Crossing lines and paths

IssueDecember 2005 - January 2006
Feature by Howard Clark

The XVII Brigade of the Colombian Army - the brigade responsible for the killing of eight members of the peace community of San Jose' in February and another leader in November - will not receive US military aid next year, or at least not officially.

The US State Department notes an improvement in the human rights record of various units of the Colombian Army, but the XVII Brigade will receive no aid until it has satisfactorily responded to the complaints about its actions concerning the Peace Community.

The Brigade's latest killing took place on 17 November. The coordinator of one of the one “humanitarian zones”, Arlen Salas David, was mortally wounded by a grenade attack while he worked in the fields.

Crossing the line

The weekend after the latest killing was scheduled for the latest US protests at Fort Benning, the School of the Americas, where 10,000 Colombian soldiers have trained, including the general in command of the XVII Brigade.

This year's protests were the largest yet, with 15,000 participants on the Saturday and 19,000 on the Sunday. Forty people were arrested attempting to enter through, and four of those remain in prison refusing to be bailed out. This public action is accompanied by insistent letter-writing and lobbying of Congress against US military aid to Colombia.

Path to peace

Meanwhile Choco - the most impoverished zone of Colombia and an area where the civil population is victim to the depredations of the army, paramilitaries and guerrillas - was the site for the annual Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres (Women's Peace Path) around 25 November, the International Day Against Violence Against Women. By road (where a journey of 110km took 24 hours), by river and by path, some 2,000 women arrived in Quibdo, the provincial capital of Choco.