Some of you I know personally, some I do not. Some of you have already heard about the trip I am about to embark on and others have not heard from me in quite sometime, I apologize for this.
So... through different community and activist work I have been doing in Miami since the fall of 2005, I have had an incredible and unique opportunity made available to me. On February 28th, 2007 I will be returning to my mother’s land of Colombia to start a year of human rights accompaniment and skills building with the Organización Wayúu Munsurat.
This organization is a group of indigenous Wayúu, mostly women and youth, from the department of Guajira in Colombia. This group has been struggling against the local coal industry, as well as the paramilitary activity that has overtaken the region in the last couple of years. More specifically, they have been struggling for the safe right of return for the inhabitants of the community of Bahia Portete that were displaced by a paramilitary massacre on April 18th, 2004.
As some may know, I grew up between Miami and Colombia and have long awaited the opportunity to participate in grassroots solidarity work in my family's country. My commitment to these people and their struggle comes from a strong conviction in the rights of autonomy and self-determination of indigenous peoples, anti-racist sentiments and a belief in environmental justice.
Unlike others who have gone to Colombia to do accompaniment work, I will have no backing of any international peace organizations. I’ll be working directly with Orgazación Wayuu Munsurat and will help to facilitate skills building in translation, media/communications and networking for its membership.
For approximately one year, I will be based in Riohacha, capital of the Guajira department and will be traveling often throughout the department, to Bogotá and also to Maracaibo, Venezuela. Most of my time will be spent in accompaniment of different members of the organization, planning logistics for this next April's 3rd Yanama (an encuentro, if you are interested in attending please contact me) as well as trying to coordinate and fundraise for media activists to come work with Wayúu youth interested in videography, web/graphic design and establishing an independent Wayúu community radio station (Again, contact me if you are interested).
From what some of the organization's members tells me, I will be the first international representative to go to the Guajira to do this type of work. In this light, next year’s prospects are very exciting, but the potential risks and dangers of Colombia’s socio-political situation are also more than a bit nerve wrecking. Despite the fact that the environment in which I am going into seems very foreign and intense, I know that through the collective emotional & political support of friends, family & allies outside of Colombia, those risks and dangers can be overcome.
While awareness of privilege leaves me slightly tense, the organization and myself are aware of the impact of having an international presence in the region. It will at least assist in directing some global attention to the situation of the people in the Guajira, as well as attempt to displace the violence that has inflicted the region’s inhabitants.
The Wayúu are the predominant inhabitants of this upper desert peninsula that juts into the Caribbean Sea. The Cerrejon, the world's largest open pit coalmine is located in the upper part of this peninsula near the area where Colombia & Venezuela are attempting to build a gas pipeline.
Until about five years ago, the armed groups of Colombia's decades long civil war had left this region relatively untouched. That changed with the Bahia Portete Massacre that displaced about 200 families now living as refugees in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Many Wayúu recall the massacre as their history’s biggest offense. This matriarchal nation, which was never conquered by the Spaniards, has never before witnessed its women and children being cruelly killed in cold blood. This is still an open case within the Inter American Court of Human Rights.
Throughout my time in Colombia I will be keeping a blog called Wayúunaiki101 (Wayúunaki is the language of the Wayúu and directly translates to ‘what the people speak’). Through the blog I aim to update readers regularly on the happenings in the region, the status of the organization and its members, our work, my everyday thoughts and life, pictures, links to relevant websites, as well as how people outside can help if the situation should arise where solidarity actions are needed. Please visit it at: wayuunaiki101.blogspot.com/.
Many of you have helped greatly, either through myself, allied groups or directly with the group when they were touring North America last fall. We are all extremely humbled and appreciative of this help. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to help, but are interested in helping, one way to help right now is through monetary or material donations. As of now, the organization's budget comes from a shoestring of handicraft sales and honorariums paid to members that did speaking tours in North America. With this limited income the group attempts to support and coordinate events & services for the membership and the greater community.
Currently, I am scrambling to raise as much money as I can to support myself in my volunteer efforts for the year. Once I’m in Riohacha, I will have a better idea of what is actually needed. In the meantime, besides monetary assistance, any sort of recording (video/audio) gear, computers, printers, projectors, or any hardware & software related to audio editing & web design could definitely be used. If your not sure, just ask.
Some of other ways in which supporters in the US can help Organización Wayúu Munsurat include:
· Signing up to receive action alerts
· Keeping up with the blog and upcoming group website
· Forwarding articles, writing articles, attending the encuentro in April
· Writing letters to the US embassy & Colombian officials in support of the accompaniment
· Pressuring your congress members to support an end to US military aid to Colombia
Additionally, there are a variety of transnational interests in the area, namely the energy companies Glencore, BHP Billiton, Anglo American & Xstrata who operate the Cerrejon mine. Any pressure on these corporations or on utilities companies with connections to the region could play a big role in how they operate in the Guajira
I personally feel strongly about the type of work that the Organización Wayúu Munsurat is doing, in particular with urban Wayúu youth. Creating a space where indigenous youth can empower themselves to work for the betterment of their communities and their right to autonomy and self-determination.
If you would like to donate to the Organización Wayúu Munusrat, please do so. Those funds will be used for such things like the logistics for the 3rd encuentro, maintaining the organization's space in Riohacha, setting up the radio station and developing more programs for the membership base. The donations can be made directly to one of our US allied organizations: Bridges Across Borders, P.O. Box 103, Graham, FL 32042. Please note donations as for the Organización Wayúu Munsurat.
I will be able to receive snail mail during this time, though I am currently unsure of my mailing address. I will also be getting a cell phone (Yes I know, my first cell phone?!). Once I get the phone number and the snail mail address it will be posted on the blogspot account.
My emails will remain: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
On a final note, if you live in South Florida there will be two events that I am organizing to help fortify the local Wayúu solidarity base through an educational workshop as well as raise some of those extremely needed last minute funds.
The first is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22, 6 PM at the South Florida Jobs with Justice headquarters at 1671 NW 17th Ave in the Allapattah Barrio of Miami. This will be an educational event to help raise awareness of what is going on in the Guajira and draw some connections that exist between the Guajira & Florida Peninsulas.
The second event will be two events in one. It will be my going away benefit as well as my turning 25 on the 25th birthday get down. This event will be held on Saturday, Feb. 24th around 9 PM-ish at the Coral Castle House in Downtown Miami (contact me for directions). This event will have its share of dancing and other forms of celebrating life.
Soo...again thank you all for your support, buena onda, amistad and help in doing this.
Please keep me up-to-date on your lives as well.
With deep sentiments of gratitude and love,