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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Urgent Action: Paramilitaries threaten La Esperanza

A couple of blogs ago I mentioned that the village of La Esperanza was facing some heavy pressure from the illegal armed groups (paramilitaries) in the zone. La Esperanza has always had to contend with guerrilla presence, and since the 1990's with paramilitary and military presence as well. In recent weeks, this pressure has become particularity scary with combats, paramilitary entrances and food blockades.

FOR is joining Amnesty international and other international Human rights organizations is responding to these events by organizing an email campaign to the US embassy in Colombia. The US embassy is particularly powerful in its ability to influence what topics become important in Colombian politics. We aklreayd met the US Human Rights attache yesterday and she has agreed to make some calls to ensure that the right people are aware of the violence occurring. If we can get enough emails to the ambassadors mail box, it would go a long way in getting the Colombian government to take appropriate action to protect the people of La Esperanza.

Click here to take 2 minutes to send an email to Ambassador McKinley.

Thanks, as always, for supporting me and FOR.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Good news from the US

Check out this seemingly big step in the right direction for LGBT rights.

I, obviously, support the fight toward legalizing gay marriage. However, at times I am struck by the gay rights movement's tendency to approach the struggle by always trying to look "normal." Gay relationships are 'normal' and there shouldn't be any legalized distinction between straight and gay couples. However, that doesn't eliminate the fact that gay couples have a different experiences that lead to different world views and different needs. We are not at the stage yet where we can say that a gay person has grown up in the same situation as a straight person. There are still so many aspects of growing up gay that set us apart as a group of people. We are not recognized as equals among everyday citizens and gay youth are still much more likely to be shut out of main stream society and turn to negative things like drugs, alcohol and suicide. It is possible for a society to recognize differences and respect them as equal. We dont have to all be the same to be deserving of equal rights.

This is an article that says it well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A chance to participate in FOR

So I have been giving you Colombia, and specifically Community Related, information on this blog for the past year. It has been sporadic, and some better than others, but I have earnestly wanted to do this to try and involved the people I care about most in the work that I have come to love to do. Hopefully, it has been satisfying for some of you.

Anyway, FOR has just launched this fund-raising campaign to celebrate both the 15 anniversary of he Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado's struggle for an alternative reality to the violence that surrounds them as well as the 10 year anniversary of FOR's presence in their processes. It is a big deal for us as the last decad of working together has been something quite similar to a marriage. As I go through reading he historical documents (my job right now is to index 10 yeasr of communications and reports) I am struck at how long it takes two groups of people from very different backgrounds to build a relationship truly based on mutual respect, trust and solidarity. FOR has accomplished that, but as the violence arround the community is far from over, so is our job here far from done.

So to celebrate this occasions as well as get us ready to be here for as long as it takes, I am reaching out to you girls, all of whom I know are very socially conscientious and close to me. Chek out the website If you can't donate, no worries. Go to the bottom of the page and become a member of FOR for free to receive the news letters, action alerts and Latin Amercan updates.

Whatever you can do, it will help. Also, equally as important, please shoot me a quick update and let me know where you are in life.

Also, spread the word. If you cant donate now, pass this on to someone who can!

Hope to talk to you all soon
Love Jon

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Alot of blogs coming with what might seem like boring reporting. However, really, things are really starting to move here. Since coming to Bogota, I have been living in this world where things in Colombia, while bad in many ways for many people, are almost normal. I was getting to the point where my job seemed like any 9-5er and that life outside the office could be completely separate.

Now, Im feeling like the Human Rights community is getting caught up in this whirl wind. With the breaking of the Mapiripan and Las Pavas cases as well as the justice reform going through, the bubble I feel like I have been living in has kind of burst.

As I mentioned in the last post, the government no longer tries to mince words and is now very blatantly verbally attacking the human rights community, saying things like: "

This is very serious, it’s sad that situations like these, of crooks who can’t be called anything but corrupt, undermine the credibility of the Inter-American Human Rights Court,” said President Santos.
“What has happened weakens the credibility of a respected institution like the Court and the Inter-American human rights system. These are the big losers with the Mapiripán case,” added Vice-President Angelino Garzón.
“If lawyers are involved, it’s even more serious. It is wrong that there exists a minority of lawyers dedicated to these types of activities,” said Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra."

