>Speaker: Gloria Hernandez-Alvarado
>Topic: Witness to Plan Colombia
>Since receiving her Master's degree in Political Sociology from
>Cornell University, Gloria Hernandez-Alvarado has worked in
>hospitals, clinics, social service agencies, Adult Education and
>community college programs, and volunteered services, time and
>resources to community activities. Since "retiring" in 1995, she
>has continued long term volunteer commitments and expanded
>After supporting Peaceworkers for many years, Gloria was invited
>by Global Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), to go as a volunteer delegate
>of NP on a fact-finding mission to Ecuador. She was part of a 13
>member team representing 10 international agencies dedicated to
>working for human rights. Their goal was to observe the effects of
>"Plan Colombia", the name for our USA "War on Drugs" in Colombia
>at the request of a coalition of Ecuadorian lawyers, educators,
>social activists, and community and union organizers: Observatorio
>Internacional por la Paz (OIPAZ -- International Observation for
>Peace). OIPAZ wanted the outside world to know how Plan Colombia
>is affecting Ecuador. Nonviolent Peaceforce wanted to know if it
>should establish a presence in Ecuador.
>Gloria will present her own observations, and those of her teammates,
>made during the 11 day mission, as well as the dramatic aftermath.
Gloria's adventure began in Quito, where she joined one of three teams of international observers. Each five-member team went to one of the three northern border provinces: Esmeraldas on the coast, Carchi in the middle of the Andes, Sucumbios in the eastern lowlands forming the Amazon Basin. In the provinces, a local coordinator introduced them to provincial officials and indigenous groups.
Gloria's group went to Carchi in a five-passenger pickup truck. Progressing into the towering Andes, they could see the lower slopes covered with green patches of potato farms. The view was reminiscent of scenes of Ireland. One of their meals was eaten at a mountainside farm brimming with life: adults, children, a horse, small pigs, chickens, a cat and puppy underfoot. Running water came from a small waterfall across the road. It was idyllic, isolated, and poor. Many border residents feel deserted by their regional officials who seldom visit them.
Campesinos along the border with Columbia have traditionally sold their cash crop in Columbia, but for many the militarization of the border has stopped this trade. Their incomes have been cut in half. "Plan Colombia" and the USA's War on Terrorism have influenced the politics of the 40-year old civil war in Colombia. President Pastrana of Colombia cut off peace talks with the largest of the armed revolutionary forces (F.A.R.C.). Violence in Colombia has increased. There are frequent incursions of insurgents into Ecuador to hide, and to demand payment from Ecuadorian farmers for "protection."
A major component of "Plan Colombia" is the air spraying of Roundup to kill coca plants. Some of it drifts across the border damaging food crops, causing illness. Colombians driven off their lands by the spraying, or by the roving armed bands, are becoming a refugee problem in Ecuador.
A video tape was played of a "60 Minutes" segment in which Steve Croft said that Roundup is the Agent Orange of our generation. It showed clips of blistering skin on campesinos who had been sprayed by airplanes, and compared them to California farm workers who had been similarly exposed. It was clear that Roundup is bad, and that it is scorching the earth in Columbia and parts of Ecuador.
The international teams returned to Quito and shared their findings with national Ecuadorian governmental officials, the United Nations office in charge of refugees, and local media. Most then returned to their home countries.
Gloria's group stayed and went with their Quito hosts to observe the USA Air Force base at Manta, in the coastal province of Manabi. The air base and its projects of enlarging the local airport, dredging two nearby sea ports, excavating limestone for cement by dynamite explosions, etc., have caused the displacement of whole villages of indigenous farmers and fishermen.
In March, this year, over 1,000 campesinos and 100 urban supporters marched through the streets of Manta to the USA air force base. They carried signs urging Ecuadorians to "wake up," and telling the USA air force to "go home." There was no violence in Manta.
A few days later, Ecuadorian urban opponents of Plan Colombia marched toward the USA embassy in Quito. Police fired tear gas and bullets into the crowd. They aimed low, wounding two people in their legs (fortunately minor injuries).
Gloria finished her talk by asking us to write our legislators, asking them to stop pouring money into Plan Columbia. As a better way to reduce coca production, she pointed to European nations, which give money to Colombia only through Non Governmental Organizations that provide human services and development.
Reduction of the DEMAND for COCAINE within the USA, would certainly help.
I felt some points needed clarification, e.g., anger was not expressed toward Americans (Ecuadorians also consider themselves Americans), but toward the military policies of the USA, especially the air base at Manta, and other operations re: Plan Colombia; Ecuador is indeed "hilly" in the lowlands, but the Andes form one of the highest ranges of mountains in the world; no translator was used; all interviews and activities took place in Spanish language; individual European nations, not the "European Union," donate through NGO's in Colombia; etc.
Here are some URLs which give almost daily updates on the Colombian-Ecuadorian situation and efforts for peace:
<www.ciponline.org>, <www.greatdecisions.org>, <www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org>.
CIP (Center for International Policy) and NP have newsletters and email lists.
You can ask to be put on their lists: <email@example.com>,
The soft cover publication Great Decisions 2002 gives detailed statistical, historical, economic, social, etc., background information and history re: Plan Colombia and the nations involved. It is current through December 31, 2001. There is also a video tape of an interview between Rand Beers, the Colombian Ambassador, and the GD's expert. The book and tape should be available at public libraries. I found them at the Los Altos Library.
Thanks for sharing this.
P.S. One more web site for current info re: Colombia,etc. <www.forusa.org>.
This is Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (FOR), an international peace group based in Holland, with several offices in USA and the rest of the world.. The FOR Task Force for Latin America is in San Francisco. The one in charge, Jutta Meier-Wiedenbach, was a member of our observational mission in Ecuador. She is currently involved with training a delegation to work in Colombia.
Best wishes, Gloria