Minnesotans organizing to support peace process in Colombia
Minneapolis, MN: Around 30 people gathered here, Jan. 28, at May Day Bookstore to hear from Anti-War Committee activists about the Colombian peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba. Afterwards they discussed whether the Colombian civil war is coming to a close and what the significance of an end to the more than 50 year war would mean for the social movements in Colombia.
In October, 2012 the Colombian government and the largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), began negotiations for an end to the war in Oslo, Norway. The negotiations then moved to Havana, Cuba the next month and have continued. Last September, they set out March 23 of this year as the deadline for peace agreement. While a conclusion on that date is not certain, both sides seem confident an agreement could be reached before mid-year.
The event began with Jennie Eisert, a Colombian-American anti-war activist, explaining the key background needed for the audience to understand the current peace process underway, “In the early 1980s, following peace talks with the former President Belisario Betancur, a ceasefire was declared in 1984, this was the first and last time the FARC laid down their weapons, and this gave way to a political party. They acknowledged that agreements signed with the government represented an opening that had not existed before. The FARC joined other leftist groups to form the Patriotic Union (UP), a radical left political party that performed surprisingly well in the elections that followed. However, paramilitary groups and extremist elements within the military and drug cartels began one of the bloodiest extermination campaigns, assassinating thousands of UP leaders and sympathizers.” Eisert noted that the history of this previous peace process makes the social movement in Colombia both excited and nervous for an end to the war.
Meredith Aby-Keirstead spoke about the current peace process and stressed the importance of the case of Simon Trinidad.
One of the main demands from the FARC has been for their lead diplomat Ricardo Palmera, who is also known as Simon Trinidad, to be released from U.S. custody. After four trials in the U.S., he was sentenced to 60 years of prison. Trinidad’s imprisonment in solitary confinement in a Colorado Supermax is seen by many as a barrier to peace.
The Associated Press reported on Jan. 30, “With peace talks expected to wrap up as early as March and President Juan Manuel Santos heading to Washington on Tuesday to cement U.S. support for an accord with the FARC, there is a renewed push to win the 65-year-old's release. Last week, Colombian Sen. Ivan Cepeda, a trusted conduit of both the FARC and Santos, quietly met with Palmera at the United States' highest security prison to discuss how he can contribute to peace, according to officials in Colombia and the U.S. familiar with the meeting. Cepeda was accompanied by Colombian diplomats and the conversation monitored by U.S. law enforcement, said four officials, who insisted on not being named because they weren't authorized to discuss the issue publicly. The officials wouldn't reveal specifics about was said in the meeting, but the visit was unusual.”
Aby-Keirstead motivated the audience to take up this cause, “We, the anti-war movement, need to participate in the upcoming national call in days to demand that Obama release Trinidad. This week President Obama publicly thanked the Cuban government for hosting the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC. He said the U.S. ‘supports the implementation of the Colombian accord on the victims of the conflict, justice and restitution of the lands.’ We need to hold him to his words. If the U.S. wants talk about peace in Colombia then it cannot keep being a barrier to the negotiations. Please join with us in demanding the release of Ricardo Palmera.”
Robert Trousdale and Jess Sundin, also members of the Anti-War Committee also spoke. Trousdale explained the role of the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia which trains Latin American military in counterinsurgency warfare under the guise of ‘democracy promotion.’ He went to the annual SOA protest in November of 2015 and spoke about his experience. Sundin was in Colombia during the last peace process in 2000 and spoke about her observations in rebel controlled territory.
The Minnesota Anti-War Committee plans to participate in national call-in days to demand the release of Simon Trinidad and other Colombian political prisoners. At the end of the event people wrote letters to President Obama demanding his release and to Simon Trinidad in prison.