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Report from the frontlines of Colombia’s peace process

By Meredith Aby-Keirstead

Jennie Eisert,  activist with the Minnesota Anti-War Committee.

Minneapolis, MN – On July 21, Jennie Eisert, a Colombian-American activist with the Minnesota Anti-War Committee, gave a moving report back to a packed room concerning her participation in the Alliance for Global Justice’s Colombian peace process delegation. Eisert was in Colombia in May, only weeks before the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) officially declared an end to half a century of war on June 23.

Eisert’s talk began with a focus on the current peace process. “I met with people representing campesinos, the Indigenous, Afro Colombians, unions, the displaced, and pardoned FARC political prisoners. The people I met with have hope that this peace process will be successful. The Colombian peace process has two important points. The first is to create a broad front for elections and the second is to create a new constitution. These two points have a lot to do with what happened to the Patriotic Union in 1985.” The leftist Patriotic Union (UP) did surprisingly well in national elections, with movement leaders and former guerillas running as candidates, but thousands of candidates and supporters were murdered in what Colombians refer to as the genocide of the Patriotic Union. Eisert explained that because of this history, “They have demanded these mechanisms be put into place to address possible future paramilitary and state violence so that they will not experience another genocide.”

On the delegation, Eisert had the opportunity to interview union leaders and activists who represented many different sectors of Colombian society who have all aligned themselves with the newly formed Marcha Patriotica. It was founded in 2012 and is made up of roughly 2000 organizations. They describe themselves as being “deeply committed to the defense of the popular cause and inspired by the historical legacy of the struggle of the Colombian people for a true and definitive independence, for peace with social justice, democracy, sovereignty and Latin American Unity processes. They have created an anti-imperialist vision and are a product of organized resistance, from a combination of rural organizations, intellectuals, students, social leaders of the Left, and some unions.” Eisert used the report-back as an opportunity to share some of their stories of exploitation by the Colombian government and paramilitaries and of their resistance.

A theme of Eisert’s talk was the role of the U.S. in Colombia. She called out the U.S. government for its use of military aid to support the right-wing government of Colombia, its knowledge that aid and training was funneled to government-sponsored paramilitary death squads, its desire to promote free trade policies at the expense of worker rights, and its refusal to release FARC peace negotiator Ricardo Palmera (known in Colombia as Simon Trinidad) from a U.S. supermax prison in Colorado.

Eisert encouraged supporters to sign the Anti-War Committee’s petition to free Colombian political prisoner Hubert Ballestros, the FENSUAGRO vice president who is imprisoned in Colombia; to pressure President Obama to free Ricardo Palmera so that he can help implement the peace process, and to share the stories they heard from her about the Colombian people’s struggle for justice.

The Minnesota Anti-War Committee plans on organizing its supporters to pressure for the Colombian government to keep its promises in the peace process in this critical period.

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