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Summary of the European meeting about Colombia, Milano, 23 March 2001

  1. Evaluation
  2. Political discussions
  3. Follow up, campaign in Europe

1. Evaluation

The tour has visited the following countries: Austria (11 days (?)), Belgium (5 days), Czech Republic (1 day), France (28 days), Germany (43 days (?)), Italy (10 days if we don't count the 4 days of meetings in Milano), The Netherlands (11 days), Spain (14 days until the meeting, but the tour has not finished there yet, there are still at least 20 days to go), Switzerland (15 days) and the UK (. It will still go to Spain (where some cities still have to be visited), Sweden and the UK (12 days until now, still 9 days to go).

The tour has had a different character in each country: in some, the contact was done mainly with autonomous groups and the 'alternative scene', in others there was also contact with NGOs, trade unions, universities, the press and different institutions (like the European Parliament, etc). This diversity reflected the diverse approaches taken by the local organising groups, and also responded to the different situations in each country. For instance, in the case of The Netherlands, the government has signed an agreement with the gringos allowing them to build military basis in the Dutch colonies in the Antilles for their 'anti-drugs operations' (i.e. for bombing Colombia and other countries in the region in order to get access to natural resources), which have been operative for two years; very soon the Dutch parliament has to decide whether to ratify a treaty extending the permission to use the bases for 10 years, and this is why the tour in that country included contacts with several political parties, institutions, etc. In other countries, however, the stress was placed in the contact with the 'alternative scene' in order to concentrate in the exchange between the Colombians and us to strengthen our links and cooperation.

In general, most European groups expressed general satisfaction with the tour, although many pointed out the problems of communication and coordination that happened along the way. The tour was prepared in a short time (it was discussed for the first time in mid-December and started in mid-January) and this provoked difficulties and shortcomings. Of course, more time would have allowed a better preparation and better results. There were also quite a few changes along the way, which had a direct impact on the expenses incurred on the tour. For instance, the original tour was supposed to finish on the 8th of March (since when it was planned the European PGA meeting was planned for the 3-4 of March), and the whole tour had to be rescheduled more or less 'along the way', since a few major changes (like the change of date of the PGA meeting) happened when the Colombians were already about to take the plane. Another change that took place while the tour was happening was the incorporation of representatives of the U'wa people and ANUC-UR (the National Association of Peasant Users - Unity and Reconstruction). This was generally believed to enrich the tour, but since it happened in the last minute one group was not able to prepare for this change.

An issue raised by the French sans-titre network was the lack of clarity that they had about the relationship with the PCN of the two people who visited all French cities excepting Paris: the local groups expected PCN representatives but received people who belonged to other Afro-Colombian organisations. This was explained by Naka saying that the philosophy of the PCN is to open political spaces (such as this tour) to other organisations which, though not formally federated in the PCN, share the same objectives and line of work.

The Colombians also had generally a positive evaluation of the tour, since it enabled them to broaden their contacts, widen their understanding of the European society and struggles, and raise awareness about the situation of Colombia in general and of their movements in particular. They also pointed out the problems of coordination (which they experienced several times in the form of lack of certainty about the future plans) and communication (they would have wished to remain in more permanent contact with each other while they were travelling in different routes). However, their evaluation was generally positive.

I hope that this summary is more or less complete, if not, please send

2. Political discussions

After the evaluation we had several discussions about the political similarities and differences between the concepts and political projects of the European autonomous processes and the discourse of the Colombian movements. An issue of particular importance is the use of the term 'territory' as a central element in the discourse of black, indigenous and peasant movements, and of 'identity' and 'ethnicity' as central elements of the discourse of black and indigenous movements. It was pointed out that these concepts are also used by the European far-right, in a totally different context than in Colombia and with a different meaning (since they are used as part of completely divergent and opposed political discourses). These differences in concepts and meanings were understood, but still two very serious concerns were expressed:

The first concern is that if we spread a political message based on territory, identity and ethnicity in the European context, without a previous common and critical debate about language and concepts, we run a very real risk of supporting the agenda of the right through a political project which aims precisely at the opposite. No matter how different are the contexts and meanings, the language used is the same, and since most people are not aware of the Colombian context and the way in which these concepts are used in Colombia, they are likely to misunderstand the message. This risk is especially serious in the countries where the far right is strong and its message dominant, as is the case in Austria, and in countries where the use of these terms is heavily loaded by history, as is the case in Germany.

