October 22, 2002

Teach-in at C.U. on Guerrilla War Informs

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In a teach-in on Sunday in the Straight, dozens of students, faculty members, and local residents learned about the current guerrilla war in Colombia. Sponsored by the Committee on US-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR), the Latin American Studies Program, and the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP), the event focused on the causes of the war, US involvement, and what the future holds for this poverty-stricken, war-torn country.

Many members of the Cornell community are unaware of the current events in Colombia, and that concerns Dana Brown ’02, CUSLAR Coordinator. “It is extremely difficult to focus on something so far away,” Brown said. “But it is our responsibility as citizens of a democracy” to care about what is going on in Colombia, where democracy is struggling.

Brown told the audience “we need to be talking about this in our churches, in our schools. After all, the war on Iraq is not the only war the US is waging.”

Many American corporations have economic ties to Colombia’s government, and therefore the military installations. These groups are at war with two main leftist guerrilla groups. The largest of these is the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), which has been active for more than 30 years.

The US is waging a war against guerrilla groups “under the guise of a war on drugs or a war on terror,” Brown said. But our funding is combined with drug-backed money to ward off groups like FARC, who are opposed to the forced reliance on coca as a source of money by much of the Colombian peasant population.

Prof. Mary Roldan, history, explained that drug traffickers organize and fund paramilitaries, who have ties to the government. The ‘contract worker’ paramilitaries are not held accountable for their actions because they are not officially under the Colombian military’s jurisdiction. They are often privately funded by US corporations with interests in Colombia’s rich oil resources.

Roldan argued that the organization of paramilitaries is no different from American Pentagon outsourcing in Afghanistan and Vietnam.

“War is costly,” Roldan said. Unfortunately, drug trafficking is the easiest and most lucrative form of funding for the violence.

Heather Colonnese, an employee of Lemoyne College who visited Colombia with the Colombia Support Network, lamented “it’s a very complicated situation. There’s the rich versus the poor, there’s the oil, and there’s the drugs.”

Daniel Freshman, a student at Onondaga Community College who went to Colombia as part of a School of the Americans (SOA) Watch delegation, spoke about the sense of despair and hopelessness that pervades the country. Many ex-guerrillas who were associated with FARC still fear for their lives and are hunted down by the government and those with whom they used to associate as revolutionaries.

Prof. Elvira Sanchez-Blake, romance studies, also highlighted the human side of the struggle. She wrote her dissertation, later published as Paria Se Escribe Con Sangre about the women who are hurt by the violence in Colombia.

“It is important for the country to know the memories of these women,” Sanchez-Blake said. Many of them, when associated with the revolutionary group M-19, were victims of rape and sexual assault when caught by other factions or the government.

Sanchez-Blake discussed the central role women have played in trying to find a peaceful resolution to the violence that has caused more than 35,000 deaths in the last 10 years alone.

“Women are trying to search for peace in many ways. Women are survivors,” she said, hopeful for a brighter and more stable future for Colombian citizens.

The teach-in ended on an optimistic and empowering note, as attendees brainstormed about what the future holds. An emphasis on education and action were central to the discussion.

“We have to go and demand change. This will happen again and again if we continue to ignore it,” Brown said.

Archived article by Melissa Korn