Global Exchange has been observing elections and monitoring the human rights in Colombia since the end of the 1990s. Twenty-five years ago, the country was immersed in one of its bloodiest periods of violent armed conflict, causing millions of people to flee their homes in rural areas.  Fast forward to today and a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group has been signed, bringing the world’s longest running internal armed conflict to a close. And in June 2022, the country elected Gustavo Petro, former Mayor of Bogotá and ex-M19 guerrilla member, as its first ever left-wing president.   

Despite the more optimistic human rights and political situation, Global Exchange continues to send regular international delegations to Colombia in order to monitor elections and take the temperature in regions dominated by dissident guerrilla and powerful narco-trafficking groups. Global Exchange collaborators are also on the ground supporting a new generation of citizens who are working to build a more peaceful, egalitarian and democratic country.

Historic Elections in 2022

Last year, Global Exchange organized a delegation of Latin America journalists to cover the presidential elections and report on ordinary people’s hopes and aspirations in Colombia’s most troublesome regions.  Gustavo Petro, leader of the Historical Pact movement, won a narrow victory to become the country’s first ever progressive president. Thanks to Manuel Ortiz and colleagues’ on-the-ground reporting and analysis, Global Exchange supporters got an accurate, front seat perspective on these historic events.

What’s Next for Colombia:

A year on and negotiations are underway with the ELN, Latin America’s last active guerrilla movement. Petro’s audacious Total Peace initiative seeks to put an end to all armed conflict in Colombia by simultaneously negotiating the voluntary dismantling of Colombia’s narco-trafficking groups. At the end of April this year, Global Exchange and civil society allies delivered a methodological proposal to the High Commissioner for Peace on how ordinary citizens could play a more active role in this process.

President Petro’s self-denominated “government for change” took important steps to fulfill its electoral promises during its first 100 days in office. In addition to organizing more than 50 Binding Regional Dialogues for citizens to contribute to the four-year National Development Plan, the president negotiated the formation of a governing majority with Colombia’s traditional political parties. This so-called “bull-dozer coalition” proved fundamental for passing key legislation during his first semester, including an ambitious tax reform to close the budget deficit, pay for increased social spending, and invest in progressive reforms.

This major achievement contrasted sharply with the previous government’s proposal to tax poor people and the struggling middle class more. That fiscal plan was finally aborted, but not before provoking Colombia’s biggest ever social protests. National strikes and violent clashes between citizens and police caused scores of deaths and cost billions of dollars to Colombia’s economy and infrastructure. (Watch Global Exchange’s webcast about the protests and government crackdown.)

Citizen Dialogues for the National Development Plan

Last November, Global Exchange supported the national network of community and alternative media – Sípaz – to report from the citizen dialogues organized by the government to inspire its four-year plan.  In addition to reporting live from the events, Sípaz carried out real-time interviews and polled participants about their expectations for Colombia’s first ever mass experience in bottom-up policy making. Their report, “Binding Regional Dialogues: Lessons Learned from Citizen Participation in the National Development Plan”, contains important insights into this national experiment in popular deliberative democracy. Check out this executive summary of the report in English. A full version of the report is also available in Spanish if you are interested in taking a deeper dive.

Colombian civil society think tank, Ideas for Peace Foundation, evaluated an even larger sample of the dialogues (20 out of the 51 events). We have translated the executive summary of their report into English for those who are interested. The full version is available in Spanish on their website.

Petro Faces Political Challenges

Shortly after approving the National Development Plan, the national-unity coalition collapsed as parties argued over the details of Petro’s social reforms. The resulting gridlock has effectively disenfranchised the 70% of Colombians that rejected the status quo by voting for change in the presidential elections (see Global Exchange’s election report here).

