( TRANSLATED BY ANNE BOYLON, a CSN volunteer translator)

The delegates from the various associations which make up the Catatumbo Committee of Social Integration – CISCA : the Communal Action Boards,  the Women’s’ and the Displaced Persons’ Associations, the guilds, the organizations for economic solidarity and the youth groups met for two days in the El Tarra municipality in order to analyze and reflect on the problems of the cultivation of illegal drugs.  The product of that meeting is the following public declaration:
Diagnosis of the Problem
State Responsibility

  1. The Catatumbo region has historically been neglected by the Colombian government.  This abandonment by the State is one of the factors involved in the deepening crisis in the rural economy.  It has also resulted in a lack of access to credit, the absence of technical support, an appallingly poor infrastructure and government policies designed to favor rural entrepreneurs.  Health and education services have also seriously deteriorated.  Making this crucial situation even worse is the war which has caused territorial instability and the subsequent conditions that favor the cultivation of illicit drugs. These illegal crops have become, of necessity, one of the principal sources of income for many families.
  2. In addition to all of this, the central administration has earmarked Catatumbo for the exploitation of its natural resources.  However, the national government and the multi-nationals have not found this to be clear sailing.  They have met with opposition from the indigenous communities who have a historic claim to their collective territories, from the social organizations of rural families, and from groups concerned about the environment.  In order to remove these obstacles, the government is using the illegal cultivations and the general coca economy as an excuse to justify the militarization of the area, the fumigations and the forced displacement of the population.
  3. For the above-stated reasons we, the communities, call attention to the obligations of the State:  it cannot ignore its constitutional responsibilities which require it to be the guarantor of the life, honor and goods of the citizens who live in this part of Colombia.  Therefore, we will continue to demand the safeguarding of our fundamental economic, social and cultural rights – but not in exchange for the substitution of coca.  Such a substitution would not solve the problems created by the historical abandonment to which the region has been subject.

Illicit cultivations and their effect on our communities:
1.    The coca economy has brought about the social decomposition of a part of our young population.  Many of our youth now lack the motivation to become involved the community or to continue their academic education.
2.    The number of young people leaving school in order to help their parents with the coca crops is increasing.
3.    The coca economy encourages individualism and diminishes consciousness of the importance of community work and organizational strength.
4.    The coca culture leads to the loss of regional identity and the sense of connection to our land and thus creates difficulties for working collectively.
5.    The substitution of food crops for coca has created food insecurity; another result of the coca economy has been the lessening of attention formerly given to problems affecting social development and to the meetings focusing on these issues.
6.    The coca cultivation has distorted the local economy. The economically active population no longer wishes to work in jobs offering remuneration inferior to that gained by working in the coca economy. This affects regional agricultural supplies and the rural economy.
7.    Coca does not promote social development; on the contrary, its cultivation destroys traditional customs and ways of life that are the foundation of social development.
8.    Coca cultivation generates the development of particular interests to the detriment of the collective good; it creates divisions and fosters violence for which the communities pay a high price:  the violent deaths of its members.
9.    The coca economy has fractured the family unit and the social and community fabric; the cost of living has gone up for all families – both for those who are involved in the coca economy and those who are not.
10. The coca economy causes critical environmental problems for which, in a great part, we are responsible.  This harm done to the environment is also an attack on our lives and land.
Because our territorial integrity and the unity of our communities must be preserved and because we already have a social organization that is leading the discussion about our local problems and the search for solutions, proposed alternatives to the cultivation of coca and ideas for development must also have a regional character. Therefore, negotiations and local agreements should not be made with entities responsible for alternative development policies nor with the national government. The tactic of bringing in small projects only serves to divide communities and, because it is not a true response to the nature of the problem, can be very risky and create regional problems that are even worse than the ones caused by the coca economy.
Due to the complexity of the problems that have been diagnosed in this meeting, we consider the proposals that have come out of it so far to be insufficiently developed and, as such, incapable of achieving a real and regional solution to such problems.  Thus, the community commits itself to carry on its work through the organizational process, the creation of space and time for meetings dedicated to continued work on the proposals and the creation of a plan for living that will make it possible for the region to have a future.
Meanwhile, we propose to freeze or temporarily stabilize the coca growing areas and, at the same time, provide incentives for the cultivation of food crops.  We also propose to guarantee the supply of food to the region.
In the meeting we established that we do not accept the existence of coca in the region; it justifies the permanent violation of our human rights and the permanence of the violators in our territory.
In our search for alternatives we took into account the fundamental importance of the presence of strategic natural resources in the region.  However, the forceful extractive methods being used to exploit these resources do not generate the regional economic growth that the national government and companies claim they do.
For that reason we are against the privatization and the irrational exploitation of our natural resources.  This only results in wealth for a few investors and poverty, abandonment and serious irreversible social and environmental damage for the majority.
We also reject the coca fumigations because this is a strategy that does not solve the problem but rather generates forced displacement, poverty and environmental destruction; nor has the ““rainforest ranger families”
” program had results. Both have demonstrated their complete and utter failures as anti-drug policies.
The defense of our territory has been a principal banner of our organizational work; it signifies the existence and recognition of our ethnic, cultural and.  regional
 diversity which is what sustains our economy and developmentAccordingly, we refuse to allow the national government to stigmatize El Catatumbo as a coca region at the service of criminal elements, thus legitimizing its military interventions while refusing to recognize the existence of its communities, the validity and legitimacy of its rural economy, of its collective territories and its diverse cultural identity.
We also consider it unacceptable that the national government has militarized Catatumbo as a way to provide security for capital and to affirm the legitimacy of the State.  What is needed to confront the present problems is not this mean and depredatory approach but policies of a social character that would lend themselves to a sustainable economic and environmental development that would benefit all the inhabitants. Local democracy also needs to be supported and strengthened.  This includes widening the role of the mayor’s office in the regional development process and community participation in the decisions that affect its future.
El Tarra, May 24, 2008

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.