PALESTINE/COLOMBIA REFLECTION: Made in the USA -- Take action to stop military aid

11 September 2017
PALESTINE/COLOMBIA REFLECTION: Made in the USA -- Take action to stop military aid

by Hannah Redekop

Lucas lay on the ground gasping for air, while his community frantically gathered around him, fanning his body and cracking open coconuts with hopes that the sweet water would revive him.  Moments earlier, on that day in June 2014, the Colombian riot police (ESMAD) had forced their way onto Guayabo farmland under illegal orders to evict the small farming community living on the banks of the Magdalena River.  The community had gathered in a line, hands held tight, to peacefully resist the takeover. ESMAD violently beat back several campesino farmers and then fired half a dozen tear gas canisters to disperse the community. Lucas, having inhaled the toxic chemical, had passed out while struggling to breathe.

Campesino man blocks the gate from riot police          A campesino blocks the entry to the farm during the June 2014 eviction in El Guayabo. Photo: Luca Zanetti

In July and August of this year, thousands of miners from the northeastern region of Antioquia went on strike to demand legalization of artisanal mining practices that they have carried out for centuries.  For over a week the marches remained peaceful, until ESMAD arrived on 31 July causing violent confrontations and resulting in 24 injuries and one fatality.  ESMAD arrived “kicking and knocking over community soup pots, firing tear gas left and right” attests Eliober Castañeda, president of the Miners Association, reports El Colombiano. Then, on August 18, while the community held a peaceful ceremony to commemorate the death of the young man killed during the protests, ESMAD violently took control of the area, firing tear gas into crowds of children, pregnant women, and senior citizens.  A verification commission has declared the situation a humanitarian crisis, stating the riot police used “excessive force, non-conventional weapons, and drones” according to El Espectador.

The photos coming in from CPT partner CAHUCOPANA in Antioquia are tragically similar to those of CPT Palestine’s weekly publications coming out of Hebron.  Friday afternoons descend into chaos when Israeli armoured vehicles barge through the streets of Hebron. Responding to Palestinian marches for freedom, the Israeli military uses excessive tear gas, skunk water, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disperse the protesters. CPT provides presence during the clashes, documenting and photographing human rights abuses by the Israeli military and also offering alcohol pads and menthol spray to Palestinians to alleviate the sting and suffocation from tear gas inhalation.

The effects of tear gas are felt throughout Palestine. From Hebron, to Aida Refugee Camp, to Nablus, to Jerusalem, the suffocating tear gas is used to stifle those struggling for freedom. In July, East Jerusalem saw one of the largest Palestinian peaceful sit-ins in recent history.  After Israeli security measures imposed restrictions on Palestinians to access Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s 3rd most holy site, thousands of Palestinian Muslims and Christians prayed together outside the mosque gates.  Israeli forces responded disproportionately; Amnesty International reported that “1,000 Palestinians [were] injured; 29 were wounded with live ammunition, 374 with rubber bullets and 471 sustained injuries as a result of tear gas, 216 people suffered bruises, burns or broken bones as a result of beatings” and three young Palestinian men were killed as a result of Israeli military and Israeli settler gunfire.    

Hands holding used tear gas cartridges
          US made, CTS tear gas cartridges in Palestine. Photo:

War is a money-making machine, and the military industrial complex is never more easily illustrated than by picking up one of the tear gas canisters in the streets of Antioquia or Hebron. Although a world apart, the tear gas canisters look the same - marked with blue stripes and the words ‘made in USA’. Armed actors carrying out the physical violence against our partners on the ground may look different but the funding for training, tanks, guns, and tear gas canisters comes from the United States.  

For almost 20 years, the United States has been the largest provider of foreign aid to Colombia under Plan Colombia, a multi-billion dollar project built under United States President Bill Clinton’s administration and sustained throughout the following presidencies.  Although internationally applauded, Plan Colombia essentially flooded the Colombian military with the tools of war, including the canisters of tear gas being fired at civilians across the country.  

Last year, in light of the peace accords signed by the Colombian government and the FARC, Presidents Santos and Obama announced Peace Colombia, a smaller but still significant aid package for one of the US’s closest allies in the hemisphere.  This rebranding and restructuring of Plan Colombia now includes a lofty rhetoric of peacebuilding but the hard numbers remain heavily directed towards military aid as outlined by the Washington Office on Latin America last year.  United States training, weapons, and yes, tear gas will still be used in Colombia.

Used tear gas cartridge and ammunition shells lying on red cloth
           US made, tear gas canisters recently used against miners in Segovia's small miners protest. Photo: Presna Rural

By providing extensive military aid to two of the longest-running conflicts in modern history, and then providing also the arms, training, and tear gas to be purchased with those funds, the US economy is essentially upheld by the arms trade and the continual repression of our Palestinian and Colombian partners.

We ask you to denounce these oppressive structures and advocate with us on behalf of our partners.  Add your voice to petitions to stop military aid to Israel and Colombia and speak up about the negative impacts of United States foreign aid on communities around the world working towards dismantling these very structures.

The reflection has been shortened for CPTnet. Read the full article on CPT Colombia's website.