by Kit Miller
On April 18, 2012, the Gandhi Institute co-sponsored an talk called ‘The Courage to Refuse War’ with Columbian conscioustions objector Sebastián Patiño with several Rochester faith groups and with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. These are my notes from the talk. All errors in terms of facts and figures are mine!
While US youth struggle with little or no funding for jobs, education, and services, the US spends over $6 billion a year in support of Columbia’s military…….
Sebastián Patiño is 19 yrs old. He is a Conscientious Objector (CO) in Columbia, a US ally. Officially, Columbia does not have a mandatory draft for the armed services.
Sebastián began by describing what it is like to live in a country that has been enduring civil conflict for close to 60 years.
The numbers are hard to integrate:
More than 50000 people are gone, victims of what are called ‘forced disappearances’;
Recruitment of child soldiers aged 8-17 is the 4th highest in world;
More than 800 mass grave sites, some with hundreds of bodies, dot the country–one just a few miles from Sebastian’s home.
He shared his reasons for resisting military service, in a country where resisting such service renders you a second class citizen, or worse. “I resist because I don’t want to have connection with so much violence and devastation. 46 percent of my people live in poverty. The only way to get ot of military service is by ‘paying out’.
People who can afford it opt out, so it is the poor who pay again by having their young men forced to serve.”
Trying to be a CO in Columbia is difficult and dangerous. Without the military ID that young recruits receive, Sebastian is unable to obtain a job, or to officially graduate from the school he attended, or to travel by road in the country. It is dangerous for him even to use mass transit in Bogota, the city where he lives, because the military stops young people using the trains and detains them if they do not have military identification. Sebastian described ‘street run ups’ when the military illegally detains young people (see photo).
Many youth disappear through these roundups; from 2004-2007 there were 150,000 registered complaints of this happening.
Although Columbia’s Supreme Country outlawed street run ups in November, 2011, they continue to occur.
A friend and fellow CO, Jose, who was illegally recruited during a street run up was taken from Bogota to the Amazon region on the other side of the country. He was threatened with a knife by a military officer for refusing to participate. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Mennonite church of Columbia and others created a campaign to release him. After some months, Jose was released. When he went to a security office to get a background check for a job, he was arrested and charged with desertion. The campaign to release him was re-eneacted. He was released but is now on parole. All of this happened to Jose simply for following his conscience.
Sebastian is grateful to his family, to the Fellowship of Reconciliation and to the Mennonite church in Columbia for their support of him as well other COs. Unfortunately the Catholic church, a major institute in Columbia, does not support them.
US taxpayers are heavily involved. Current annual allocation to Columbia from the US is $9 billion dollars. 72% of those funds goes to the military. In addition, the US military maintains 14 bases in Columbia.
Sebastian asks the people in the US to do whatever they can to stop funding the war and violence in Columbia.
For more information about Sebastian and his national speaking tour with the fellowship of reconciliation,
see Columbia project
To contribute to the Fellowship of Reconciliation project in Columbia,