Report on Bogotá Green Party Summit : Freedom for Ingrid Betancourt!
Reports by Carl Romanelli
Green Party of Pennsylvania
International Committee Represenatative
We have been working non-stop. Represented here are individuals or delegations from the following nations: Italy, France, US, Bosnia, Holland, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Belgium, Brazil and Colombia.
We`ve met with the mayor of Bogota, a representative from the UN Commission on Human Rights in Colombia, Victims of State Crime, Council of Indigenous People, presidential candidates, former president Lopez, National Vice-Prosecutor, Communist Party, labor unions, the Catholic church, and groups of families of hostages; to name some (but not all).
I have to leave Colombia on Sunday morning, but some members are staying for another week to tour various areas of the Indigena. I really wish I could stay, as I have not left Bogota all week. It would be wonderful to see other areas and to get a first hand look at what the multi-nationals and military are doing to this country. Those staying are hoping that they can convice the FARC (through third parties and the media) to release some of the hostages, Including Ingrid and Clara.
It was very difficult to hold back emotions in hearing the stories of person after person, regarding missing or murdered family members. Since 1997 the paramilitaries have killed nearly 8,000 union organizers and members. Thousands remain hostages. About 59 of the hostages are political hostages and the rest are economic hostages. The political hostages have value to the FARC, but the others are of major concern to us. If ransoms are not paid, then the hostages will have no value and their fate is uncertain.
Universally, the comments from all we met with lead to concerns about US military and corporate influence. The responsibility of US Greens is overwhelming, but I assured the people of Colombia and our peers that I am ready to do what needs to be done to alert the American people as to what their tax dollars are doing here. I also advised that all of you are also prepared to do whatever you can.
Yesterday`s press conference was successful, at least from a Colombian and European perspective (no American press showed, even though they were invited). We issued a statement of solidarity with the hostages, a proposal for a 15 point plan concerning the situation here, and a statement calling for a ^^Green Shield^^ of international solidarity against repression of ecological rights activists.
In a few moments we are going to tour some of the mayor`s anti-poverty food programs, so I`ll close here. Please accept all of my heartfelt thanks for your confidence and for the opportunity to serve our party at this summit. Deep inside I know I belonged here and I hope this summit will lead to an end to the armed conflict here.
In this report I will focus on our time with Bogota Mayor, Luis Eduardo Garzon.
First, understand that I arrived in Colombia at 1:30am on Monday, 10/31. At 6:15am we met in the lobby and headed to the mayor’s office. We worked from early in the morning until 8 or 9pm every day we were there. There will be many reports filed on this list, as each experience was involved and informative.
Our delegation had breakfast at with the mayor and his staff on Monday. He was informed as to the nature of our humanitarian agreement. That we were calling for the immediate release of all of the hostages, peace talks that involved all sides, and adherence to international standards of truth, justice, and reparations. Mayor Garzon advised that he agreed, but stated that he felt President Uribe would not comply. The mayor has been a strong supporter of the hostages and a peaceful solution. He explained that the unrest in Colombia has at its heart, economic issues. When the mayor was elected the poverty rate was 48% in Bogota. He launched a series of programs to address this situation. He explained that two things needed to be accomplished for Colombia to enjoy security and peace. 1) People need opportunity and poverty issues need to be addressed. 2) The influence of multi-nationals, paramilitaries, and Plan Colombia needs to be exposed and repaired.
Regarding poverty, Mayor Garzon has been rebuilding housing in Colombia’s poorest areas. In addition, he has opened 168 community kitchens throughout the city. The food comes from surpluses of local farmers and from community gardens sponsored by the city. The city is planning the opening of 5 additional kitchens in the coming year. Anyone is welcome at these kitchens, but the priority is given children, homeless, pregnant women, and the elderly. To date, 27 rooms have been provided throughout the city for breastfeeding. Pre and post natal education is provided and the plan encourages breast feeding. It is the goal of Mayor Garzon to eliminate poverty in Bogota by 2015.
On Wednesday our delegation had lunch and a meeting with the mayor’s staff and various social service coordinators for the anti-poverty initiatives of the city. This meeting was at the botanical gardens. We learned that 80% of the food consumed in Bogota is produced within 300 km of the city. This region has most diverse assortment of crops produced in one place. Since there are no seasons in Bogota, food is grown all year. Areas of the botanical gardens have been designated for community food production and for research in areas of organic gardening. The city educates citizens and shares information and training. This not only teaches folks how grow food, but also allows those interested to learn a skill they can use to earn money.
Part of this program includes recycling programs. Education is shared with the schools on all of these issues and the mayor believes he is helping to instill a sense of civic pride among the poor, because they have seen results already. Currently, the city is studying the delivery structure of food in Bogota. It is trying to eliminate middlemen that serve no purpose, they just drive up cost. It is also trying to make delivery less dependent on the hydrocarbon through use of rail and making sure trucks used are filled to capacity for each run. A system is being coordinated to assure food is collected and distributed to its destination promptly, in order to reduce waste.
Saturday we toured the farming project in the Andes Forest Park. Here food is grown, water is collected in a series of little lakes built in key areas in the park. Organic waste is collected from the community and used for compost. There is an education center at the park where children are taught about nutrition, hygiene, and the environment. Part of this program is dedicated to improving the air quality in Bogota. There is also a program that teaches skills in pottery and other crafts to teenagers. It is designed to provide employment training as well as and artistic release. The park employs about 45 people.
The mayor was unable to attend the Wednesday and Saturday events due to death threats and security risks.
In closing, I should mention that the original resolution from Wilkes-Barre City (in Spanish) was presented to the mayor on Monday. He said he would display it in town hall so Colombians can see that there are those in the US that understand and care about the realities in Colombia. The wording is provided here for your review:
Resolution of the City Council
City of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Whereas, the City Council of Wilkes-Barre recognizes that Senator Ingrid Betancourt of Colombia was kidnapped by FARC guerrillas on February 23, 2002.
Whereas, the City Council of Wilkes-Barre recognizes Senator Betancourt was a candidate for president of Colombia at the time of her kidnapping.
Whereas, the City Council of Wilkes-Barre recognizes that Ingrid Betancourt is the founder of the Green Oxygen Party of Colombia.
Whereas, the City Council of Wilkes-Barre recognizes that Ingrid Betancourt is among hundreds of Colombians kidnapped by FARC guerrillas.
Whereas, the City Council of Wilkes-Barre recognizes the June 16, 2005 request of Yolanda Pulecio, mother of Ingrid Betancourt, for the release of all hostages and resumption of Colombian peace negotiations.
Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the City Council of Wilkes-Barre bestows honorary citizenship to the city of Wilkes-Barre on Ingrid Betancourt and Yolanda Pulecio, and that the City Council of Wilkes-Barre calls upon the government of the United States of America to join the City Council of Wilkes-Barre, the Luzerne County Green Party, the United States Green Party and the International Green Party in requesting Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe appoint a negotiator for resumption of the Colombian peace process.