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Campaign against Expodefensa arms fair in Bogotá: "The war starts here, we need to stop it"

Updated: Mar 20

by Lukasz Firla

“The war starts here, here we need to stop it” is the lead slogan of the campaign that WFPSC Colombia team has joined and supported since August 2023. The campaign, named NoMoreExpodefensa, opposes and advocates for the end of a major arms fair that is being held every two years in Bogota, and has just taken place for the eight time this past December 2023. 

Expodefensa has gained an attribute of becoming the largest arms fair of Latin America as it attracts more than 200 companies that profit from, and thus generate more, war, surveillance, repression and sale of equipment that armies and other legal and illegal armed groups would use in at least several dozen, but likely more, countries. 

The campaign is led by a coalition of anti-war activists, who in the majority are Colombian or come from places targeted by violence and imperialism, and majority of whom have been protesting against Expodefensa for the past six years. The campaign coalition brings together organizations like Tadamun Antimili, ACOOC (Association of Conscientious Objectors of Colombia), War Resisters International, World Beyond War, Congreso de los Pueblos and others. 

As WFPSC, we have joined this coalition not only because we believe that marketing weapons would intrinsically generate more violence and repression, but also because the vast majority, 51 out of 220, of the companies that showcased at Expodefensa 2023, came from the USA. No other country, apart from Colombia, has had such an overwhelming presence at the fair. We believe that this involvement of the US companies is yet another variation of the historic US military interventions and foreign policies implementations that have had such a destructive impact on the Colombian civilian population and human rights situation. Not only has the US funded “Plan Colombia” had intensified the Colombian internal conflict, causing the displacement of 4 million people, most of whom were women and children, with Afro-Colombian and indigenous people disproportionately affected since 2000, and to a half a million of women being subjected to sexual violence from 2001 and 2009, among others. 

During 2023, some U.S. Representatives began to press for a halt in U.S. funding that is dedicated to supporting Colombian humanitarian and peace efforts and reparations to victims of the internal conflict because the Government of Gustavo Petro and Francía Márquez had begun negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) and other illegal armed actors under the auspices of the Total Peace plan. This pressure aims to cut aid in the face of a peace proposal that implies breaking with the logic of war.

The activities of the NoMoreExpodefensa campaign, that WFPSC Colombia team participated in, focused on opposing the organization of the fair in Bogotá as well as on denouncing the complicity of the Expodefensa companies in creating human suffering and in suppression of human rights, including those that which WFPSC counterparts have been victims of.

The campaign members put up posters in popular parts of Bogota, created a series of videos that were shared on social media, delivered a petition to the Presidency of Colombia, organized a webinar and co-led a creative public protest in front of the venue that the arms fair was held at, that included a street theater and exhibition, live concert, large posters, and a public microphone that called for for this and any future editions of Expodefensa to be put to end.    

As part of this call we, WFPSC Colombia Program, wrote our own public statement to be shared during the protest. As part of the ongoing call, we would also like to share it also in this publication. 

With our deepest sadness we also need to share that Olga Castillo, who became a human rights defender as result of violations of her and her daughter's rights by members of the US military, died on 8 December after a difficult struggle against cancer and the ongoing injustice and impunity. This statement is for her and for Phanor Guazaquillo Peña, a social leader of the Nasa people whom WFPSC accompanied and who was assassinated on 3 December. Our statement is dedicated to them and to all social leaders who have defended and continue to defend human rights and oppose the militarization of their lives and territories.

Witness for Peace – Solidarity Collective – Colombia Team 

Statement for #NoMásExpodefensa Public Action

6 December 2023    

Today we stand here in front of this wall that separates us from some of the most powerful people that dedicate their lives to destroying the lives of others and of our planet. The 220 companies that are behind this wall exist because of people for whom profit is more important than life and more precious than the rights of not only us who are standing here but even more so of those who can not be here today.

We stand here in the name of the 9,500,000 Colombians who were killed, tortured, forcefully displaced, disappeared, threatened and raped by people using weapons that those who are now shaking their hands and signing new deals behind this wall made, bought and sold.

We stand here in the name of Jessica Castillo who was violated as a 12-year-old by U.S. military contractors in their base in Melgar. We stand here in the name of Jessica’s mother Olga Castillo, who is dying without seeing justice for her daughter despite 16 years of struggle.

No other country has supplied more weapons and money that intensified the Colombian armed conflict and caused more victims than the USA. Today, 51 companies from the USA, more than from any other foreign country, are here to sell more weapons.

Among them, we know that:

Textron Aviation is trying to sell its SkyCourier plane for special missions of Colombian military forces.

Aquila International is promoting rifles of Daniel Defense, and they both are trying to expand secret “projects for special military operations.”

Navistar Defense promotes their tactical trucks used by Colombian marine infantry.

Other companies are selling weapons parts, boats, surveillance systems, artificial intelligence for military uses, and things that we likely don’t even know exist.

We stand here in the name of the seven young people who could never grow up because of bombs dropped by a Colombian pilot from warplanes made by Embraer, a Brazilian company that tries to sell more planes today.

We stand here in the name of the Yemeni families whose lives were torn to pieces by MK 82 bombs made by Colombian Indumil and sold to the government of Saudi Arabia, a government that carries responsibility for one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.

We stand here denouncing the genocide against 2 and a half million of our sisters and brothers in Gaza, whose lives and homes are turned to rubles by rockets directed by Heron  drones, made by Israeli Aerospace Industries that are here today.

We stand here in the name of the 19-year-old Dunya Rashid, whose life was ended by a Turkish mortar grenade while she was collecting wild plants with her relatives on the mountains overlooking her village in Southern Kurdistan. Dunya is but one of thousands of our Kurdish, Yezidi, Assyrian and Armenian sisters and brothers who have become victims of artillery grenades and weapons systems made by Turkish companies Aselsan and Otokar and their Italian partners Leonardo, who are here.

These companies and people who are behind these walls need war to grow and to get even more rich. They are here to make deals that will kill more Dunyas, that will destroy more families and turn more cities to dust. We can not just stand by and watch as more lives will be taken, destroyed, uprooted and ended. Here starts the war, we need to end it.

For this, we stand up and cry: No more war! No more weapons! No more Expodefensa.


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