Strategizing in the Cold

Barbara Wood, CoDev Executive Director, shares the first of a 3-part report on Berenice Celeyta’s (NOMADESC) 2011 visit to Canada.

The two of us turned the corner onto Rideau Street and were nearly knocked over by the wind. Colombian partner and human rights defender, Berenice Celeyta, and I were on our way to visit the office of Peter Julian, MP for Burnaby-New Westminster. Walking the three blocks at these temperatures is nothing for those that live in Ottawa but definitely rather shocking for a Colombian used to the tropical temperatures of Cali. Some cold weather doesn’t stop a Colombian human rights worker though, and a warm greeting awaited us when we met with Mounia Lahbabi and Henri Sader, Peter’s Ottawa office team. Peter, Henri and Mounia together with people across the country worked hard to defeat the Canada Colombia Free Trade agreement in 2009/10. Though Berenice had never met them, there existed an instant connection because of our common history.

Though the CCFTA was passed in the Canadian parliament in June 2010, and just recently in the Colombian Constitutional Court, there remains work to do. At the meeting we discussed possible strategies for using the human rights impact report that was added to the CCFTA by the Liberal Party to make a trade agreement with the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere somewhat less disagreeable.

The human rights amendment allows for the Canadian and Colombian governments to issue reports on the impact the CCFTA has had on human rights in both countries annually. This is not the mechanism that was being requested by the opposition parties nor Canadian civil society. Given that the reports are the responsibility of the governments and not carried out by an independent third party, there is little hope that they will reveal much in the way of critical assessment. What the human rights report may give both Colombian and Canadian civil society, however, is a moment in which we can raise concerns, insure that the voices of victims of violence and state crimes are heard and to demand that the Colombian government bring an end to the violence and impunity.

This meeting is an example of why we at CoDev bring partners to meet with Canadians – to share our strategies and discuss how best we can work together for justice and social change.

In the CUPE National office the day before, Berenice and I met with the union leadership to brainstorm new ways in which we could help increase the security of the NOMADESC team and the communities and leaders they work with. The number and severity of threats against them has increased to even more worrisome levels during the last year. Though Berenice assured the group that letters remain critical, we discussed additional actions that could be taken in emergency situations. We encourage each of you to take a moment to support the current action posted on our website to speak out against these kinds of threats facing Berenice and her co-workers.

This is the kind of solidarity that develops with time and the commitment to seeing each others as equals.

It was one moment, among many, of important connection between Berenice and members of Canadian partners. In our three days in Ottawa, we met with representatives of CUPE, the PSAC and the CUPW as well as Peace Brigades International. We met with an MP from the Bloc and representatives from DFAIT and CIDA.

Moving from the cold to the rain coast, we will spend some days in Vancouver to meet with partners and others here and continue on to Regina. Many thanks to CUPE Global Justice Fund who invited Berenice and are supporting her tour.

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