Having failed to prevail in congress, Petro called for mass pro-government demonstrations.  On the 7th of June, however, only his most ardent supporters turned out to support the reforms. Hundreds of thousands of citizens who took to the streets two years ago or voted for alternative candidates stayed at home. Two weeks later, the conservative opposition persuaded four and a half times more people to oppose the reforms than Petro had mobilized to support them, creating a major legitimacy crisis for the government.[1]

The approval rating of the presidency fell sharply from 50% in October last year to only 35% eight months later. Other state institutions have fared equally badly or worse:  congress (33.8%); judicial system (27.2%); political parties (19.1%). In the latest opinion poll in June, presidential approval fell another two percentage points (now 33%), while the favorable opinion of congress collapsed, from 33.8% to only 19%.[2]  The message is clear: Colombians are deeply distrustful of their political institutions, with those expecting change particularly disillusioned.

[1] https://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/otras-ciudades/cuantas-personas-asistieron-a-marchas-en-favor-y-en-contra-de-las-reformas-779497

[2] https://www.elespectador.com/politica/la-aprobacion-de-la-labor-de-gustavo-petro-ha-disminuido-de-35-a-33-invamer/

Deliberative Democracy & Citizen Assemblies

Global Exchange and allies are working in Colombia to strengthen democracy by promoting innovative strategies to involve everyday citizens directly in public decision-making.  This means exploring international experiences in deliberative democracy such as citizens’ assemblies that give every day citizens a greater opportunity to influence public decision-making peacefully between elections. To do this, we are gathering lessons from successful pilot experiences from around the world, including Europe and the United States, so that they can be adapted to Colombia. These experiments have been highly effective in empowering every day citizens to fix polarizing problems that politicians have failed – or are simply unwilling – to address.

The citizens’ assembly methodology is simple yet highly effective. Chosen at random from the general population via a process called sortition, participants receive objective information from experts and presentations from interest groups before deliberating in small groups and plenaries to produce recommendations for decision-makers. Citizens’ assemblies are part of a silent but growing global revolution that seeks to revive democracy by complementing, strengthening or even replacing existing political institutions altogether.  From Ireland to Chile, hundreds of gatherings have shown that ordinary people are much more effective at resolving intractable problems than politicians – all they need is a constructive attitude, access to accurate information, and a methodology that empowers their conversations.

Ireland is the country that has advanced the most in formally incorporating the citizens’ assembly methodology into its political decision-making. Last year, Global Exchange lobbied the Irish embassy to provide technical support to Colombian civil society organizations so that they could design and implement their own pilot experiences.

In November, Art O´Leary, the Secretary General of Ireland’s Electoral Commission, and one of the world’s leading citizens’ assembly experts, visited Colombia to share his own experience with government officials and civil society activists.  Following this trip, the embassy organized a delegation of Colombian NGOs to observe Ireland’s most recent citizens’ assembly on the future of drug policy. Thanks to these exchanges, Global Exchange allies are now benefitting from more than a decade of Irish experience in successfully resolving deeply polarizing issues, such as the right to abortion, same sex marriage and divorce.

Will Gustavo Petro regain control of the political agenda and get his progressive reforms through congress? Or will ordinary Colombians lead the way through the organization of citizens’ assemblies? Either way, Global Exchange will continue to keep you posted as our efforts to strengthen participation and empower ordinary citizens in Colombia take shape.


Women and the War on Drugs
by Robin Lloyd

The following piece was originally published by Peace and Justice Newsletter of Burlington. The author, Robin Lloyd, is a filmmaker and peace activist from Burlington VT.

I first smoked marijuana when I was thirty years old. I found it to be more fun than alcohol. And more spiritual. It reminded me why I became a Quaker. It helped me see the inner light in people.

The next realization was that it was insane to make this simple plant illegal.  In reading books on the subject I learned a surprising fact: the legal prohibition of cannabis, coca and poppy plants is determined at the highest level, not by God (since after all it is reported that Jesus used a cannabis extract in healing) but by the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.  In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the legislation implementing national prohibition in compliance with the Convention: the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.

So just to make that clear, US drug policy is determined by a United Nations Convention.

