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Peace activist urges end to U.S. military aid for Colombia

by Middletown Press Friday, Apr. 04, 2003 at 11:10 PM

MIDDLETOWN -- A leading Colombian peace activist urged a group of about 30 church members to help change U.S. policies on Colombia’s civil war and help implement peace and justice initiatives in his country.

Peace activist urges end to U.S. military aid for Colombia

By JULIUS FABRINI, Special to The Press April 03, 2003

MIDDLETOWN -- A leading Colombian peace activist urged a group of about 30 church members to help change U.S. policies on Colombia’s civil war and help implement peace and justice initiatives in his country.

Ricardo Esquivia, director of Justapaz, the Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action of the Colombian Mennonite Church, told a group of church activists and members of the First Church of Christ Congregational Tuesday evening how they should take an active role in lobbying Congress for a change in U.S. policies, including pressuring the country to stop supplying such military equipment as Black Hawk helicopters, manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft of Stratford, a subsidiary of Hartford-based United Technologies Corp.

"I want to tell members of Congress that if the United States wants to bring an end to the conflict, then they need to change their politics towards Colombia," said Esquivia in an interview prior to his talk. "Now they are helping the government there and the military, but the money that is sent only fuels the civil war."

He added that the aid to arm and train the Colombian army and to fumigate the countryside with herbicides is hurting the country’s agricultural industry, displacing thousands of farmers.

Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Esquivia said current policies related to winning the civil war and stopping drug trafficking has failed and that it is fueling the armed conflict, human rights violations and the economic turmoil in his country.

However, Esquivia reported he has had some success on past visits to the United States in convincing members of Congress to vote differently, including U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who last year co-sponsored an amendment to prevent U.S. military aid to Colombia from being used for counterinsurgency efforts, but instead restricted it for the fight against narcotic operations. The amendment was defeated May 23, 2002, which included yes votes from Connecticut Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-5) and the entire Democratic delegation, but no votes from Christopher Shays (R-4) and Robert Simmons (R-2).

When asked if Dodd would meet with Esquivia, a spokesperson for Dodd's Washington D.C. office said Wednesday,"While Senator Dodd is prepared to meet with Mr. Esquivia, due to the constraints of his schedule it is unclear at this time whether he will be able to do so personally. Senator Dodd's staff will be happy to meet with Mr. Esquivia should the senator be absent."

In a statement from Sen. Dodd provided by the spokesperson, Dodd conceded that the situation in Colombia has by no means been turned around since the U.S. began providing significant funding to the Colombian government and military.

"There is a vicious cycle in Colombia," said Esquivia. "Because farmers are not able to work the land and there is no one to buy their products, which leads to more incentives for them to become part of the labor force for the narco-traffickers to cultivate the leaves that is turned into cocaine. Then this leads to the U.S. government wanting to increase funding for the Colombian military," which then leads to more displacement of the nation’s farmers.

Well-known in Colombia for his work in the Colombian peace process and for coordinating the Human Rights and Peace Commission of the Colombian Evangelical Council of Churches, he urged church members to inform Americans about the poverty and violence in Colombia

According to Esquivia, there are an estimated 30,000 political assassinations annually in Colombia, many committed by the country’s paramilitary groups. In addition to the civil war between guerrillas and the Colombian army, various armed groups are fighting a separate war against the guerrillas and also targeting people who are suspected of supporting left-wing movements, he explained.

"It’s time to experiment with other alternatives, to plant seeds for a positive change in Colombia," said Esquivia.

©The Middletown Press 2003

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