Madison, WI Colombia Support Network
Message Organization: Colombia Support Network
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COLOMBIA SUPPORT NETWORK is a grassroots organization, with 501 (c)(3) status, created to give solidarity to the Colombian people through sister city projects, delegations and petitions to educate members of the U.S. government. We also invite guest speakers and carry out outreach activities through the newsletter Action on Colombia, the CSN web page www.colombiasupport.net, and the CSN e-mail list. CSN also has an Urgent Action service to provide immediate action on emergency cases in Colombia
CSN works for a negotiated solution to the Colombian conflict and peace with justice in Colombia, through strengthening civilian society. By civilian society CSN means giving support to the myriad of budding groups that come from the grassroots in Colombia, such as women's groups, teachers, cooperatives, unions, environmental groups, indigenous movements and different associations that make a society a vibrant group of human beings. CSN believes that the armed struggle has destroyed so many lives for such a long time, that it is time to experiment with peaceful means.
CSN is developing an organized movement with chapters around the country. To be a chapter we request that a group of at least 5 people get together and start organizing in its community around a sister community in Colombia besieged by the war. The war is very real to people living in remote rural areas of the country. We support the sister cities concept because we believe that it reflects the idea that civilian societies have a duty to be an integral part of the reconstruction of a social fabric that has been destroyed by the war. Diplomacy and international relations should not be left only in the hands of governments, because governments reflect interests that are not necessarily the interests of the majorities and consequently diminish democracy. Sister cities reflect a "people to people" diplomacy that expresses the most beautiful qualities of a nation. In this case the generosity and respect for justice and democracy, which are an integral part of the bases upon which the US was created, before the development of a voracious capitalist system.
The activity as a sister community, including participation of common US citizens in the daily life and struggles of the Colombian people, is a powerful mechanism to pressure for the respect of their cultural, political, human and economic rights and to challenge the counterinsurgency plans of the Pentagon.
Constant communication through faxes, telephone, e-mail, delegations and letter-writing campaigns have effectively helped to save lives and prevent atrocities. As an example I cite the valiant former mayor of Apartado (Madison sister community) Gloria Cuartas, who credits CSN for saving her life. Sister cities also make campaigns to pressure the Colombian government to comply with the agreements made with communities that are usually broken. Sister cities also provide material assistance for small projects that focus on strengthening organizations from the community, such as fishermen's cooperatives or sewing groups. These projects are not supported to create dependency or to patronize with charity. They are made with a sense of dignity and respect. CSN supports the novel idea of Peace Communities, which are a new expression of active neutrality which deserves to be supported and encouraged. These are displaced communities that need international support in order to be able to continue in their processes for a return with dignity in conditions of war.
CSN chapters participating in the sister cities program organize events to make their representatives in Congress aware of what is happening in Colombia and how US government policy has an effect on events in the Colombian sister community. The sister community relationship provides a concrete example of the effects of US policies, such as support for the military and police in Colombia or chemical spraying of drug crops there. And Senators and Representatives who hear of the negative effects of US policies upon Colombian peasants and townspeople from their own constituents in the US sister community are much more likely to react to change those policies than they would be without such direct constituent pressure.
CSN also sponsors delegations to Colombia each year to allow people in this country to gain firsthand knowledge of the problems and aspirations of their sister communities' residents. Likewise, policymakers from the US, members of the press, representatives of US peace and justice organizations, labor leaders and other interested people from the US are encouraged to join CSN delegations to Colombia, where meetings are arranged with Colombian human rights organizations, Colombian government officials, and US embassy personnel (frequently including the Ambassador). Visits to local communities for meetings with local human-rights organizations are also arranged.
CSN also invites speakers from Colombia to come to address chapters in this country and to meet with government officials here to speak about developments in Colombia and their experiences as human rights workers or sister community representatives there. Likewise, representatives from the CSN national office and local chapters frequently speak to local groups, such as schools, churches or human rights organizations to raise awareness of what is happening in Colombia and to promote policies to effect positive changes.
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