The second concern is that although there are differences in the context and meaning, there are serious political issues to discuss about political projects based on territory, ethnicity and strong collective identities, no matter whether in Colombia or in Europe or anywhere else. This does not mean that we in Europe want to change the political project of Colombian movements, this would be contrary to the way we understand solidarity with each other. What it means is that we want to have the opportunity and space to discuss in an equal, friendly and solidary way about our mutual criticisms and remarks, as a way to understand better each others' points of view and advance collectively in our understandings and discourses. There are surely many things that the Colombians also have to say about the ideas and praxes of the European autonomous scene, and we also would like to know about it.

Another issue that came up in the political discussion was the way we understand out process of convergence at the European and global level. There were different understandings of what should be the basis of the kind of network that we are building, its long-term objectives, etc. We did not have time to talk about long term perspectives at length (it was already about 1 a.m. when we came to it) so we left it for a future occasion. However, in the short term we do have clarity about our common concern to raise awareness about the Plan Colombia and stop its implementation, denounce actively the actors involved (especially the European ones), strengthen the horizontal and equal relations with movements and groups (both in Colombia and Europe) and get to know and understand each other better, and act in common against the very real threats and problems faced by movements in Colombia (and other countries in the region). We also know that our collaboration takes place on the basis of autonomy and a total respect for difference.

We shall continue all these discussions in the near future.

3. Follow up, campaign in Europe

We are calling for two decentralised days of action at European level on the 19th and 30th of April (focused on the FOLs agreement/FTAA and on the donors' meeting in Brussels, respectively), as well as for the creation of several working groups to work on the campaign. The complete description of the days of action have been sent to diverse email lists (see Take Action against Plan Colombia!), here is the description of the working groups proposed in Milano:

A. Communications (technical WG):
This group aims at improving the technical possibilities of communication within Europe, within Colombia, between Colombia and other countries in the region, and at global level. It will work on infrastructure and training (for computers, radio, etc). [It was suggested that this group might actually become a pilot for the PGA network as a whole]

B. Action alerts & exile:
This group will deal in a dynamic manner with all situations involving risk: emergency actions when communities are threatened, protest letters, letters to express our points of view, etc. It will also research the possibilities of helping out when certain people see themselves in the need to seek exile.

C. Information and outreach:
This group will focus on producing materials, such as leaflets, posters, articles, videos, contents for the web page (the technical side will be taken care of by the communications WG), etc.

D. Research:
This group will focus on research and documentation about Plan Colombia, about TNCs operating in the area, about the involvement of NGOs and governments in PC, an in general about Western interest in the area. It was also suggested to see how the issues and problems in Colombia and the Andean region relate to problems and issues in other parts of the world (for instance Bangladesh), and how the same interests and actors (governments, TNCs, NGOs, etc) play similar roles. This group will obviously be very linked to the previous one, but the groups are considered to be separate because in general the skills and processes needed to do research are different than those needed to reach out to the public.

E. Discussions and exchange:
The work of this group aims at moving forward in our mutual understanding (within Europe as well as, especially, between Europe and the Andean region). The idea is not just to have discussions, but also to document them and make them available to others. The following subgroups were suggested:

  1. How do we understand the process of convergence and the relationships between us
  2. How do we understand the concepts that we use in different contexts (e.g. territory, identity, ethnicity)
  3. Preparation of seminars (two were suggested, one in London and one in Italy before the protests against the G8 summit)

F. Acompañamiento (accompany):
This group will work on physical presence in Colombia. Three areas of work were suggested:

  1. The proposal of the black communities to create regions of 'living together' in the Pacific, where people from different countries would spend largish periods of time and where the presence of foreigners would be guaranteed with continuity.
  2. The summer caravans that are planned by groups in Spain to visit communities in resistance in Southern Bolivar and Barrancabermeja.
  3. A trip throughout Colombia before the Cochabamba conference, visiting different areas.

G. Other projects:
This group will work on all kinds of specific projects, for instance for technical training on low-impact technologies (renewable energies, etc), productive projects, etc.

H. Financial coordination:
The finances are everyone's responsibility, this group will only maintain the overview of how the financial situation looks like. And this takes us to the last part of this report:

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