Liliany Obando, an international representative and organiser of the Agricultural Workers Union Federation of Colombia (FENSUAGRO), will be among more than 35 international guests at the Latin American and Asia Pacific International Solidarity Forum to be held in Melbourne on October 11-14.
The social, economic and armed conflict in Colombia continues to escalate, exacerbating what is already the worst humanitarian crisis in the Americas. More than 50 years of state terror have claimed more than a million lives, with many more dying from malnutrition and lack of health care.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are more than 6 million internally displaced people in Colombia. Having your house destroyed and being forced to relocate is a death sentence for many people as the Colombian state provides no social security.
The US administration is playing an ever greater role in support of Colombian state terror; there are now several thousand US military personnel in combat roles in Colombia. The resistance to state terrorism and US imperialism in Colombia has also grown, however, with significant advances being made by groups organising in the electoral, trade union, community and armed struggles.
FENSUAGRO is an internationally renowned campesino organisation that was formed, and is led and organised, by Colombia's rural inhabitants. The organisation grew out of FENSA (Federacion Nacional Sindical Agropecuaria — National Agricultural Trade Union Federation), formed in 1976 to campaign for agrarian reform via a coalition of rural producers and indigenous peoples in the countryside.
In 1987, the CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores — United Central Workers) helped to unify workers in the major urban centres while FENSA restructured itself into a larger and more widespread organisation representing an alternative model of worker cooperation within the rural areas. The result was that many more of Colombia's working people — urban and rural — have been united in struggle against ruling-class oppression.
FENSUAGRO is the largest peasant and farm workers' union federation in Colombia. It organises plantation workers, small landowners, landless peasants, internally displaced people and small coca growers. It uses protests, road blocks and strikes to achieve collective agreements for workers in agro-industries and plantations.
FENSUAGRO also runs several schools that teach organic farming and political and union organisation; occupies unused land for landless peasants; relocates internally displaced people; and runs a centre that documents and protests against ongoing human rights violations against Colombia's rural communities.
FENSUAGRO campaigns around several demands on the Colombian government, including:
for a comprehensive land reform that makes the workers of the land the owners of the land;
for organic and sustainable agriculture;
for an end to political persecution of the social movements;
for an end to state terrorism against political and social movements;
for a negotiated political settlement to the social, economic and armed conflict in Colombia;
for an end to US intervention in the Colombian civil war; and
for the insurgent groups to be taken off the list of terrorist organisations.
For voicing these demands and organising Colombia's workers and peasants, FENSUAGRO has been targeted by the Colombian state; more of its members have been assassinated by government forces than any other union in Colombia. More than 1500 of its members have been killed, including its general secretary, gunned down in front of his office in Bogota. Tens of thousands of FENSUAGRO members have been turned into internal refugees.
Despite these adverse circumstances, FENSUAGRO continues to grow and expand its work. During the past decade, many unions, political parties and solidarity organisations around the world have supported FENSUAGRO, believing it to be the legal political organisation that most represents the people's struggle in Colombia. This international solidarity has enabled FENSUAGRO to build several schools, run an effective human rights campaign, save cooperative farms from state terror attacks and free several FENSUAGRO leaders from jail. Such international solidarity continues to be essential.
[For more information about the Latin America and Asia Pacific International Solidarity Forum, visit http://www.solidarityforum2007.org. A fundraiser for FENSUAGRO will be held in Melbourne on August 31, 7pm, 10a Hyde St, Footscray, with all proceeds to the Esmeralda farm and union training centre in the Valle del Cauca.]