Longtime friend of NJRR, peace activist and former New Jersey Green Party Senate candidate Madelyn Hoffman sits down with our own Heather Warburton to discuss her recent visits to Colombia and Venezuela, and how America’s ugliest imperialist tendencies are seeping through yet again.
A Champion for Peace in Colombia
Madelyn is a fierce advocate for peace, and her mission has led her to various places across the globe. “Let’s say for the better part of two decades, I’ve been specifically dedicating my life to working for peace,” she says.
Her recent travels have taken her to Colombia and Venezuela. In regards to Colombia, she had initially planned on just visiting a friend’s family, but says the trip ended up being an important networking event between herself and various other peace activists. “That trip, from ‘Oh, let’s go see where my friend is from’, developed into a trip where I had 14 meetings in 8 days.”
Speaking With Global Peace Activists
She says she spoke to various peace activists, from moderates, to what she calls “militant” peace activists. Madelyn also spoke with members of the Mennonite church; whose religious beliefs include conscious objection to war.
Peace Accords In Shreds
Her meetings also included one with a former member of FARC, a guerilla organization that was involved in peace accords in Colombia, peace accords, that she notes, “now basically lie in shreds on the floor.”
Along the way, she also spoke firsthand with environmentalists to get a sense of the challenges that they and other peace activists face, which include, in her words, “fear of, and the risk of, being assassinated, having themselves or their families threatened by authorities.” She points out that in the Colombia over the past two years, 454 community leaders have been assassinated, presumably by the government and paramilitary forces.
A Colombian Woman’s Struggle
Madelyn also met with one woman who she called “One of the most outspoken and visible” activists fighting against a hydroelectric plant in her region of Colombia.
She talked about the secretive nature of the meeting. “She had to be extremely careful, about where she met me, how she met me, because she’s really concerned, and she’s living in an area where about 300,000 campesinos, those are peasants or farmers, are affected. She has to be careful all the time.”
A Risky Meeting
Madelyn herself had to go to a different area to meet her, as meeting in the woman’s own region was too risky. “The decision was made that I should not go there because I would have a target on my back,” she says.
While recalling the hour-long conversation with the woman, Madelyn notes “There were moments when I was so choked up, I couldn’t talk to her,” due to the overwhelming nature of the meeting, and hearing about the struggles the people go through.
And the most disgusting part of all of this? “There’s American money behind it,” says Madelyn. “Not only American money, but there’s American money behind it through the World Bank and some of the other supports.”
During the conversation, Madelyn thought about a specific issue brought up by the woman, namely, the lack of exposure in the America to the struggles that regular people face in Colombia.
Aside from the obvious humanitarian struggles, Madelyn speaks about the persecution of labor leaders, organizers, and other peace advocates. She says this issue is very real, and the lack of media attention is due in part to attention being paid to the ongoing coup in neighboring Venezuela.
The Human Rights Fight in Colombia
Madelyn address the current “the human rights fight” going on now in Colombia. “There are 7 and a half million Colombians who have been internally displaced,” she explains. “Mostly because of the extraction industries, for minerals and other resources. People have been pushed off their land in order for new projects to be built. They were promised the right to return to their land, and the government hasn’t upheld its promises to the people.” She notes that Colombian human rights fighters take a risk every time they speak.
There was, however, a human rights mobilization effort on April 25th in Colombia around these critical issues. Madelyn explains, “The fact that the peace accords are not being enforced by (Colombian) President Duque, the fact that the so-called New Development plan is not guaranteeing the right to return, or is not taking action to allow people to go back to their lands.”
A General Fascism
Another issue in Colombia is the consistent protection of organizers and human rights activists. Madelyn notes that while there are communities in the U.S. that live in fear, there is not the threat of “general fascism” faced by champions for human rights in Colombia.
U.S. Imperialism in Colombia: A Staging Ground for a Coup
Madelyn explains that another reason for her visit to Colombia was to get a sense of what the people thought of the threat of war with Venezuela, and the fact that the U.S. is using their land as a staging ground for a coup against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
She says the Colombia people have a lot to worry about on their own when it comes to dealing with American imperialism. “There are seven military bases in Colombia that everybody knows about, and two that are secret, so there is concern about the military presence in Colombia itself, U.S. military bases. These are U.S. military bases in Colombia.”
Everyone Knows The Score
The concept of U.S. intervention in Latin America is not new. “Everyone sort of knows the score,” explains Madelyn. “They know the role of what the U.S. is, or has been, in their internal affairs for many years.”
Madelyn notes the strong anti-NATO sentiment amongst the people of Colombia, and how many detest the U.S. using the country as a launch pad for a coup in Venezuela. She also mentions that Colombian president Duque is using the migration of Venezuelans to Colombia as a fear tactic to create an anti-immigrant sentiment, similar to U.S. president Donald Trump.
