Friday, November 03, 2006

Friends in Need

My good friend and comrade Scott Nicholson, a fellow director of CAJA, staff member at Montana Human Rights Network and full time human rights activist extradordinaire, has been in Columbia since June. He is working with friends and sister groups in Saravena, in the state of Arauca. Here is the letter I just got:

Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Dear friends, The military and police rounded up more than 120 people here in Saravena, Arauca on October 27 and 28. Twenty of those people were taken to Arauca City and charged with “rebellion.” My friend, Eduardo Sogamoso, was detained by the police on October 27 and released later that night on the outskirts of Saravena. The police and army searched the house of my friend, Victor Laguado, on October 28 and sought to arrest him. I learned about the detentions and arrests that evening and flew back here from Bogotá the next day. The prosecutor’s office then searched the offices of the Saravena Community Water Company and the Sarare Cooperative on October 31. Eduardo is the president of the Regional Student and Youth Organization, ASOJER. His partner, Sonia Lopez, works for the Joel Sierra Regional Human Rights Committee and we organized a Northwest speaking tour for her last year. Sonia told me that Eduardo was detained by the police at 8:30 P.M. on October 27 and brought to the police station. When she arrived at the station, she was told that he was being taken to the Saravena military base. Moments later, Eduardo called to tell her that the police had forced him out of the truck near the northwest edge of town. The military base is located in the opposite direction outside the southeast part of Saravena. Sonia told me that if she hadn’t gone to the police station to ask about Eduardo, the police probably would have taken him out of town and he could have been killed. Eduardo has fled from their home and is now in hiding. Victor is a leader of the Sarare Cooperative (Coagrosarare) and a coordinator of the Arauca social organizations. He has also been very active in the campaign against Occidental Petroleum for the social and environmental destruction caused by the corporation in Arauca. Victor’s partner, Martha, was detained by the police in April 2005. Their house was searched that evening and Victor was struck in the face by the police. Victor wasn’t at home when the police and army searched their house again on October 28 and there is an arrest order out for him. The police set up a checkpoint in front of the Saravena Community Water Company, ECAAS, at 8:30 A.M. on October 31. Five agents from the prosecutor’s office then arrived and demanded to speak with my friend, Ariela, who is the director. The search warrant stated that illegal activity was being carried out in the company. I heard about the search and arrived there 15 minutes later. There were four policemen inside the office – all armed with automatic rifles and two wearing bullet proof vests. The agents spent six hours searching the records of the company. ECAAS is a very inspiring water company that is owned and managed by the people of Saravena. It has suffered a lot of repression – three members of the board were killed in 2003, and 12 workers were imprisoned in 2002 and 2003. The same agents then went to the Sarare Cooperative at 4:30 P.M. That search warrant also stated that illegal activity was being carried out in the cooperative. Sonia and I heard about the search and we arrived there 15 minutes later. I took photos of the police in front of the cooperative while one of the policemen filmed me. The agents spent two and a half hours searching the records of the cooperative. The Sarare Cooperative has 43 community stores and seeks to provide basic goods at affordable prices for the peasants of Arauca. We’re discussing the best way for you to respond to this wave of repression in Saravena and we’ll try to send out an action alert soon. In love and solidarity, Scott Community Action for Justice in the Americas

Not that long ago Scott and Sonia and some of my good friends were sharing a meal at my table here in peaceful Montana, now they are under the guns of a repressive regime supported by our government and our US tax dollars. They are oppressed because they dare to try their own cooperative form of development. Indymedia photo-journalist Brad Will was murdered in Mexico and I just sit here helplessly. Should I get on a plane? What can I do? What can WE do?

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