After the great success of the campaign’s London conference on 23rd/24th February Berenice Celeyta, director of SINTRAEMCALI Human Rights Department and Hector Vaca, member of the National Committee of the USO oil workers union, accompanied by activists from the campaign set off around the country for a two-week whistle stop tour of Britain and the North of Ireland.
The aim of the tour was clear and simple: firstly to put the issue of Colombia firmly on the political map, and secondly to begin the hard work of moving the Colombia Solidarity Campaign from a largely London based organisation to a truly national one, with branches in a range of areas across Britain and in the North of Ireland.
Despite the demanding timetable Berenice and Hector were consistently brilliant in their speeches and presentations, talking not just of the pain and brutality of the situation in Colombia but also of the dignity and heroism of the popular movement. In resistance to the imposition of neo-liberalism the popular movement has taken on the monster of US imperialism which in the interests of the multinationals has facilitated and funded the dirty war which leads to thousands of political assassinations every year in Colombia, and last year took the lives of 160 trade union leaders and activists.
While the focus of the tour was very much on the great victory of the SINTRAEMCALI occupation, it was also more generally aimed at telling the story of that ŒotherÌ Colombia which both the Colombian and international press seek to keep hidden from view as they simplify and obscure the real issues and present the conflict as one of only drugs and guerrilla. Through clear and emotive speeches Berenice and Hector talked of the scramble for resources in a country rich in oil, emeralds, coal, water and a whole other range of minerals, and ColombiaÌs important geo-political location.
They talked of the long history of US intervention in Colombia and how consistently the USA backed by other Western powers has been directly implicated in directing and funding the Œdirty warÌ aimed against all those sectors of Colombian society who seek to defend their natural resources and struggle of peace with social justice. Plan Colombia, is but the latest in a whole range of imperial attempts to tame that resistance. But even against the formidable alliance of local elites and the US, the Colombian resistance movement is not about to give up its struggle. This fact was clearly illustrated by examples from both SINTRAEMCALI and USO which have fought a long and historic battle, despite massive repression, in the search for peace with social justice.
After the conference, we divided forces and Hector Vaca went to Sheffield to speak to supporters of the campaign, and Berenice Celeyta went to Bristol. Both meetings went well, and the Bristol meeting particularly had a range of different people from the Labour movement, the Socialist Worker Party, anarchists, church groups, and the academic community which was a tribute to the politics of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign which has attempted to unite under one banner a broad section of the left in a similar manner to that which SINTRAEMCALI has achieved so successfully in Colombia. On Tuesday the tour moved to Manchester where the local UNISON branch hosted a successful meeting and donated a substantial amount to the campaign. On Wednesday morning Berenice addressed the TUC General Council in London as a representative of SINTRAEMCALI, and in the name of the workers and activists of the union she thanked the TUC for their support durin the occupation of the CAM Tower, and pushed forward the idea that it is only through struggle that ordinary working class people can gain and defend their rights, and that international solidarity was an important component of that.
We flew to Glasgow where we were hosted by Globalise Resistance at a meeting of 200 people in the centre of the city, one of the highlights of the tour. The following day we met with different unions including the regional committee of the FBU . On Thursday evening we moved to Edinburgh again hosted by GR at the University.
The following morning we split up, with Hector remaining in Scotland to work with local unions, while Berenice and other members of the campaign flew to Belfast for a 24 hour visit which took us to a range of meeting with trade unions and local groups both in Belfast and also in Derry. We were hosted by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and UNISON. In Derry the meeting was organised by Derry Trades Council. The warmth of our reception in the North of Ireland was amazing and we were taken on a brief tour of the political murals of Derry and to the memorial of those Irish people murdered by British Imperialism on the Bloody Sunday Massacre.
On Saturday we flew back to Glasgow where Berenice was one of the keynote speakers at the annual conference of War on Want, and Hector lead a workshop on Plan Colombia and the multinationals. On Sunday Berenice and Hector addressed the Scottish Socialist PartyÌs annual conference in Dundee and received a warm reception. On Monday we attended a meeting organised by Notts UNISON in Nottingham Town Hall, and on Tuesday we went to Cardiff to meet with Colombia Solidarity Campaign supporters setting up a local branch. On Wednesday Berenice and Hector spoke at the London School of Economics, and on Thursday evening we threw a party in London to say thank you to Hector Vaca who was leaving the following day. On Friday 8th March, Womens Day, Berenice spoke to a meeting organised by local activists in Oxford. She finished the tour that Sunday at the Fire Brigades Union WomensÌs Conference, an invitation organised by Ken Cameron of the Justice for Colombia campaign.
Everywhere we went we were met with great human warmth and enthusiasm, and treated with kindness and respect. On behalf of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign and in the name of Berenice Celeyta and Hector Vaca we would like to thank all those people who attended meetings, donated money, fed us, looked after us and showed us that International Solidarity in Britain and the north of Ireland is alive and kicking. Let us now move forward together and create a powerful national organisation with the strength to face the challenges of the coming year in Colombia.