A potentially momentous reconsideration of that Convention will be taking place this April in New York City at the second United National General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS).

I attended the first UNGASS in 1998 as part of the effort by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to change policy and especially to assert our position that ending the war on drugs is a women’s issue.

Why? There are many things wrong with this War – its racism, its reliance on military solutions – but one not frequently mentioned is its impact on women.

The War on Drugs condones a form of macho violence. In earlier decades, that violence was played out between cops and robbers, then cowboys and Indians, and now the DEA and narco traffickers.

The War allows men to find an excuse to be violent and to militarize societies. Women lose in time of war, no matter what George Bush says.  And what are the results of criminalizing a natural human desire to change consciousness? A massive international slush fund of illegal money funding brothels, gun running, bribes, and casinos: all endeavors that are not much fun for women.

The legal enforcement of prohibition leads to racism and punitive incarceration. On the supply side, the chaos caused when Latin American governments, bullied by the US, agree to spray farmers’ land to destroy coca crops – without asking their permission of course –  in the middle of a civil war, has been an ongoing environmental tragedy and political disaster.

I accompanied a WILPF delegation to Colombia in 1996 and documented our meetings with the courageous but melancholy victims of the war: women heartbroken that their sons were forced to join a paramilitary group to kill other women’s sons who had joined the guerillas. A high point of our visit was a meeting with the secretary of the Small Coca Farmers Cooperative. Olmyra Morales arrived at our meeting at a human rights center in Bogota carrying a small suitcase. Like an Avon door-to-door saleswoman, she set out the healing lotions and teas made from he coca plant and described their beneficent uses.

A year later, WILPF US, under the leadership of executive director Marilyn Clement,  got a grant from the Drug Policy Foundation for a US tour of women survivors of the War on Drugs:  North and South. Olmyra came from Colombia, joining a coca farmer from Bolivia and Peru and an African-American former cocaine addict who was HIV positive – Marsha Burnett from Montpelier VT.

On one of the stops on the tour we met with the staff of a anti-drug abuse program  in Baltimore. It was an amazing but gentle confrontation between women who grew the crops whose product was destroying the communities in the inner city of Baltimore, and those who had to deal with the effects of this epidemic. Who was to blame?  Who was ‘evil’? New insights were gained that day.

The next year Olmyra came back to the US  to testify at the first UNGASS on Drugs in 1998, sponsored by the Transnational Institute from the Netherlands. She and Marsha Burnett were chosen from amongst civil society participants to address (from the balcony) hundreds of diplomats making up the UN Committee of the Whole. They spoke as victims of the supply and demand side of this war.

They held hands aloft and said “We together, representing the two criminalized extremes of the drug problem, say that we are united in seeking a sustainable way of life for our communities…”.

It was moving to hear poor women speaking the truth in those august halls. But did anyone really listen? What was the outcome of that first UNGASS? Titled “A Drug-Free World — We Can Do It!”, President Clinton cajoled the rest of the world into increasing the military response to drug use. The US government was happy to assist Latin American  countries in acquiring high speed motor boats for interdiction and low cost loans to build prisons for drug offenders (and anyone else who offended the state).

A lot of drugs have passed under the bridge since that time. This April, UNGASS II will take place in a much changed atmosphere.  According to the Transnational Institute,  UNGASS 2016 is an unparalleled opportunity to put an end to the horrors of the drug war and instead prioritize health, human rights, and safety.WILPF’s attempt to speak truth to power before UNGASS 1 was a low profile, grassroots effort. By contrast, this April, survivors and victims of this war, north and south, will be traveling as part of a much more robust caravan, starting in Honduras, to present their case to the UN.  Sponsored by Global Exchange, with a large grant from George Soros’s Open Society, this movement for freedom from government oppression has a chance to be a game changer.

To follow the Caravan, and for information on UNGASS,  please go to http://www.globalexchange.org/programs/caravan-peace-life-and-justice. For info on the film Courageous Women of Colombia, visit www.greenvalleymedia.org.

