On January 15th, 14 activists were on trial for the occupation of CitiBank, Geneva, but for the public (and the media) it was "the trial of CitiBank"!
More than 50 activists had occupied the headquarters of CitiBank last May to protest against massacres of the afro-Colombian community in Colombia by paramilitary groups. The activists said they had no proof that CitiBank had financed paramilitaries, but pointed out that all transnationals and foreign investors profit from a situation in which all forms of worker and peasant organisation are ruthlessly repressed. CitiBank is the largest foreign and quickest growing bank in the country, benefiting in multiple ways from this institutionalised violence. It also has close ties to the CIA.
The protestors had refused to leave unless an executive of the bank made a statement concerning the ethics of such investment, or unless the bank condemned the impunity enjoyed by the para-militaries. This simple question provoked five hours of hesitations and consultations between Geneva, New York and London. Finally CitiBank answered; that they would answer another time! The protestors were hauled off to jail and subsequently sent fines of $400 to $500. They appealed these in order to have a public political trial.
The courtroom was packed and almost a hundred more people demonstrated outside. Ms. Belen Torres, an exiled leader of ANUC-UR (a national peasant organisation) gave extensive and moving testimony. Ten ANUC-UR leaders a year have been assassinated for the last five years. The International Commission of Jurists cited terrifying statistics: on average 10 persons a day have been assassinated in Colombia since 1986 (the huge majority by the army or the paramilitary). This year there have been almost 20 dead and one "disappeared" each day. Business as usual, Mr. CitiBank? The judgement will be handed down shortly, but we are already quite happy with the result anyhow!
CitiGroup-uscule Action Populaire contre la Mondialisation, part of Peoples’ Global Action network.