Written by Sandra Sorensen
Proving that our voices do make a difference in public policy decisions, a committed group of UCC members joined in sucessfully advocating important changes to the Andean Regional Initiative, a section of the foreign operations bill geared to providing funding aid for Colombia and the Andes in the counter-narcotics effort.
When a group of UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) members joined a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia this spring, an e-mail network of 62 concerned activists was formed, comprised of members of the delegation and others interested in U.S. policy toward Colombia.
Returning delegates told the story of what they had seen and heard during their time in Colombia. They relayed the stories of Colombians who have suffered decades of horrible violence at the hands of paramilitary, military and guerilla forces.
In response to the violence and the drug trade fueled by the production of coca in Colombia and surrounding countries, the U.S. government developed "Plan Colombia," an aid package consisting almost entirely of military support for counter-narcotics action, including fumigation of coca fields.
However, UCC members learned during the delegation that increased military aid from the United States was not helpful in stopping the violence, and the policy of fumigation was endangering the health and economic well-being of Colombians.
Thus, UCC members—like Dennis Apuan from Broadmoor Community UCC in Colorado Springs, Colo.—returned inspired to act on what they heard. They held educational forums in their congregations and communities, and wrote to members of Congress. In September, a group of advocates, including Apuan, came to Washington for two days of briefings and congressional visits. Their persistence made a difference.
When the Senate voted on the Andean Initiative, it cut the level of spending on military aid based on concerns raised by advocates. It also added human rights conditions, a provision to delay or stop fumigation until a comprehensive health study is done on the effects of fumigation and plans for alternative development are put in place.
"The difference between the House version of the initiative and the Senate version is huge," says UCC member Holly Miller, a Lancaster Seminary student and coordinator of the e-mail network. "Peoples' voices made a difference."
Sandra Sorensen is Associate for Communications and Media Advocacy in the Washington, D.C., office of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.