“In the airports, on the city streets, most of the people who are either homeless, or are washing windshields and all, they’ve come from Venezuela,” she says. “A lot of Colombians are thinking seriously about what the solution is, no one I spoke to was in favor of U.S. military intervention.”
Even Avocados Have An Impact
From traveling the country, Madelyn saw how both “military and corporate” U.S. imperialism was affecting the Colombia economy. The coffee trade is negatively impacted, and agricultural changes, such as the planting of hass avocados, are affecting the natural vegetation.
Through all this, Madelyn says she is impressed with the grit of the Colombian people who are trying to protect their country. “There are people who are just so connected to the land and the situation, and really wanting to make those peace accords enforced. Colombians are extremely active on a lot of those issues that they face.”
The U.S. Suffocation of Venezuela
Transitioning to neighboring Venezuela, Madelyn says that the U.S. media portrays a very different situation than what is actually occurring. One popular misconception is that Venezuela is now some sort of wasteland with no one in sight. After her recent trip to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, Madelyn says this is not true.
“After being there for just a short while, you could see people going to work, going to school, vegetable stands and fruit stands on the side of the road. People selling this and people selling that, and traffic jams and hoking of horns,” describes Madelyn.
“This picture of a humanitarian crisis that’s been painted by the U.S. media, while there are problems and there are shortages, life is going on. There’s a lot of life in those streets and there’s a lot of life in Caracas. There’s no crisis that’s shutting down commerce and business and school and life.”
Madelyn did not experience any of the blackouts that had occurred earlier in April. She spoke to a woman who said that if an outage occurred, “they went to work, they did what they had to do. They intend to continue to do that. They are not going to let these obstacles get in their way.”
She also stresses the people of Venezuela know quite well of the “sabotage” taking place. “They know that their country is under economic warfare.”
Assets Frozen or Stolen
While in Venezuela, she heard a speech that she “will never forget” given by the Venezuelan Vice President of Foreign Affairs. The speech chronicled U.S. aggression since the rise of former president Hugo Chavez in the late 1990s. According to Madelyn, the Venezuelans feel the U.S. and its European allies are trying to “suffocate” their economy.
“$1.2 billion dollars of assets are frozen in international institutions,” says Madelyn. “The international community is not putting in any fresh financing in addition to the sanctions which have been imposed, most likely illegally. Can you imagine as a country if those assets were no longer available to you, from the places you had counted on for years?”
Peace Not War
Madelyn points out that even through economic suffocation, Venezuelans have been characteristically peaceful, unlike the way some other countries have behaved historically. “They have never been at war, Venezuela has never attacked another country, no soldier has ever gone on foreign soil to fight a war. They are a peace-loving country. Their goal is to resolve this peacefully. They’re not a war-like nation. From 1840 to 2020, no wars. None. Compare that to the same time period in the U.S.’s history, and you have virtually every year some kind of military activity, either at home or abroad.”
An Ideological Threat
Madelyn got to speak to Venezuelans candidly about threats facing the Venezuelan people, and how the Maduro government has been addressing them. She also talked to people to try to get a sense of how the public feels regarding the U.S.’s unwarranted involvement in their day-to-day lives.
She considers the issue of housing in Venezuela. Under President Maduro, 2.6 million new housing units have been constructed out of a set goal of 3 million by the end of 2019. She says there are people who live in the mountains of Venezuela who live what she called “very basic lives with very basic shelters.” She describes a group of people who are quite content with their simplistic lives.
Helping Instead of Harming
Instead of rounding all of these mountain villagers up and threatening to kicking them out, Madelyn says the Maduro government tried to make their lives easier. “The government added freezers, or helped with the plumbing, or did something to strengthen and solidify the housing that people had. So, you talk about a different type of values system.”
In her interactions, Madelyn also spoke to a woman who has visited and had family in the U.S. In her words, the woman said to Madelyn: “I don’t get it, I don’t like it. I come to the U.S., my i-Phone breaks, and they’re trying to push the latest i-Phone on me. I don’t want it! I don’t need it! Get away!” The woman rejected the very American, capitalist idea of “having the best of everything.”
War is Bipartisan
Madelyn points out that the U.S. coup is not merely a Democratic or Republican issue, but is an assault that has bipartisan support. “In 2015, President Obama issued an executive order saying that Venezuela was a threat to the United States, and the United States can’t coexist with Venezuela.”
Her tone changes suddenly. “A security threat? No, it’s an ideological threat. It’s people who don’t want to live under capitalism. I’m not saying all people of Venezuela feel this way, but the people that we met do, and part of that is what fuels their commitment and conviction to say, ‘Oh no, no, no. Venezuela, we have our problems, of course we do. But we are going to solve them. No one from the outside, especially from the United States is going to solve them for us.”
The article accompanying this interview was written by Ryan Hosey