Fair Harvest in the Dominican Republic

8 years ago here at Global Exchange Reality Tours we began incorporating the fair trade story into our annual departures to address disturbing truths about the global economy.  Millions of farmers around the world are facing poverty and starvation because global crop prices have continued to plummet to all-time lows, a worldwide crisis exacerbating problems including malnutrition, family farm closures, and in some cases increased drug cultivation.

In today’s world economy, where profits rule and small-scale producers are left out of the bargaining process, farmers, craft producers, and other workers are often left without resources or hope for their future. Fair Trade helps exploited producers escape from this cycle of poverty.

The tourism industry has seen a growth in both “voluntourism” and philanthropy-based travel, and in 2003 Reality Tours launched its first Fair Harvest tour. The goals; to share the story of fair trade with travelers, to offer a service learning opportunity, to support local community-based tourism initiatives as a promoter of socially responsible travel, to meet and exchange with fair trade certified cooperative farmers, and to inspire our alumni to return committed to supporting the fair trade movement in their own communities and to support our Global Exchange Fair Trade campaigns and Fair Trade craft stores.

Global Exchange Reality Tours highlight the importance of fair trade on commodity crops such as cocoa, coffee, olives, and tea as well as textiles and crafts, and contextualizes the debate between “fair trade” and “free trade” crops and products in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ecuador, Palestine, India, Nepal, Rwanda and many other countries. Reality Tours provide the opportunity for participants to learn firsthand how:

  • fair trade producers receive a fair price – a living wage;
  • forced labor and exploitative child labor (and modern day slavery) are prohibited;
  • buyers and producers have direct long-term trade relationships;
  • producers have access to financial and technical assistance;
  • sustainable production techniques are encouraged and mandated;
  • working conditions are healthy and safe;
  • equal employment opportunities are provided for all;
  • all aspects of trade and production are open to public accountability.

The Fair Trade system benefits over 800,000+ farmers organized into cooperatives and unions in over 48 countries. While the complexities of each country are unique, what fair trade means for communities is often very similar. Fair Trade profits help fund basic education, health care, and general infrastructure in communities, amplifying the dignity of communities who get to stay on their land. Reality Tours fair trade themed trips provide the opportunity for farmers to share their stories with participants. Reality Tours participants who have witnessed firsthand the benefits of fair trade return from their journey inspired by the experience.

Nicaragua Woman Harvesting Coffee Beans

A Cup of Fair Coffee?
Let’s take a commodity or two as an example. The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world’s coffee, the largest consumer in the world. But few North Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as “sweatshops in the fields.”

Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt. Fair Trade is a viable solution to this crisis in Nicaragua, assuring consumers that the coffee they drink was purchased under fair conditions. To become Fair Trade certified, an importer must meet stringent international criteria; paying a minimum price per pound, providing much needed credit to farmers, and providing technical assistance such as help transitioning to organic farming.

Fair Trade for coffee farmers in Matalgapa means community development, health, education, and environmental stewardship. Our Fair Harvest programs to Nicaragua provide the historical context for this social and economic vulnerability and absolutely impact people’s purchasing decisions. We’ve been honored to work with the Fair Trade Cooperative CECOCAFEN for years and know that when our delegates return many choose fair trade in their cups. What if that one-fifth of global coffee drinkers all put their purchases where their values are? That would have global repercussions!

Sweet, Sweet Chocolate

Fair Cocoa Harvest in the Dominican Republic

Next, let’s look at chocolate. The six largest cocoa producing countries are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, and Cameroon. Cocoa has significant effects on the economy and the population in these countries. In Ghana, cocoa accounts for 40% of total export revenues, and two million farmers are employed in cocoa production. The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, providing 43% of the world’s cocoa. In 2000, a report by the US State Department concluded that in recent years approximately 15,000 children aged 9 to 12 have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee and cocoa plantations in the north of the country. A June 15, 2001 document released by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that trafficking of children is widespread in West Africa. (For ILO definitions of these labor violations, see ILO Convention 182 on Child Labor ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labor.)

