CHICAGO: Public witness calls for protecting Las Pavas, Colombia farmers from corporate aggression


5 August2013
CHICAGO: Public witness calls for protecting Las Pavas, Colombia farmers from
corporate aggression

  Passersby watch dramatization of palm oil company pushing Colombian farmers off their land - Colombian Consulate, Chicago
  Passersby watch dramatization of palm oil
company pushing Colombian farmers off their
land – Colombian Consulate, Chicago

On Friday, 26 July, CPTers and supporters took to the streets of Chicago
calling for an end to violence against the community of Las Pavas, Colombia.
Donning cardboard palm trees and straw hats, participants dramatized palm
oil producer Aportes San Isidro’s acts of aggression towards the subsistence
farmers of Las Pavas.  

In recent months, the company’s armed security guards have destroyed crops,
damaged farm equipment, fire bombed homes and buildings, killed animals,
threatened people at gunpoint, and brutally attacked one community member with
a machete.  Despite government orders granting the land to the Las Pavas
community, Colombian police have done nothing to stop the company’s attacks and
encroachment upon Las Pavas territory.

“We are calling on the Colombian government to protect the families of Las
Pavas,” said Cass Bangay of Ontario, Canada in front of the Colombian Consulate
in downtown Chicago.  She went on to read from a series of testimonies by
Las Pavas community members: “Roberto Puerta Peña, father of six says, ‘I’m
trying to make a good life for my family here on the farm, but I haven’t achieved
that yet.  The violent harassment from the palm company is really hard.
 One time they held a gun fifteen centimeters from my head.  Then
they threatened to hurt my family.’” 
A small delegation delivered a letter to the Consul General along with a
small palm tree and images and testimonies from the Las Pavas community
symbolizing the group’s concerns. 

The peacemakers then continued their witness, winding through the downtown area
amidst the lunch-hour crowd singing, distributing leaflets, and repeating the
street theater.  They stopped at
the Chicago Tribune newspaper
headquarters urging mainstream media to report on what is happening in places
like Las Pavas, and passed through a crowded park singing and writing their
message with sidewalk chalk.  The
witness culminated at the Federal Building office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin,
a high-ranking Democrat serving on both the Appropriations Committee (Foreign
Operations Sub-Committee) and the Foreign Relations Committee.  

Five members of the group took a letter to the Senator’s office drawing the
connection between U.S. aid for training Colombian police and the complete lack
of law enforcement to protect the people of Las Pavas.  They found the office door locked.
 A staffer took the letter, but refused the group’s request to meet
directly with an aide.  Within
minutes, half a dozen Federal security officers appeared in the hallway,
demanded to see everyone’s ID, and promptly escorted the group out of the

“I’m disappointed in the way we were treated simply for expecting to speak with
our political representative,” said King Grossman of Texas, USA. “The U.S.
relationship to Colombia runs deep and Senator Durbin has the power and
influence to impact the situation for Las Pavas.” 

CPT’s Colombia team has been accompanying the community of Las Pavas in their
nonviolent struggle to remain their land for nearly five years. 

CPTers in training who organized the witness were Cassandra Bangay (Ontario,
Canada), King Grossman (Texas, USA), Menno Meijer (Ontario, Canada), Harmeet Sooden
(Auckland, New Zealand), John Valley (Atikameksheng First Nation), Jonathan
Vogel-Borne (Massachusetts, USA), and Chuck Wright (Manitoba, Canada).

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