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Major Moment for Action on U.S.-Colombia Policy

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A new government in Colombia
that’s more open to dialogue, but continued threats and attacks against human rights defenders and displaced leaders. Budget battles in the U.S. Congress. Colombian peace communities in danger. Pressure increasing to approve the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

With all that’s been happening, we’ve had a busy last couple months in our advocacy and education efforts to promote human rights and peace in U.S. policies towards Colombia—and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon. In case you’ve been busy too, here’s a review of some of what we’ve been working on:

Emergency Actions for Policy Change

When we saw momentum building in Washington to move the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, we leapt into action. We created a petition to President Obama asking him to not move forward with the Free Trade Agreement while labor and human rights violations continue, millions of people are still displaced from their lands, and small-scale farmers have no resources to help them compete with incoming subsidized agro-business. We collaborated with Change.org to reach out to thousands of new activists and we got everyone in our coalition spreading the word. The result? Over 11,000 messages going straight to the White House! (And it’s still live. If you haven’t signed yet, check it out here.)

Meanwhile, alarming reports of threats and attacks against human rights defenders, peace communities, and land rights activists in Colombia keep coming in. In April we heard from our partners that the communities living in humanitarian zones in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó river basins in Colombia were in great danger. The Colombian military forces that usually form a protective perimeter around the outside of the communities had pulled out and paramilitary forces had been seen coming in. So we put out an emergency call to action and 1336 people responded, sending 5336 messages  to top Colombian officials asking them to send protection back to these brave communities. But so far the threats and violence continue. If you haven’t sent a message yet, please do so here. And check out this action alert with updates on various threats to Afro-Colombians and human rights defenders here.

Grassroots Education and Organizing

We still have to tally up the final numbers, but we can already tell that the 6th annual Days of Prayer and Action: Hand in Hand for Peace in Colombia has been a great success! Throughout April, thousands of activists have created hundreds of events across the country to stand with Colombia’s victims of violence. We are particularly energized by the response to the creative project this year, in which communities across the United States have traced and painted images of their hands onto banners and posters filled with messages of hope and solidarity that will be sent to peace communities and human rights organizations in Colombia. To learn more about it, click here.

New Media and Publications Outreach

We’ve continued getting our perspective out to a broader audience online on the Huffington Post and fostering good discussions on our “Stand for Land Rights in Colombia” facebook page, where activists new and old to the movement can share information and be alerted to key moments for action on U.S. Colombia policy. (Check out one of our recent articles on Colombia here and our facebook page here.

Meanwhile, we’ve been promoting Breaking the Silence: In Search of Colombia’s Disappeared  to lawmakers, academics, and activists alike. And our efforts have already paid off: our findings made their way into the United Nations’ recent Human Rights Report on Colombia, which spent a whole section on disappearances. (To read it yourself click here)

But as much as we’ve been doing, there’s still a lot of work ahead. What should you look out for?

Action to Stop the Free Trade Agreement: Despite huge problems left unresolved, the Obama Administration recently made it clear that they will push forward with the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement this summer. So now we’re taking it to Congress and we need your help. Starting this month, we will be organizing activists across the country to meet with their representatives, write to their local media, and do creative street demonstrations to raise awareness of why passing this trade agreement right now would be harmful and unethical. Want to participate? Send us an email here and check out our resources for lobbying here.

More Budget Battles: After barely avoiding a government shutdown by making some serious cuts in the 2011 budget, the new leadership in Congress is already taking out their knives to chop up the Obama Administration’s request for 2012. If we want to preserve aid we support like humanitarian assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons, we will need to keep up the pressure on our members of Congress so they know that these items are not negotiable.

To stay involved on all our Colombia work, make sure to join our email action list on LAWG’s webpage or “like” the “Stand for Land Rights in Colombia” page.