Such attacks would be understandable if they were warranted, however, as I have mentioned before, in the case of Mapiripan, the Colombian government knew about, and signed off on, all of the testimonies and evidence that today they are claiming human rights lawyers had falsified.

Read this report by Adam Isaacsson, a long time blogger on Colombian issues. It gives a good sense about how things, including the Mapiripan case, are tying into larger, more sinister movements occurring.

For those who dont have time to read it, basically Adam talks about how the conservative parties and the president are trying to push through a reform to the justice system that would allow the Military to try its own soldiers for human rights crimes they commit.

This push, he asserts, is an attempt to appease a disgruntled military which, according to some officials is getting so demoralized by that fact that the Constitutional Court is finally convincing high level officials for human rights crimes, that they are no longer able to fight effectively. It is further argued that if the military has to constantly worry about the justice system looking overt heir solider, they cant do their job, especially given that such justice system doesn't understand life in combat.

However, as Adam states, "... the military is not pushing for civilian judges and prosecutors with special training for dealing with combat cases. Instead, they are pushing for the right to try their own personnel even in cases, like “false positives,” which do not involve combat."

Later on, he points out that, "If these claims of “brazos caídos” and “demotivation” are true, they reflect very badly on Colombia’s armed forces. The message is that if they must fight according to internationally recognized human rights standards, then they will not fight. This poisonous message would fly in the face of claims – often made by U.S. officials, citing it as a result of U.S. aid – that the Colombian military’s human rights performance is greatly improved."

Take a look at it and get a good idea of why things feel so tense these days.

Next post are some great pictures from Thanksgiving and vacation.

Tense times

There is a tense and worrisome air in the Colombian human rights world these days. Just a few weeks ago, the Colombian government reopened an investigation into the case of Mapiripan, and called into question the veracity of one of Colombia’s most historically important massacres that clearly shows the collaboration between the paramilitary death squads and the Colombian military. This week, the same government office is claiming that the community of Las Pavas, another high profile case involving state restitution to victims, is another example of victim fraud. Both actions aim to delegitimize victims and their supporters, and both seem to point to a concerted effort to paint the Victims law, and the plan for land restitution, as unrealistic and unsustainable and therefore should be weakened or abolished.

No one denies the massacre of Mapiripan happened, and no one denies that the paramilitaries used a military plane to fly from a military base, arrive at Mapiripan and spend three days killing its citizens. However, the press generated by the re-opening of the investigation has inverted what is important and is focusing on whether the death toll stands at 49 or 13. Of course, it is always important to have the most accurate account of what happened, including the number who died. However, the government is not merely in pursuit of accuracy, but rather they are using it to defame both the Interamerican Court on Human Rights and one of the most respected lawyers collectives in the country, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective. These entities, according to the government, are responsible for pushing victims to give false testimonies, obstructing justice and twisting the case so as to win more reparations money. In reality, the Colombian government was, from the beginning, fully aware of every bit of information that the NGOs had and even used the witnesses in other state legal cases. Despite this, the government still is doing what it can to cast a shadow of doubt not only on the victims of state violence, but also the Human Rights defenders that support them.

The case of Las Pavas is another example of de-legitimization. As you can read here, Las Pavas is a farm of over 1,000 hectares that has been worked by the community of farmers for the past 13 years. Since they inhabited the land, they have been displaced three times by the paramilitaries and the Colombian police working with the Palm Oil company of Daabon. The fact that they won their land back was a significant victory in the long process of returning displaced communities to their lands. Now, based on the fact that one man has retracted his testimony regarding the displacement of the Las Pavas community, the attorney’s general is citing this case as another example of victim fraud against the state. In doing so, that office is turning the victims of displacement into the victimizers of the state and is turning public opinion away from sympathizing with the community who has suffered so much while instead viewing them (and by extension all the victims claiming state reparations) as suspects of fraud looking only to milk the state of money they don’t deserve.

