in Columbia: (503) 236-7916 email@example.com.
Putting the dollar amounts in perspective, to raise money for Nimia's ongoing work, 4 dollar figures were thrown out.
23 dollars=what each taxpayer contributes as part of Plan Columbia
1.3 billion is what has been spent on Plan Columbia
2 million= what is spent each day on Plan Columbia
11 dollars=what we could each give in this room in order to raise $500.00 to help Nimia do this work.... This goal was achieved.
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