Colombia: Counter Recruitment


by Nathan Buchanan

Buchanan participated in CPT’s September 26 - October 9, 2007 delegation to Colombia.

In recent weeks, canvas-covered work trucks have frequented the streets of Barrancabermeja, Colombia with a different kind of cargo – military recruits. The Colombian army picks up men between the ages of 18 and 27 who cannot immediately present documentation that proves they have already served in the military or that they fit one of the legal exemptions (displaced and Indigenous peoples, students, or primary family providers). While Colombia requires all young men to serve in the military, this specific recruitment practice of picking people up on the street and taking them directly to the battalion is questionable under Colombian law.

Currently, Colombia offers no alternative service option nor does it guarantee conscientious objector status to those who seek it. Aside from the Colombian National military, youth also face forced recruitment from guerilla and paramilitary groups.

After meeting with a group of young conscientious objectors who had been rounded up off the streets, a CPT delegation decided to stage a counter recruitment action in downtown Barranca. They built a huge truck with cardboard, paint, PVC pipe, sweat, and love. Then they set out through the city streets recruiting people of all types to respect life and work for peace.

Along the way, participants distributed pamphlets explaining the group’s stance against the use of violence and war of all kinds, as well as specifics about Colombian legal rights of youth and exemptions to military conscription.

The drumming-chanting-bubble-blowing march culminated with a theatric representation of life-peace recruitment at the gates of the local military battalion – chains fell from a group of “war recruits”; a “military recruiter” experienced a conversion and laid a bouquet of flowers at the base of a cannon; drumming, joyful “peace recruits” shouted an emphatic “NO!” to all conscription for war and “YES!” to life and peace.