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33 arrested in Washington, D.C., Colombia protest

Posted 12:49 a.m April 23

by Mira Katz

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Thirty-three protestors were arrested Monday morning for staging sit-ins that blocked entrances to congressional parking lots in Washington, D.C., while protesting U.S. foreign policy in Colombia.

The National Mobilization on Colombia, a pro-Colombian organization, gathered at 14th Street and Madison Drive at 7 a.m. Monday morning to engage in a direct action of what protest organizer Jeff Winder called a “forceful and nonviolent march from the Washington Monument to the capital building. Once we reach the Capitol, large and small groups will engage in nonviolent, direct action to carry the message to Congress and change U.S policy, which causes suffering and death to the people of Colombia.”

Approximately 800 protestors flanked by more than seven different divisions of D.C. Metro police guided the marchers along Constitution Avenue, finally culminating in upper Senate Park.

At approximately 8:15 a.m. the demonstrators split up and took different routes through the city. Protestors who did not want to be arrested continued on Constitution Avenue, while others turned toward the parking lot entrances to stage sit-ins. Eighteen protesters were taken into custody at the Capitol entrance at 1st and Delaware Streets in the Northeast section of the city, and approximately 15 additional demonstrators were arrested at 1st and East Capitol Streets.

Members of the groups formed human chains, blocking an entrance to a congressional parking lot. Those arrested are being charged with obstructing traffic, a crime which carried a penalty of a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail if convicted.

“I am here to voice my descent with the U.S. government’s policy on the expansion on the war on terrorism,” said Julia Bend, a demonstrator who traveled from San Francisco. “I don’t feel that what the government is doing is doing any good but only harming the people and the environment.”

Bend also noted U.S. tax dollars are being given to Colombia, of which she said a majority goes to the military to defend the 490-mile pipeline connected to an Occidental-operated oil field. That money would be better spent on drug treatment programs that are much needed here in the United States, Bend said.

That pipeline, called the Cano Limon, has been a target of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The repeated bombings frequently have left the pipeline inoperable, costing Occidental millions of dollars.

“Civil disobedience is a long-standing tradition in the United States, and the ability to take direct action where one sees an injustice is to have power,” said Patrick Rainsbouraough, demonstration organizer.

There was legal council provided by the organizers for those who were arrested, and they were available to talk to police to find out what and where the demonstrators could and could not go.

Monday’s events were part of a weekend-long protest of various topics, including the World Bank/IMF meetings and a pro-Palestinian march. Hundreds of protestors gathered at the Sylvan Theatre on the southwest side of the Washington Monument Sunday to listen to speakers, hear musicians and watch a puppet show to protest U.S. involvement in Columbia.

At first there was little police presence at the peaceful rally Sunday, but as the approximately 1,000 demonstrators descended upon the Sylvan Theatre area, marching from the Edward R. Murrow Park in from of the World Bank at 18th and H streets Northwest, they were surrounded by police from more than a half dozen departments. The march was sponsored by Mobilization for Global Justice.

Participants of the rally put on a show carrying large puppets mounted on sticks, depicting the effects of U.S.-sponsored oil drilling and the drug war on the people of Colombia.

Among the many speakers were Eleiza Braun from Student Peace Action Network, who discussed her experience in Columbia and has “seen the human face of those in Colombia, and it was shameful,” she said. “We want the U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia to change.”

Winder spoke about ending the School of the Americas, a U.S.-sponsored military training program in Latin American countries and his desire to “stop U.S. military aid to Colombia” and “to stop the fumigation of the crops, that the people need to survive.”

In an interview with Winder he expressed his hope to inform U.S. Congress there are people who do not support their action in Colombia, and they want to close the school of the Americas, which is located at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. This facility is the U.S. Army’s Spanish-language training facility for Latin American military personnel. Established in 1946, the school, along with the U.S. Air Force’s Inter-American Air Forces Academy, attracts the largest number of Latin American military students.

Winder said he hopes to “end the fumigation of the subsistence crops, which detrimentally effect the environment as well as the people of Colombia.”

He was very happy with the turn out and said more people were arriving slowly from the interfaith service that was being held at the First Congregational Church. He expressed his excitement at the diverse crowd the protest had drawn.

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