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Colombian Villagers Practice Non-Violent Resistance
an article by Ben Oppenheim

The troubled nation of Colombia is home to Latin America's oldest civil war, an over fifty-year old conflict with no end on the horizon. The United States had played an important role in the conflict, as the single largest contributor of weapons to the Colombian government. Most recently, the U.S. began Plan Colombia, a military and economic aid program designed to help the Colombian government end drug production and win its war against the FARC, the communist revolutionary group it opposes.

Colombia's war is both complicated and violent: both FARC and the many paramilitary groups that oppose it survive by protecting Colombia's drug-producers, who supply much of the world's cocaine. The new weapons sent by the U.S. have not succeeded in ending the war: well-supplied by drug money, the conflict continues to kill and wound thousands of innocent Colombians each year.

But although ordinary Colombian citizens face violent pressure from both FARC and government forces, they have found peaceful methods to retake their nation that have proven far more effective than guns. Here is an inspiring story I read in the March 2000 issue of World Press Review.

Both guerrillas and the paramilitaries often raid villages to inspire fear. Recently, an attack by FARC on the village of Popayan killed several local policemen, and destroyed the town bank, church, and many homes. Yet instead of responding with violence or hiding in fear, villagers gathered in the town square to protest.

The guerrillas' response to such defiance was sudden and violent. A carefully aimed bullet took the life of a citizen-organizer named Jimmy Guauna, and many homes were burned down.

The villagers refused to give in to fear and violence: FARC units occupying nearby towns soon reported more outpourings of defiance, and could not maintain control of people who had simply refused to be dominated any longer. Villagers blocked access to police stations, public squares, and key roads, all the while singing the national anthem and holding hands.

Although several other innocent villagers lost their lives, the guerrillas were forced to withdraw from many villages, and both FARC and paramilitary forces have since faced similar demonstrations. Popayan's villagers showed that while guns will not end Colombia's war, its citizens can.

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What is happening in Colombia, Is peace possible?

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The force of non-violence constrains the force of arms!

Colombia - the force of peaceful resistance -
At the beginning of July, the rebels of the armed revolutionary forces of Colombia (FARC) kidnapped a 51 year old Swiss, and his Colombian assistant who worked in the Indian communities of Cauca province where they were setting up development projects by building schools and community production enterprises.

The news of the kidnapping was spread through all the villages and 2000 Indians set out to pursue the 400 guerillas. They reached them at an elevation of over 4000 meters (12,000 feet), encircled them, and without any weapon, constrained them to release the 2 hostages! (After 2 days, the hostages were released).

This release, obtained through "peaceful resistance" has raised a national debate: the possibility of resisting violence without needing to use weapons has demonstrated the effectiveness of human solidarity movements.

"I will return, and I will then be millions" prophesied the Aymara Indian leader Tapak Katari, in 1781, at the time of his execution by the Spanish conquistadors.


100 million in 1492, the Indians were no more than 4,5 million one century and half later. Currently there are 44 million Indians populating Latin America.

In spite of their great diversity, the Indian movements take on more and more importance. In Ecuador, Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico or Colombie they are opposed to the neoliberal system that governs the Americas, while protesting against the imposition of the American economic market. . ...more.


This report was posted on May 13, 2002.