Colombia’s struggle

By Michelle Chen Feb 26, 2009

Human rights defenders in Colombia are on the front lines of civil war and government oppression, as well as United States policies that facilitate violence. Human Rights First reports that baseless prosecutions of activists are emboldening a corrupt legal system and further suppression. The group calls on the US government to adjust the purse strings on the massive foreign aid that Colombia has absorbed

“The U.S. Congress should include in appropriations legislation a condition requiring certification by the State Department that the Colombian armed forces are not involved in human rights violations against human rights defenders. “In certifying foreign assistance to Colombia under current appropriations legislation, the Department of State should consider the role the armed forces play in assisting malicious prosecutions of defenders.”

Attacks on activists in Colombia have long been a sticking point in the debate over the Colombia free trade agreement. The human rights community has opposed the deal as long as human rights and labor abuses continue to rage under the current regime. The rampant violence wasrecently demonstrated in a spate of killings of indigenous people. Meanwhile, Amnesty International reports that grassroots “peace communities,” which have emerged in Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities as a response to conflict, are increasingly threatened by paramilitary or government-backed crackdowns. The imprisonment of the leaders of Asociación Campesina del Valle del Río Cimitarra, one of the most successful autonomous peace communities, according to Upside Down World, has prompted both local protests and criticism from the international labor community. According to Amnesty, the last twenty years of armed conflict in Colombia have killed more than 70,000 people, most of them civilians, while three to four million Colombians have been "internally displaced" from their homes. Colombia receives far more U.S. police and military aid than any other Latin American or Caribbean country, and its status as a faithful ally in the war on drugs ties into overarching U.S. policies controlling the flow of people and money across borders. The Obama administration will soon have to weigh the stain of systemic brutality and displacement against the supposed benefits of “free trade.” Image: Upside Down World