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Sparks fly at Justice & Peace talk

by Archives November 12, 2003

Activist Danilo Rueda’s vivid denunciation of new Colombian bill projects raised a wave of dissent amid the more than 50 listeners at a conference held last Wednesday at Concordia’s school of community and public affairs.

“I am going to leave the event now,” said Alberto Paez, a Colombian refugee in Montreal who also spoke at the conference entitled War, Territories and Impunity in Colombia. “I do not agree with Mr. Rueda’s views and positions,” added Paez, as he was making for the door, hardly able to contain his anger.

Earlier on, Rueda, the co-ordinator of the Colombian human rights Non Governmental Organization Justicia y Paz, had qualified the bill proposed by Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe as perverse last September, which would allow pardon to some paramilitary members.

“They’re devising a project, a state, a society in which slavery is liberty, in which lies are truth, in which injustice is justice and in which the oppressors responsible for 40,000 documented cases of human rights violations walk free.”

Rueda also imputed the causes of the Colombian war to the government’s interests to control territories that can serve economic purposes. Colombians are displaced and the territories of Cordoba and the Choco are militarized, said Rueda, quoting the Pan-American Highway and the fertility of those lands as reasons for the “oppression.”

But amid the audience, an air of uneasiness was pervading throughout Rueda’s discourse. When giving the speech, Concordia students of Colombian origin criticized Rueda of unbalanced views and of political propaganda.

“Your speech is highly political,” said Evan Usuga, a young Colombian journalist who was forced to flee his country under death threats by the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Although Rueda defended himself of merely exposing unspoken human rights violations, Usuga left the event promptly. He declared himself unable to bear with Rueda’s “propaganda” anymore.

Colombia’s internal strife started 40 years ago. The creation of Marxist insurgency groups such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army in the 60’s plunged the country into violence and instability. At the end of the 80’s, paramilitary groups and self-defense committees emerged, mostly backed by landowners and drug traffickers and thought to operate in collaboration with the Colombian Army against the rebel forces.

Amnesty International reported atrocities and human rights violations among all the warring factions. Whether killed, tortured, displaced or just driven to despair, civilians suffered the heaviest toll. In a report last December, the International Organization for Migration estimated the number of Colombians who fled the country during the last five years at more than 1.2 million.

Colombianos Unidos, a Montreal-based non-profit organization of Quebec residents, began helping Colombian refugees four months ago.

“The main objective [of Colombianos Unidos] is to offer and give support to those Colombians and Latin Americans, right now in the province of Quebec, whose demands of refugee status are being processed,” said Francina Potes, who, along with Alberto Paez volunteers for Colombianos Unidos.

According to Paez, who is still waiting for an answer from Immigration Canada since last December, Colombia is plunged in a crisis that can only be overcome by cooperation. All the warring factions in Colombia are responsible for the crisis, he said, and accusations, along with a polarization of opinions won’t solve the problem. Paez, who retook his place and excused himself for his previous outburst, shook Rueda’s hand at the end of the conference.

“We have to work all together and try to find a solution,” said Paez after the conference. “It’s only in this way that we will drive abuse and violence out of Colombia.”

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