Another War

Nine days after hundreds gathered at the State House to oppose war with Iraq, 40 people heard another plea for peace in New England.

The US should cease all military aid to Colombia, farm worker leader Marylen Serna Salinas told an audience dominated by Colombian immigrants on Friday, October 4. US-sponsored drug eradication efforts are worsening conditions in southwestern Colombia, she says, and US military aid encourages human rights violations.

Sponsored by the peace organization Witness for Peace, Salinas's month-long New England tour hopes to influence upcoming congressional debate on Colombia. In 2000, the US committed $1.3 billion to Plan Colombia, an effort to eliminate coca production, but 80 percent of the money went to the military, including $374 million to buy Huey helicopters made by Rhode Island-based Textron and Black Hawk helicopters manufactured by Connecticut-based Sikorsky. An average of 20 people are killed each day in the 40-year-old civil war, according to Amnesty International USA, and, "Paramilitary groups acting with the active or tacit support of the [government] security forces were responsible for the vast majority of extra-judicial executions and `disappearances.' "

Salinas, who fled rural southwestern Colombia for Bogota after she and her husband received death threats, calls Plan Colombia a failure. Aerial spraying of coca crops forces many farmers to move to the cities, she notes, because the herbicide also kills legitimate crops.

The Colombian woman blames poverty for causing the drug trade and civil war. She backs a manual eradication program that would leave some of the coca crop intact until farmers are able to survive economically without it. Current monthly subsidies of $5 or $6 to grow non-drug crops are inadequate, Salinas says, so displaced farmers sometimes move to another area of the forest and replant. She calls for renewed negotiations with rebels to chart a non-violent future for Colombia, saying, "We want a future without so much blood." Despite fears of violence, a major peace demonstration is planned for Colombia in November.

Colombian emigrants in the audience questioned how negotiations could work after they failed under former president Andres Pastrana. Salinas says those talks were not real negotiations, but merely a forum on the country's problems, and she calls for community organizations to be included in the talks. Colombia's new president, Alvaro Uribe, was elected this year, however, by promising a continued military response to the civil war.

Salinas asked those in attendance to contact their congressional representatives concerning Colombia. The Bush administration plans to include Colombia rebels as targets in the global war on terrorism, leading some Colombians to fear the US may bomb their country, she says. Bush also wants to spend $98 million to train a Colombian military unit to protect an oil pipeline owned by Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum.

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