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) followed up these reports with an extensive study of cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, directly involving over 4,500 producers. The results were released in August 2002. An estimated 284,000 children were working on cocoa farms in hazardous tasks such as using machetes and applying pesticides and insecticides without the necessary protective equipment. Many of these children worked on family farms, the children of cocoa farmers who are so trapped in poverty many make the hard choice to keep their children out of school to work. The IITA also reported that about 12,500 children working on cocoa farms had no relatives in the area, a warning sign of trafficking.

Child laborers face arduous work, as cacao pods must be cut from high branches with long-handled machetes, split open, and their beans scooped out. Children who are involved in the worst labor abuses come from countries including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo — nations that are even more destitute than the impoverished Ivory Coast.

Vicious Circle of Poverty

Rwanda Women's Coffee Cooperative Sorting Beans

Parents in these countries sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory Coast and then send their earnings home. But once separated from their families, the young boys are made to work for little or nothing. The children work long and hard — they head into the fields at 6:00 in the morning and often do not finish until 6:30 at night. These children typically lack the opportunity for education, leaving them with no way out of this cycle of poverty. The IITA noted that 66% of child cocoa workers in the Ivory Coast did not attend school. About 64% of children on cocoa farms are under age 14, meaning that the loss of an education comes at an early age for the majority of children on cocoa farms. (Watch The Dark Side of Chocolate, a powerful documentary on this issue).

Producer income remains low because major chocolate and cocoa processing companies have refused to take any steps to ensure stable and sufficient prices for cocoa producers. World cocoa prices fluctuate widely and have been well below production costs in the last decade. Though cocoa prices have shown moderate increases in the past few years, cocoa producers remain steeped in debt accumulated when prices were below production costs.

Producers typically also get only half the world price, as they must use exploitative middlemen to sell their crop. The effects of insufficient cocoa income have been exacerbated by deregulation of agriculture in West Africa, which abolished commodity boards across the region, leaving small farmers at the mercy of the market. This economic crisis forced farmers to cut their labor costs. The outcome was a downward spiral for labor in the region, and a surge in reports of labor abuses ranging from farmers pulling children out of school to work on family farms to outright child trafficking and slavery. These small farmers and their children remained trapped in a cycle of poverty, without hope for sufficient income or access to basic education or health care.

 We Can Change It!
For years, US chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don’t own them. But the $13 billion chocolate industry is heavily consolidated, with just two firms — Hershey’s and M&M/Mars — controlling two-thirds of the US chocolate candy market. Surely, these global corporations have the power and the ability to reform problems in the supply chain. What they lack is the will.

At Global Exchange, we know there is a solution – supporting Fair Trade cocoa and chocolate. Fair Trade chocolate and cocoa products are marked with the “Fair Trade Certified” label. Fair Trade cocoa comes from Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Peru. Thus Reality Tours has a Cocoa Fair Harvest program in the Dominican Republic. Every year, we encourage chocolate lovers from around the world to join with our local partners from Grupo CONACADO to explore benefits of Fair Trade cocoa and sustainable harvest, renewable technology in the Dominican Republic.

Palestine Fair Olive Harvest, Group with Farmers 2009

Fair Trade Tourism is a growing segment of our socially responsible travel program here at Global Exchange. Our third Fair Harvest destination was announced in  2007 to Palestine where participants worked side by side Palestinians harvesting olives. The Fair Trade story continues to evolve and we look forward to expanding our Reality Tours programs in the years to come.  There is an opportunity for those of us in the tourism industry to make a positive change in the world. Tourism can be a force for good. We can ensure tourism dollars stay to benefit the local economies of our hosts. We can highlight the stories, the struggles and aspirations of the communities we visit. Together with Reality Tours trip participants, we can be a force for fairness.

This piece was originally written by Malia Everette  for Tourism Review, Tourism Magazine Review October 2010 issue.

