The Colombia Solidarity Campaign’s conference weekend 23rd/24th February showed the enormous concern and interest there is in campaigning against injustice in Colombia.
The Saturday day school on "Plan Colombia: Clearing the Way for the Multinationals" started with a session on human rights. Caroline Annesley, International Officer with UNISON reported on the delegation to Cauca Valley last October. Berenice Celeyta, on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign Against Privatisation, Corruption and the Criminalisation of Social Protest, and Hector Vaca, USO Oilworkers brought the situation up to date.
One workshop introduced by Susan Branford and Grace Livingstone examined Plan Colombia’s impact on the environment. In the other workshop a panel of speakers addressed Plan Colombia in the context of Latin America. John Smith (Argentina), David Raby (Venezuela) and Andy Brown (Ecuador) led a real debate about the dynamics and significance of developments in Argentina.
After lunch Andy Higginbottom argued that neoliberalism is now in crisis in Colombia and, in what was for many the highlight of the dayschool, Hector Vaca explained the history and political economy of the oil multinationals in his country.
The International Solidarity Rally to celebrate SINTRAEMCALI’s victory over privatisation was dedicated to the memory of Julio Galeano, the community activist assassinated two weeks previously. It was kicked off with a tremendous performance by the massed ranks of the Strawberry Thieves & Red and Green Socialist Choir.
An array of speakers shared what the victory meant for them – Christine Hafiz (UNISON), Nick Dearden (War on Want), Frances Meyler (Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers), Tony Staunton (Socialist Worker), Dan Glazebrook (Sussex University Students), Mario Novelli (writer from the occupation), Hector Vaca, Dave Patton (Fire Brigades Union – just returned from TUC delegation) and Berenice Celeyta for SINTRAEMCALI Human Rights Department.
Already an evening to remember – which only ended after the fiesta with live salsa played by Latino NaÌma.
The next morning we concentrated on the nexus between Britain and Colombia with two workshops. One on the impact of BP in Colombia, introduced by investigative journalist Michael Gillard, and another on mining and dispossession led by Richard Solly and Roger Moody on El Cerrejon, and Berenice Celeyta on Sur de BolÌvar.
In the final session David Raby explained the basis and significance of international tribunals, and we discussed amendments to the Campaign’s constitution, but unfortunately ran out of time. This process will have to be completed at the next National Committee on 1st June.
The Conference had been completely illuminated by Berenice and Hector’s contribution. It established both the breadth of support and depth of understanding to start building a national solidarity movement.