Colombia: Indigenous Protestors, Striking Workers Under Attack

—– Forwarded Message —-
From: Jess at Witness for Peace <>
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2008 7:50:45 PM
Subject: Take Action Now–Indigenous Protesters and Striking Workers are Under Attack

Witness for Peace Updates 
Repression of Colombian indigenous protest.
Dear Tahirih,

Take Action Now–Indigenous Protesters and Striking Workers are Under Attack by the
Colombian Government
Reports indicate 19 indigenous people killed in the past two weeks while striking
sugarcane workers face repression. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe declares a
“State of Internal Commotion” to deal with protests and strikes.

Indigenous communities in northern Cauca and the sugarcane workers on strike in the
neighboring province of Valle de Cauca are asking for an honest dialogue with the
Colombian government to address the serious social problems they face. Rather than
listening to the concerns of these marginalized communities, the Colombian
government-backed by U.S. military funding-responds with repressive force.

Please act now to stand with these activists!

Contact William Brownfield, the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, asking him to demand
that the Colombian government respect human rights. Click here to send Ambassador
Brownfield an email message.

Speak up at a campaign forum. With elections around the corner, you can help inform
candidates and voters about the FTA and human rights in Colombia speaking up at a
campaign forum. Learn how here.
Please also consider donating to Witness for Peace today.


Since October 12th, indigenous and other social organizations in
southwestern Colombia, have been protesting the militarization of their lands, the
U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and the failure of the government of President
Alvaro Uribe to comply with agreements relating to indigenous land, education, and
healthcare. See their demands here.  Over 12,000 indigenous activists and other
social justice activists are congregated on the Territory of Peace and Coexistence
in La Maria
Piendamo, in Cauca, resisting the hostile and massive presence of state security
forces who have been ordered to remove them. On Monday, the communities
participating in the indigenous protest blocked a portion of the Pan American
Highway in Cauca, in an act of civil disobedience meant to force the government to
meet with them to discuss their demands.

Rather than respond to their calls for negotiation, over the last four days violence
has broken out between elite police units and the assembled communities, with at
least two people killed and over 50 indigenous activists severely wounded mostly by
bullets, one possibly fatally, in the ensuing clashes. These unfolding developments
come just days after two other Nasa Indians– Nicolas Valencia Lemus and Celestino
Rivera — were assassinated by unidentified gunmen over the weekend, just a few
hours before the start of the mobilization. The National Organization of Colombia’s
Indigenous (ONIC) report that in the past two weeks at least 19 indigenous leaders
have been killed across the country. This only adds to the alarming human rights
situation in indigenous communities in Colombia. ONIC reports that between 2002 and
2006, 1,226 indigenous people have been killed, 300 have been disappeared and 1,660
have been jailed.

Thousands of Colombian sugarcane workers in Valle de Cauca have been on strike since
September 15, calling for basic improvements to their labor conditions. Sadly, the
sugarcane companies and the Colombian government refuse to negotiate and have
instead responded with violence and tear gas. These state forces, who are attacking
the workers and their families, reportedly receive U.S. funding. Additionally,
partners report that three international observers have been deported by the
Colombian government. Another is currently being detained and none have been granted
their right to a phone call or access to a lawyer. This appears to be an attempt to
keep the international community unaware of the grave human rights abuses being
committed by the Colombian government.
The sugarcane workers are in an ever more critical situation– after completing a
month of the strike, these workers who receive poverty wages to begin with, are
facing a hunger crisis in their households due to a lack of pay. There is also
concern that the repression is continuing: the municipality of Candelaria has called
a curfew and one worker from an indigenous reserve in Pradera was reported
disappeared on Tuesday.

Click here to read more about the sugarcane workers and watch a video describing
their situation.


Last week, President Uribe declared a “state of internal commotion”, alarming many
activists and human rights defenders. As stipulated in the 1991 Constitution, the
“state of internal commotion” allows the president to govern without the oversight
of the legislature, giving the President unprecedented powers, particularly in the
area of security and “public order.” Many constitutional scholars have criticized
the measure as unnecessary, if not undemocratic.  President Uribe justified this
frighteningly authoritarian approach to domestic affairs, pointing a 42-day judicial
workers strike that has clogged the judicial system. Now that the government and the
judicial workers union, ASONAL, reached a tentative deal on a new contract that
ended the strike today, the big question is whether or not the President will
reverse the measure.
Your support is needed today to protect indigenous communities and striking workers
facing repression. Please contact William Brownfield, the U.S. Ambassador to
Colombia immediately, calling on him to demand that the Colombian government respect
the rights to assemble, the right to protest and the right to unionize. Click here
to act now.
Please also consider donating to Witness for Peace today to support our work to
support our partners in Latin America. Click here to donate now. 

Witness for Peace
3628 12th Street NE. 1st Fl.,
Washington, DC 20017
202.547.6112 – 202.536.4708
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