The following post was written by California Fair Trade Coalition Director, Tim Robertson. Take action today by calling your Representative and tell them NO on Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Korea, and Panama.

This week President Obama said he understood “the frustration” moving thousands of ordinary citizens to take to the streets of dozens of American cities. But that didn’t keep him from kicking them under the table by sending three pending NAFTA-style trade deals to Congress, despite his campaign promises to oppose them.

With a vote expected tomorrow, it’s up to activists from around the country to let their Members of Congress know that these pro-corporate deals cost jobs and marginalize the workers and the poor in all involved countries, while greasing the wheels for offshoring and further deregulating our financial services industry. The pacts, originally negotiated by President Bush, are expected to cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and we only have hours left to stop them.

Call 1-800-718-1008 to be connected to your Representative to tell them NO on Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Korea, and Panama.

When you hear the President speak of these deals, you’d think they were job a creating magic box that will restore the manufacturing sector and set us up for years of advantageous competition in Asia. Of course, when you look inside the box, you find that the U.S. International Trade Commission expects them to expand the trade deficit and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in, you guessed it, the manufacturing sector.

This shouldn’t be too big of a surprise, as we’ve learned from NAFTA that not only do these types of deals eliminate working class jobs on both sides of the border, but they outline a broad swath of extraordinary corporate rights used to subjugate workers and the planet for profit. Free Trade is just one more mechanism that the 1% use to consolidate their power. And they’re trying to expand it right under our noses. Call 1-800-718-1008 to tell your Representative to vote NO.

These FTAs are about corporations vs. people, the CEOs vs. the workers, the 1% vs. the 99%.

Under the guise of “opening up markets,” free trade agreements like these are giant corporate handouts that enable job offshoring, deregulate financial services, and empower corporations to challenge public interest laws as basic as minimum wage and environmental protections. Get this, in order to receive restitution, corporation need only prove that domestic laws “expropriated” expected profits – you can’t make this stuff up.

Call now, 1-800-718-1008.

The very nature of free trade leads to a “race to the bottom” on regulatory issues, as producers seek the cheapest environments to make goods, and in the corporate world that means the place with the worst labor laws and environmental regulation. Many countries lower such standards to attract investment and corporations are more than happy to take advantage of the cheaper environment, frequently offshoring U.S. jobs.

No where is this more apparent than in Colombia. Since 1986, over 2800 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia, often by corporate and/or state backed paramilitary groups. To this day, Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to try to organize a union, with 51 union organizers murdered in 2010 alone, more than in the rest of the world combined.

In Panama, opaque banking laws and low corporate tax rates have made the country a tax haven, home to 400,000 registered corporations for a population of just 4 million. Many of these firms are just US shell corporations hiding money for tax purposes. And we want to deregulate financial services exchanges with this country?

In the South Korea deal, American pharmaceutical companies negotiated higher prices for medicines purchased by the Korean single-payer health care, threatening the viability the system. Meanwhile, US car companies are allowed to sell cars in Korea that don’t even meet Korean emission standards. And some would suggest that these deals improve public health and are good for the environment?

I don’t think so. By definition, these deals are for the benefit of those with the resources to move capital (or jobs) from one country to another. As the Occupy Wall Street protests are highlighting, that’s only 1%. Join the 99% by fighting back on these trade deals today, because literally, tomorrow is too late.

Call your Representative TODAY at 1-800-718-1008.

** Download the .pdf of the full report in Spanish here and here.

Election Day Voting in Juan de Acosta, Colombia

Global Exchange led an observation mission in Colombia in February 2010. The mission was integrated by 22 observers from 7 countries and visited municipalities in Antioquia, Córdoba, Valle del Cauca and Santander to conduct interviews with different social actors, including representatives of political parties, local grassroots organizations, and government officials. One of the main complaints received by the mission concerned the illegal use of a social welfare program called “Familias en Acción” by civil servants and local politicians for electoral purposes. These complaints served as the motivation for this study, which is an analysis of “Familias en Acción” and its impact on Colombian elections.

