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The Mass Media

UMass Forum to Feature Noam Chomsky

“Colombia, A Human Rights Disaster,” a human rights forum featuring Noam Chomsky, and open to the public will take place from 4-7 PM on Wednesday, December 12 in the Faculty Club at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Chomsky is a world renowned linguist and human rights activist whose carefully reasoned views have stirred controversy wherever he goes. In October, for example, he and writer Christopher Hitchins engaged in a battle of words that was carried in The Nation magazine over the meaning of the September 11 terrorist events in this country.

As a linguist Professor Chomsky might point out that the term “terrorist” means different things to different people. President George Bush might say that people responsible for atrocities such as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center are terrorists, as are all those who support them.

But what about those who support governments who torture and kill people struggling for the rights of workers and peasants? The Bush administration, for example, is supplying the military in Colombia with enormous amounts of aid. The military in Colombia has a horrendous record of human rights abuses. Should President Bush and his supporters, therefore, be considered terrorists?

It is questions like this that will be addressed in the forum next Wednesday, December 12. Participating in the forum along with Professor Chomsky will be Germán Plata Díaz. Mr. Díaz is a human rights worker from Barracancabermeja, Colombia.

Barracancabermeja, Colombia’s most important oil refining center, is a city of 150,000 people located in a war torn zone on the Magadalena River north of Bogota. Like much of the rest of the country it has seen its share of violence. Here is how the latest Amnesty International report characterized the situation in Colombia last year:

“The human rights crisis continued to deepen against a background of a spiraling armed conflict. The parties to the conflict intensified their military actions throughout the country in campaigns characterized by gross and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The principal victims of political violence were civilians, particularly peasant…Human rights defenders, journalists, judicial officials, teachers, trade unionists and leaders of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities were among those targeted. More than 4,000 people were victims of political killings, over 300 ”disappeared,” and an estimated 300,000 people were internally displaced. At least 1,500 people were kidnapped by armed opposition groups and paramilitary organizations; mass kidnapings of civilians continued. Torture – often involving mutilation – remained widespread, particularly as a prelude to murder by paramilitary groups. ”Death squad”-style killings continued in urban areas. Children suffered serious human rights violations particularly in the context of the armed conflict. New evidence emerged of continuing collusion between the armed forces and illegal paramilitary groups. Progress continued in a limited number of judicial investigations, but impunity for human rights abuses remained the norm.”

And the U.S. State Department report on the human rights situation in Colombia in 2000 commented:

“Throughout the country, paramilitary groups killed, tortured, and threatened civilians suspected of sympathizing with guerrillas in an orchestrated campaign to terrorize them into fleeing their homes, thereby depriving guerrillas of civilian support and allowing paramilitary forces to challenge the FARC and the ELN for control of narcotics cultivations and strategically important territories.”

So why did the U.S. Congress approve an emergency aid package this summer which funneled millions of dollars of aid to the Colombian military and led to Colombia becoming, according to Professor Michael Klare of Hampshire College, “the third largest recipient of U.S. assistance” after Israel and Egypt? President Bush would argue that the aid is destined to help Colombia deal with drug traffickers. Klare suggests that the purpose of the aid is to assist military and paramilitary forces’ efforts to create a climate of terror and thereby undermine support for guerilla forces which have been attacking the assets of multinational oil companies.

The December 12 forum on Colombia will be the second in what its organizers, the UMB Human Rights Working Group (UMBHRWG), hopes will be an ongoing series on human rights issues. Professor Winston Langley, a human rights expert from UMB will be the moderator. Professor, poet and member of the UMBHRWG, Cindy Schuster, will read one of her poems. Music and refreshments will be provided and there will be a question and answer period following the presentations.

The forum is being sponsored by the Student Senate, the office of the Provost, the College of Public and Community Service, Africana Studies, Hispanic Studies, the Women’s Center, Women’s Studies, Africana Studies, and the Anthropology Department.

The HRWG group is composed of faculty, students, staff, and human right activists whose goal is to establish a human rights center and human rights program, sponsor human rights forums, and carry out other human rights related activities. Its next meeting will be on Friday, December 14 in Wheatley 4-141. If you would like to join the HRWG please come to that meeting or contact Clark Taylor at [email protected] or 617-287-7364.