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2001-05-23

Indigenous Leaders Speak Out Against U.S. War in Latin America

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We have just heard about how US companies are involved in the so-called war on drugs in Latin America. Now we will hear from one person who is directly affected by the aggression. [includes rush transcript]

Edilsa Beltran is one of the spokespeople for the OFP, or Women’s Popular Movement of Colombia. The OFP was formed 29 years ago to organize around education, healthcare, and employment. The OFP has come under increasing pressure by rightwing paramilitaries; the paramilitaries have just listed the head of the OFP a primary target for executions.

Beltran is in the US for the People’s Global Action bus tour, which is currently traveling to cities on the EastCoast and will conclude with the People’s Global Action first North American meeting, in Amherst, Mass., June 1-3.

Guest:

  • Edilsa Beltran, from the Women’s Popular Movement of Colombia (OFP).

Related link:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we listen now about the U.S. companies that are involved in this so-called war on drugs in Latin America, we’re going to hear from someone who’s directly affected by the aggression. Edilsa Beltran is one of the spokespeople for the OFP, or Women’s Popular Movement of Colombia.

The OFP was formed twenty-nine years ago to organize around education, healthcare and employment. It’s come under increasing pressure from rightwing paramilitaries in Colombia. The paramilitaries have just listed the head of the OFP a primary target for execution.

Beltran is in the United States for the People’s Global Action Bus Tour which is currently traveling to cities on the East Coast and will conclude with the People’s Global Action first North American meeting in Amherst, Massachusetts, June 1st, and we welcome you to Democracy Now!, Edilsa Beltran.

EDILSA BELTRAN: [translated] Good morning. I’m a woman that’s coming from the area Barrancabermeja, that I’m part of the OFP. Barrancabermeja is located in the heart of Colombia and currently is the heart of the conflict in Colombia. We’re one of the people who are the most affected by the United States intervention in Colombia, of all these companies that are coming to Colombia to foment war.

We know that more than $6 million are paid directly by the United States to these private companies, companies that are bombing peasants in the name of the war against drugs. They are bombing our land. They are displacing our peasants. They are displacing our people, to live anywhere where is rain with hunger in the middle. Little children, they are suffering the direct consequences of the war on drugs.

We also know that these mercenaries are coming through the city of Panama. They come as tourists into Panama, and the next day they are already in Colombia. And the Colombian government doesn’t do anything. They don’t denounce it.

Why do they want to kill the people of Colombia? The war against drugs should not be a war against the poor.

AMY GOODMAN: Edilsa Beltran, the head of your organization, the OFP, the Women’s Popular Movement of Colombia, has just been targeted for assassination by paramilitaries. How did you find out?

EDILSA BELTRAN: [translated] We were considered military target by the paramilitary because they announce it openly. One of our friends and an overseer of the peace process were directly told that we were a military target. The threats are given because we have been denouncing the human rights violations that are occurring around Barrancabermeja.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting to be able to hear you, and I think our listeners should know how difficult even it was for people to come into the United States for this tour, because originally the State Department denied visas to hear these alternative voices who are critical of the so-called war on drugs, and it took Cynthia McKinney’s office inviting you privately and intervening to get a visa.

EDILSA BELTRAN: [translated] Not only the U.S. government has — not only the people of the United States has been granted the opportunity to come and speak to them, but also the Colombian authorities has harassed us before leaving. They have taken us outside, and they have asked us to check our bags, and we fought them and we decided we want to fight them, and we didn’t let them keep us outside, and we decided to take the trip. And when those kind of things happened, we realized the links between the United States government and the Colombian government from keeping these things hidden.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just been talking about these four corporations, among them AirScan of Rockledge, Florida, sends airplanes loaded with surveillance gear and manned by U.S. military veterans to search for the guerrillas in the jungles of Colombia. U.S. officials in Bogota said AirScan Cessna 337 Skymasters use infrared and television cameras to spot guerrillas near the Cano Limon pipeline in eastern Colombia, bombed some sixty times in the past year by the ELN.

It seems very clear that these mercenary companies are being used in Colombia to go after guerrillas, which is also separate from the drug war, just involves the U.S. in a war in Colombia. Do they go after the paramilitaries, which are most known for the violence?

EDILSA BELTRAN: [translated] As I was telling you at the beginning, the war in Colombia on drugs is a war against the people. The fields are bombed. Those who are dying are peasants. Those who are facing each other in the war are the children of the poor people, the poor women.

The paramilitaries that are fighting are bought off for a salary, because they need money, because they are hungry. They are in misery. They are forced to go into the military forces. The guerrillas are recruited the same way, because they may get some salary. They may solve kind of like problems that they have. And every day they are dying one way or another.

The war is really against the poor. We just want the opportunity to have social opportunities, economic opportunities. While hospitals are being closed every day, people are dying on the fields. We don’t have education. We don’t have public education. And a series of problems that we live in the area and the aid that we receive from the government that everything can is just weapons to kill people.

AMY GOODMAN: In this country, what do you think people can do? There’s not very much awareness of the level of involvement of the U.S. military in Colombia.

EDILSA BELTRAN: [translated] Because the people in the United States doesn’t know or is misinformed, that’s why we are here from the People’s Action Network, to do these stories and to let people know what’s really happening that are the real problems, because who else that asks that we know what the real consequences of this war on drugs are? Who else then asks the women whose children are dying in this war? They are the ones who need to say and need to tell people what’s going on, what the problems are in Colombia and the Latin American level.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Edilsa Beltran, from the Women’s Popular Movement of Colombia, here as part of a group of People’s Global Action Bus Tour, of people from Panama, Bolivia and Colombia, touring the cities of the East Coast, concluding with the People’s Global Action first North American meeting in Amherst, Massachusetts, from June 1st to the 3rd. For more information, you can contact, email oneworldnow@att.net. That’s oneworldnow@att.net. Or go on the web at www.agp.org. And, of course, you know that —

SNYDER: We also have a phone number. The phone number is where you can get more information about the upcoming events, where these people will be speaking in the New York area and in the Massachusetts area. It’s (727) 896-8224.

AMY GOODMAN: Translators are not usually known. Why don’t you say your name?

SNYDER: Oh, my name is Snyder.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re doing such a great job. Well, thanks so much for being with us. And we’ll be hearing more, as we continue to bring you the voices of indigenous people who are at the other end on the ground when those planes are in the sky fumigating and dropping their weapons. Thanks for being with us.

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