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
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 building.
“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).