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Colombian Civil Society Leaders Go to Washington

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Last week, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos visited Washington, DC to meet with lawmakers and top Obama Administration officials, including Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Sec. Robert Gates, and National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones.

Santos made no secret of the purpose of his latest trip to Washington, telling the press that he was there to “strengthen the cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism and to show the social and security progress made with the support of Plan Colombia.”

Meanwhile, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos spoke in Chicago about a “post-conflict” situation in Colombia at an event sponsored by Monsanto, the company that produces chemicals used in U.S.-sponsored aerial fumigations that have displaced thousands and increased food insecurity throughout much of Colombia.

After five weeks, the Colombian government is already at it again. Call it the first “Everything’s Better, No Human Rights Violations Here” Tour of 2009 (the theme tends not to differ much from year to year), which is of course aimed at persuading the Obama Administration to keep the Plan Colombia spigot running and to drop concerns over labor leader killings that are stalling the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. But the Colombian government had to face some tough questions when it came to town.

To ensure that the Obama Administration hears the full story, as well as positive visions and recommendations for what can be done to improve U.S. policy, LAWG has teamed up with partner U.S. organizations to bring several Colombian civil society leaders to Washington this week, including leaders from the Catholic Church’s Social Ministry, leading human rights, Afro-Colombian and peacebuilding organizations,  to support the new direction we called for in A Compass for Colombia Policy and to deliver a letter to President Obama signed by over a hundred Colombian civil society leaders.

The delegation is asking the Obama Administration to turn over a new leaf in U.S. policy towards Colombia by urging human rights improvements, including an end to killings of civilians by the army and respect for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities; more humane and effective counternarcotics efforts; an emphasis on aid for the victims of war and small farmers; and support for peace, rather than endless war.

We’re finding that our message is finally beginning to be heard—but we need your help! You can do your part to ensure this message of hope and change gets through to the White House by participating in Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia April 19-20th, 2009 and sending a postcard to President Obama. Visit www.peaceincolombia.org to learn more and look for our alert about the Days next week.