Delegates to report on Witness for Peace visit to Columbia
January 2001

January 7-17, 2001, the U.S.-based organization Witness for Peace will send its first delegation to Colombia in order to see first-hand the impacts of U.S. policy on that war torn country. On Tuesday, January 23rd, two members of the delegation, Ana Maria Vasquez and Richard Boren, will report on their experience at a program in Gainesville. the program will be held at 8 p.m. at the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. University Ave. (373-0010). Witness for Peace has opposed U.S. intervention in Latin America for nearly two decades.

The U.S. government has dramatically escalated the Colombian conflict with the approval of 1.3 billion dollars in U.S. assistance to the Colombian government's "Plan Colombia." Eighty percent of that aid is in the form of military assistance. This is assistance to an army that has of the one the worst human rights records in Latin America. Right-wing paramilitary organizations, linked to the Colombian military, are also waging war against the civilian population (see accompanying article). The U.S. is funding massive fumigation programs of coca plantations which is leading to a disastrous public health and environmental crisis. The U.S. government has sold its role in "Plan Colombia" as part of the War on Drugs (formerly the intervention was justified as part of the war on communism) but clearly the U.S. is intervening in Colombia's internal civil conflict in order to protect U.S. economic interests. Negotiations to end the armed conflict have been derailed due to the U.S. military escalation.

Ana Maria Vasquez has been working on the Darien Gap projects on the border of Panama and Colombia for approximately eight years. She has initiated projects such as the Esquelita por la Paz (The Little School Of Peace) for 3-5 year old children and turtle egg preservation projects. A seed money grant, given to FCPJ for the Darien Projects from the Popular Movement Fund of the Peace Development Fund, has made it possible to also initiate a garbage collection project and, most importantly, a cooperative of Colombian refugee women living in Panama who are making recycled paper for sale. Vasquez will be in the United States until early February.

The January delegation will consist of 24 people from all over the U.S. A second delegation in March will consist of 100 people. The purpose of the speaking tour will be to promote activism against U.S. policy in Colombia, raise funds for the Darien Gap projects, and to recruit people for future WFP delegations and Darien witnessing teams.

Boren, 43, is an environmental consultant and freelance writer focusing on environmental issues along the U.S.-Mexico border. From 1987-1990 Boren served as a long term volunteer with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua. During his stay in Nicaragua, Boren was kidnaped by the U.S.-backed contra rebels and was released after eight days due to pressure from the Central American solidarity movement in the U.S.

Vasquez and Boren will be available for speaking engagements throughout the state of Florida from Jan. 18-31, 2001. For engagements after February 1, Ana Maria and FCPJ coordinator, Carol Mosley, will be available. Call the FCPJ office for information about bringing these speakers to your area.

FCPJ coordinator Carol Mosley has made numerous trips to the Choco/Darien region over the past eight years, returning in October from her most recent trip. Her slide presentation of jungle communities provides an opportunity to meet some of the people whose lives are affected by the border violence. FCPJ can also provide a viewing and discussion of the video Courageous Women of Colombia. Contact FCPJ for information on booking a speaker and/or purchasing recycled paper cards or other crafts. If you would like to be part of a witnessing team to Panama or Colombia, please let us know.

For more information, contact the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice, P.O. Box 336, Graham, FL 32042 (352)468-3295

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