“La guerra puede ser buena?” or in English “Can war be a good thing?” This unlikely and menacing question is being asked frequently in Latin America. Like in the case of Venezuela and Bolivia where leaders Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales have emerged and more closely represent the overall population of their respective nations, we see that they are diverging from the Washington consensus and creating economic and political models that better serve their countries’ interests. Many activists and scholars alike attribute this blossoming autonomy to the US’s entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US, even though the Administration vehemently denies the accusation, aided a failed coup against the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez.  Since then, the Cháves government has been disobeying Washington left and right, changing the oil laws so that they more fairly benefit the Venezuelan people and aligning themselves closely with Fidel Castro, to name two examples. But would this be possible if the US weren’t in Iraq?

Marino Cordoba, Lead Organizer of Casa de Maryland, made nuances to this very question at his talk at TransAfrica Forum on October 11. Mr. Cordoba is an AfroColombian and heads up a constituency of AfroColombians in the United States who have had to flee their native communities due to war, paramilitary activity and other unrest. In the US and more specifically in the Metro Washington DC area, these AfroColombian refugees find themselves having to ban together in a new environment. In the eyes of Cordoba, he and his comrades have been able to organize, mobilize and strategize about how to help the AfroColombian communities in Colombia. This type of cooperation hasn’t occurred before at this level.

Now that they have mobilized themselves, and through organizations like Red de Apoyo a la Comunidad AfroColombiana (Network to Support the AfroColombian Community) and Casa de Maryland (Maryland House) are vying to get HR 618 passed in the US Congress. Although this resolution doesn’t require any direct action from the US government, it is a “first step” as Cordoba puts it, to changing US-Colombia policies for the better. This bill would call on the US to recognize that AfroColombians make up part of the Colombia’s population and that they have been victims of discrimination, marginalization, and conflict in Colombia. They are displaced from their territories by big business and narco-traffickers and that Plan Colombia and the Free Trade Agreement directly, and mostly negatively affect, AfroColombians. Also, the Free Trade Agreements is being negotiated without AfroColombians’ participation, but the bill calls to rectify that problem and include them in the talks.

In addition, Cordoba highlighted that AfroColombians are now talking about their “history, race and contributions to Colombian society”. This is something that before wasn’t necessarily part of everyday conversation or national dialogue. Now, through struggle, beneath harsh conditions, and out of sheer necessity AfroColombians have to cooperate and preserve their culture. Cordoba likened the violence against AfroColombians in places like Buena Ventura to genocide.

This cooperation has brought more AfroColombians into the Afrolatino and PanAfrican movement. Would this be possible without the war?

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