While it might be too early to tell for sure, with the way that the state is using Las Pavas and Mapiripan to delegitimize the victims, their supporters and the process of land restitution, there is concern that the State might eventually use these cases to argue that land restitution law is too ambitious or food difficult and thus push to weaken it or all together abolish it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

ahhh back from vacation...never a good feeling

My life has been a bit of a whirlwind these days. Last night was the first time in over two weeks where I havent had between 3 or 4 guests sleeping in my bed, on my couches or in any little cubby hole they could find. Dont get me wrong, it has been great. Just tiring. I did get an awesome vacation in with two really good friends from Seattle, Jenny and Emily. We biked through Bogota dodging people and carts, we cook a whole thanksgiving feats and then celebrated with 14 people from 5 countries speaking 4 languages and then took off for four days on a beach that backs into a jungle covered mountain and flows into ocean colored a marble between green and blue. It was amazing by many counts. Pictures to come

Now I am happy to report that the apartment is back to its organized normal, I am back to sleeping in my own bed and things, personally, seem to be calming down a bit.

Things in Colombia, however, are not.

First, the Community.
The big news is the dramatic presence of paramilitaries around two villages a couple hours north of where we live in La Union. While paramilitaries have always been present, they are being much more obvious this time around, and we have actually been there to attest to it. They are forcing the people into meetings and threatening total control and food rationing.

Also, in this same area, there are been series combats between the paramilitaries and the guerrillas. Outside of the fact that combat is always worrisome, this instance in particular is dangerous because it seems like there might be a shit in the balance of power.

Cant give much analysis right now, but it is really worrisome for us and the community.

Second, happendings in the are of irregular military recruitment. Basically, the Constitutional Court ruled that the street round ups the military often does to prove military status are ilegal. I might have explained it already before, but in Colombia, military service is obligatory and every male hast o register with the brigade in his district before he turns 18 so that when he does so, he can immediately start is one to two years of military service. Then the military often goes out into the streets and sets up check points in which they question every young male about their military status. These you havent presented themselves and have to military card, are then borded onto a truck, taken to the nears battalion and immediately tested for suitability and, if deemed fit, incorporated at once into the army.
Human rights organizations have ben fighting for several years now that this be recognized as ilegal detention and in violation of a young mights freedom of movement. The court took a large step toward doing so with this most recent ruling.
The precautions are sever. First, it isn't clear as to whether the ruling is applicable only to those younger than 18. Second, the ruling establishes no disciplinary action for violations; the court views that as the job of the military. In essence, then, no one really expects the round ups to end as their is no incentive for he military to do so.

Coming next is the even more important cases of Las Pavas, which is an continuation of the worries I talked about in the Mapiripan case in the post before last.

Lots of stuff.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Last weekend was one of those weekends where place and people combined to create a moment where you cant imagine being more comfortable.

We had planned the trip in September, when my friend Johanna and I were camping with some friends of hers and we were all commenting on how much we loved camping, but how rarely we did it.

Two months passed and despite being certain that his plans was going to go the way of most well intentioned plans made amongst people will a million commitments; I was sure it wasnt going to happen.

Lo and behold, hours after sending a reminder message, Johanna had suggested a place and Anita, Isaac, Mika and Juanita had all committed to going.

We ended up going to Villa de Leyva in Boyaca, a 4 hour trip north east of Bogota. It was rainy, it was cold and it was by most objective measures pretty shitty weather. However, me being the cold, damp weather person that I am, thought that the Grey skies contrasted with he green mountains serving as a background for the town of all white buildings was pretty damn gorgeous.

So we spent the weekend walking through the woods, seeing ponds turned a milky green-blue by the excess of copper sulfate and wondering how a place that receives so much rain can look so arid in some places.

The nights were spent drinking aguardiente, playing pool and then moving to the plaza where we enjpyed making a bit of a scene playing various games that adults dont normally play. It was one of he more fun nights I have had.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of the weekend. I didnt have my camera, but these are from Mika and I am hoping that Johanna and Anita get theirs up soon.

From left to right: MIka, Anita, Isaac, Juanita, me. In front of the water fall we discovered.

One of the streets of Villa de Leyva

Anita and I walking up to the mountain path

Another street

the first brook we found on the mountain hike. I thought it was the coolest thing...until I walked a little further.

Mika with Villa de Leyva in the background

Isaac with Villa de Leyva in the background

Johanna and me on the way to the mountain

the hidden waterfall I found looking for a place to pee without falling off the cliff.

Mika and Isaac enjoying the perfect mushroom from Mario Kart

Town center