Global Exchange held a press conference on Monday in Colombia presenting the groundbreaking report. The full report can be found in its entirety in Spanish here and here. including a General Summary and statistical graphs. English readers can read the Press Release for Monday’s conference here.

You can also see the livetweets in Spanish from the Monday press conference on Global Exchange’s twitter feed or search the hashtag: #GlobalFA

The press conference and report has drawn a lot of attention from Colombian press. The articles have been collected on our Colombia Elections Updates page.

For those visuals folks, you can tune into a short video produced by Rob Davenport for CounterCamera Films, in association with Global Exchange.

Colombia: Free and Fair Elections? Some Observations. from CounterCamera on Vimeo.

Colombia’s 2010 presidential elections are a watershed moment. This film short presents a mosaic of viewpoints on whether conditions for equitable and coercion-free elections exist in Colombia. These voices include a state governor, a mayor of a large city, a presidential candidate, neighborhood youth, a protected witness, and the President of the National Electoral Commission.

Stay tuned to our Colombia Elections Updates page for ongoing news about the elections, including the runoff elections scheduled for June 20th.

Photo Credit: Rainforest Action Network

As a student, former Military Intelligence Officer, and veteran, I’ve spent the last six years studying political violence and its causes.

Simply put, when the process of dialogue between disputing parties breaks down and the aggrieved party is denied recourse through the political and legal systems, its members take the next logical step, which military theorist Carl von Clausewitz describes as the “continuation of politics by other means.”

This can be observed in places such as Iraq and Nigeria, developing nations which have three things in common: oil, governments that rely more on fear than representation to maintain power, and foreign investors who collude with these governments in order to gain access that resource.

In the case of Iraq this has led to sectarian conflict and attacks on U.S. troops, who are in the position of having to preserve a fragile security situation while Chevron and other companies attempt to quietly exploit their window of opportunity to re-enter the country.

Nigeria, in comparison, has lost up to 25% of its oil production capacity due to insurgent attacks in the Niger Delta, where Chevron contaminates the air and water with impunity and has directly supported the Nigerian military in its brutal operations against peaceful demonstrators. Faced with the devastation of their food and water supply and the failure of their governments to hold these companies accountable, it is not difficult to understand why citizens of these countries turned to armed conflict in order to change the companies’ cost-benefit analysis.

On May 26 at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting, I witnessed Chevron refused entry to proxy shareholders from Ecuador, Burma, Nigeria, Colombia, and numerous other places around the world which have been severely harmed by the company. I cannot help but wonder what these individuals’ communities will think after they return from thousands of miles of travel without having been afforded the opportunity to make a simple statement before Chevron’s new CEO and Board of Directors: treat us like human beings.

The air was thick with contempt in front of Chevron’s Houston headquarters as these individuals were escorted out by smirking security officials after being informed that their papers did not meet the company’s qualifications for entry. My thought, watching these community leaders exit the building in compliance, was that Chevron had just made a major strategic miscalculation.

We in the U.S. are fortunate enough to still have a political system which, however frustrating it can often be, still makes it possible to effect change through peaceful political and legal means. Chevron is an American company. Therefore we have a responsibility to hold it accountable for its human rights violations around the world and to impose political and financial costs on it for these violations.

Through a series of long term regulatory and policy battles we will make it increasingly costly for companies such as Chevron to operate with impunity and simultaneously make renewable alternatives more attractive to investors, the ultimate objective being to bring the power of energy production back into the hands of the people. The technology to accomplish this exists today. Our challenge is to win over or oust those politicians who stand in our way through the electoral process.

Our security, our democracy, and our moral authority in the world are at stake in what we will look back on as one of the great political battles of the 21st century.

T.J. Buonomo is a Chevron Program Associate with Global Exchange and founder and editor of Citizens for a Sovereign and Democratic Iraq.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Military Intelligence Officer, U.S. Army.