By Kristen Treinen
“Be proud of your son; he never folded.” – Juan Iván Hurtado Garcia, whose brotherJairo was disappeared by the Colombian government on May 16, 1997
These words continue to haunt us delegates who went to Colombia. Marleny, Jairo Iván Hurtado Garcia’s mother, was one of the first people we met as we embarked on this 10-day learning experience in order to become advocates for the peaceful people of Colombia – the peasant farmers, the Afro-Colombians, the common folks living outside of Popayan, Cali, and Bogotá. For what we learned on this trip is that all of these groups want peace. They simply want to live in a time and a place where no one is mysteriously “missing” or dies for standing up to a powerful and corrupt government.
As delegates, our preparation began before we landed in Colombia and continued the first few days of the delegation in Cali, with reading materials about the political history of Colombia as well as the current situation the people of Colombia face. The delegation began with a visit to the Memory Gallery in Cali. Here, the 10 delegates from Minnesota, New Mexico, California, and Georgia began to formulate an idea of what the political landscape was in Colombia before the FARC-EN laid down their guns and entered into the Havana Peace Accords with the Colombian government. The first few days in Colombia acted as our foundation and gave us the grounding we needed to begin conversations and understand, from all sides of the issues, the plight of the Colombian people. The following day we were able to visit with peasant farmers and local activists dedicated to finding sustainable crops and raising chickens, horses, and cows to produce their own milk. The resilience of the Colombian people is quite amazing when one considers the conditions in which they have been left to survive on their own accord with no aid from the government. In order to help the delegation understand who is involved in the fight to help the people of Colombia, we spent two days visiting with advocacy groups in Popayan including CIMA and Justicia y Paz.
Our delegation ended in Bogotá. It was with great disappointment to myself and the other delegates that the US Government would not agree to a meeting with our group at the Embassy. However, this did open the door to more time with ASOTRECOL to learn about their fight for workers’ rights by General Motors. While in Bogotá, the group worked to draft a letter to the US Ambassador in Colombia and this letter will also be the basis for further communication with our own Senators and Representatives in the United States, in particular in Minnesota, New Mexico, and California. Our advocacy work began the minute we stepped foot in Colombia, and we will continue the fight as we move back to our respective homes. Just as Jairo Ivan Hurtado Garcia said, we hope our International Team and the people we met in Colombia will be proud of us as we will push forward with the message of a peaceful Colombian people who only wish to live with dignity and grace – we will not fold.