[News] Indigenous People Troubled by U.S. Military Presence
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 21 10:54:33 EDT 2009
Indigenous People Troubled by U.S. Military Presence
August 21, 2009 By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Aug 13 (IPS) - The head of Colombia's
biggest association of indigenous people is
concerned that allowing U.S. troops to use
military bases in his country will signal a
regression to former times when the United States
exercised control over Latin America, while a
native activist warned of an increase in the
number of cases of sexual abuse of young indigenous women by foreign soldiers.
A recent agreement between Bogotá and Washington
for the U.S. to use seven military bases in
Colombia, which has caused concern across Latin
America, was ignored in discussions about
Colombia's record on racial discrimination, held this week in Geneva.
At sessions of the United Nations Committee on
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD),
the effects of militarisation in Colombia, which
has been torn by civil war by nearly half a
century, were examined, but the controversial
issue of the bases was not raised, said Karmen
Ramírez Boscán, a leader of the National
Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC).
"This issue is a focus of broad debate at the
national level, and of course it should have been
dealt with here at this U.N. agency," said
Ramírez Boscán, a Wayuu indigenous woman.
The fact that it was not discussed is because "we
all know that a very sensitive situation is developing," she said.
The agreement between the two countries provides
greater access to Colombian territory for the
U.S. military, which will operate small stations
known as Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) or
Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs).
This will create changed circumstances and
greater difficulties for Colombian, especially
indigenous, women. "I think that, directly or
indirectly, this generates violence, and
obviously its most immediate effects are on
Colombian women," said Ramírez Boscán.
The indigenous leader recalled cases that have
been investigated of young single mothers in
which "the fathers had been stationed at
Colombian military bases. They became pregnant by
foreign soldiers, not Colombians," Ramírez Boscán told IPS.
"I believe the greater presence of U.S. troops
will definitely bring changes to the local areas near the bases," she said.
Wilbert van der Zeijden, an expert with the
Transnational Institute, told IPS in April that
"We should not forget that military bases are
usually inhabited mostly by young men, who get
bored and frustrated, being far from home,
family, friends and girlfriends/wives. They seek
'diversion' in town. "The result has been a steep
increase in all sorts of crime, including rape,
drugs, theft and violent abuse," he said. In the
view of Luis Evelis Andrade, an indigenous elder
and head of ONIC, the fight against drugs and
terrorism is being used as a pretext to wind the
clock back to the time when the United States had
total control over Latin American countries.
Some of the seven bases are close to villages of
indigenous or Afro-descendant people, while others are not, Andrade said.
"The Colombian state and the government are
riding roughshod over what I understand to be the
feelings and the collective imaginary about the
meaning of foreign military bases in any country,
and especially in Latin America," he said.
"Bases commanded, operated and administered by
the United States are unacceptable, and so are
bases operated by the Colombian military with the
presence of U.S. military advisers," he said.
Neither scenario is acceptable "to us, as indigenous peoples."
Cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking
cannot mean interference and the covert
abdication of sovereignty to another country,
said Andrade, of the Emberá people, who as elder
statesman is president of ONIC, the national
authority of indigenous peoples living in Colombia.
U.S. forces at the bases will have immunity from
the Colombian justice system, and facilities for
operating C-17 Globemasters, large transport
planes for troops and weapons with a range that
extends to half the South American continent.
With refuelling and provisioning, these aircraft
can reach every part of the Americas except Cape
Horn, at the southernmost tip of Chile.
Andrade remarked that the Colombian government
acts as if the agreement with the United States
had implications only for Colombia. But experts
and other governments are well aware that the
aircraft and technology involved have
implications far beyond the borders of Colombia,
and can be used to spy on other countries, he said.
"We're already sick and tired of the internal
armed conflict. We think (U.S. access to) these
bases should not be implemented, because we
believe it will damage relations with bordering countries," he added.
For example, deteriorating relations between
Colombia and Ecuador and between Colombia and
Venezuela have repercussions on health care and
food security for more than 20 indigenous
villages along the Ecuadorean and Venezuelan borders.
The ill-feeling between the countries arises
because of the mishandling of the Colombian armed
conflict, which spreads across national boundaries, Andrade argued.
The issue of the military bases is already
causing problems for indigenous people, "and I
would say for all the poor who live on the
Colombian-Venezuelan border, as Venezuelan
President Hugo Chávez himself has recognised," Andrade said.
The Chávez administration has frozen relations
with Colombia - with which Venezuela has close
economic ties - because of the decision on military bases.
Andrade criticised those involved in the debate
on the effects of the tension between Bogotá and
Caracas for only alluding to the crisis
experienced in the dominant economic sectors,
such as automobile manufacturers, textile industrialists and beef exporters.
"But no one talks about the problems of the
border communities, which normally, as in the
case of the border between Colombia and
Venezuela, get most of their supplies of food,
clothing and even medicines from Venezuela," he said.
Ramírez Boscán said Colombian officials had
portrayed the agreement for the U.S. use of the
bases as "a necessary evil" in order to combat
the guerrillas and drug trafficking. "But we
think that it's all part of a strategy to control
everything that goes on in Latin America, in
countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, from a key
geographical position," she said.
She said it was a good thing that Monday's summit
meeting of the Union of South American Nations
(UNASUR) in Quito had decided to hold another
summit on Aug. 27 in Bariloche, in southern
Argentina, to examine Latin America's reaction to
the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.
"It's important for other countries to hold the
Colombian state accountable, because we really do
not know what our government's intentions are," she said.
The plans for U.S. access to the bases have met
with vocal resistance in Colombia on the part of
human rights and indigenous organisations, and
civil society in general. But "the government has
responded with indifference," Ramírez Boscán said. (END/2009)
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