Stanley Campbell returns from Colombia
Local activist Stanley Campbell recently returned from a three-day visit to Colombia as part of a delegation representing the Chicago Tribunal for Justice in Colombia. Campbell is a spokesman for the local Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee as well as director of Rockford Urban Ministries. The objective of the trip was to release a report on a massacre of 19 villagers by the U.S.-supplied Colombian army in 1998.
Background on the war
Most historians say the civil war started in 1966. An attempt at peace was made when the rebels came down from the hills and registered to vote and run candidates. The tribunal asserts that this was a boon for the right-wing death squads, and it is estimated that 2,500-3,500 leftists were killed.
When the drug dealers were thrown out of Peru, they sought refuge in Colombia. Needing protection, some dealt with the guerrillas, some with the right-wing death squads and some with the military. The largest rebel group (known as FARC) obtains money and equipment from the U.S. government.
The new Conservative president recently signed a truce with FARC and allowed them to keep an area of land the size of Switzerland. But as peace talks drag on, there is plenty of fighting going on, and with $1.2 billion of Plan Colombia coming through the U.S. pipeline, more is expected.
Campbells group landed in Bogota on Monday, Dec. 11, and they had five important meetings the first day. They wanted to impress on local officials the verdict of the Chicago tribunal: that an air force helicopter dropped at least two American-made cluster
Continued on pages 16 & 17
From page 1
bombs on the village of Santo Domingo, fired on people attempting to help the injured and tried to conceal it afterward. They released a 30-page judgment to the press on Wednesday, and they hoped to give some of the officials time to respond.
Embassy not interested
The American Embassy said thanks, but no thanks, Campbell stated in his report. Besides, they were too busy helping Colombia buy American weapons to worry about a two-year-old massacre. $1.2 billion of approved tax dollars (and God knows how much through the CIA). Also, you should know, our tax dollars pay for the best fortress money can buy. The embassy is a beautiful edifice of power in tan limestone.
They next visited Colombias version of a human rights officein a four-floor office building. Officials said they didnt know it was a cluster bomb, American made, and dropped from a helicopterbut theyd like to see the FBI report (released in May). Campbells impression was that they were given a polite brush-off.
The UN Human Rights Office was much more supportive, wrote Campbell. They said theyd reached the same conclusion as our tribunal. Theyre appalled that the worst offenders in the Colombian military visit our country regularly.
Coffee with the attorney general
Campbell was more favorably impressed by his visit with the Colombian attorney general (he doesnt have the officials name). The attorney general assured them that he was indicting the helicopter crews and an army major. And, oh yeah, he was outta here in January, so good luck with seeing any prosecutions, recalled Campbell. This guy had two human dobermans working the phones while he was talking to us in his 24th-floor office overlooking congested Bogota. I liked him. He was the only one who served us anything: coffee in fine china.
He had two more meetings with other officials. One was supportive, and the other told the group to investigate the guerrillas. (We would, but they dont get any American aid, observed Campbell.)
Campbell admitted to his friends, I was pretty bushed. Most of the time Id just sat, looked stern, and every now and then shook my head in agreement with my 12 cohorts. Except at the American Embassy. I just had to tell that smug employee that I work with drug addicts and that I have no chance of getting folks who want to quit into any recovery programs because theres no money. I got a blank stare back.
Companions on the trip
Other delegation members included: Bernadine Dohrn, noted Vietnam war protester, who now defends childrens rights at Northwestern University; Doug Cassell, legal counsel to the tribunal; Alberto Guzman, a Colombian journalist; Dorothy, a young Catholic Worker from Su Casa; another nun from Eighth Day Center for Justice in Chicago; two Franciscan priests; and a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. (The Tribune ran a story on the Colombian massacre and its aftermath on Dec. 14, 2000.)
On Tuesday, Dec. 12, the group caught a charter flight to Saravena, the capital of Arauca Dept. (a state in northwestern Colombia) and 40 miles from Santo Domingo. Campbell recalled that his friend, Barry Romo, former Army captain and a national leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, had gone to Santo Domingo last year to retrieve evidence that proved it wasnt a truck bomb and that the shrapnel was the same in the ground as in the victims.
Speech to the citizens
When we landed in Saravena, Campbell reported, Colombias finest military forces, armed with our finest weaponry, met us. We were ushered into an outdoor auditorium that had 1,000 compasinos, neighborhood groups, human rights activists and on the floor of the stadium, sitting in chairs formed in the shape of a heart, were 22 of the survivors of the massacre in Santo Domingo.
In the middle of the heart were 19 empty chairs representing the victims. I cried. We were seated at a panel on the stage overlooking the whole stadium…. A teacher from the local high school gave a talk on human rights, followed by typical music of the area which included harp, guitar, maracas and vocalists belting out Latino verses… With the help of a translator, Campbell told the citizens, Im Stanley Campbell, representing Vietnam Veterans Against the War. As former soldiers in an unjust war, we wish to stand with the victims instead of the perpetrators of war and say never again.
On the final day, a press conference was held on the 12th floor of the richest downtown private club. They hosted six TV stations, four newspapers, a radio station and two wire services. Campbell could have stayed a few days longer and seen the sights, but felt he was ready to come home. He believed the purpose of the trip had been accomplished, but Id return at the drop of another cluster bomb.