by Chris Knestrick
Contrary to what major world news sources say, the war in Colombia is about much more than drugs. So much of what the global north consumes comes from Colombia – flowers, bananas, coffee, chocolate, gold, oil, coal, palm oil – so why do we know so little about this country? The war in Colombia has been raging for the last 48 years and there is no end in sight. This begs the question, “why?” To get to the heart of that question, here are four things everyone should know about Colombia’s armed conflict.
1. First and foremost, the war is about land.
Over the course of the war, it is clear that the people that have benefited most from the conflict have been the multinational corporations and rich large land owners. Today, the Colombia government is implementing a policy to ensure the extraction of its national resources, while ignoring the population’s most basic rights and needs.
Colombia has the largest internally displaced population in the world. Around 5,000,000 people have fled their homes. The majority of these people were small farmers who left their farms to take refuge in urban centers. This has left a lot of land vacant for multinational companies and rich land owners. According to Peace Brigades International, “40% of Colombia’s land has been licensed to, or is being solicited by, multinational companies in order to develop mineral and crude oil mining projects.” Furthermore, about .4% of the landowners own 61% of the land.
2. Human rights defenders continue to risk their lives by nonviolently struggling for justice and attempting to return back to their land.
Colombians continue to call for justice and peace for their communities. Many community leaders are risking their lives to defend their land and seek justice for their lost loved ones. For example, according to Colombia’s leading organization on displacement, CODHES, between March 2002 and January 2011, 44 displaced community leaders were killed who were involved in the process of attempting to return back to their land. Moreover, the organization Somos Defensores documented that there were 239 violent attacks against human rights defenders in 2011. That same year there were 49 human rights defenders killed in Colombia.
3. It is the most dangerous place to be a union organizer in the world.
More union members are killed in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. In October, the United States and Colombia signed a Free Trade Agreement that will ensure that the continued extraction of natural resources goes unabated, as well as not guaranteeing security in the labor sector. Over 2,500 trade unionist have been killed in Colombia in the last 20 years and in 98% of the cases, no one is brought to justice. Human rights organizations brought these concerns to the US and Colombian governments before the signing of the FTA and the Labor Action Plan, which was to secure the rights of union workers. However, worker right have deteriorated. In 2011, 30 trade unionist were murdered and 4 unionist killed thus far in 2012.
4. The United States has given billions of dollars in military aid
Under the disguises of the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror,” the US government continues to pour military aid into Colombia and train Colombia soldiers in counter-insurgency warfare, while human rights abuses continue.
Since the implementation of Plan Colombia in 2000, the United States has given six billion dollars in military aid, mostly to fight the “War on Drugs.” However, many experts say that this policy is a proven failure. Furthermore, in a recent report by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, it was found that “that US officials neglected their obligation under the Leahy Law [prohibits US aid going to battalions which commit human rights abuses], and that many Colombian military units committed even more extrajudicial killings during and after the highest levels of US assistance to those units.”
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