Open Letter to Mr. Stephen Harper
Dear Stephen Harper,
My name is Hannah Redekop, a 24-year-old Canadian citizen, living and working in Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), as an international observer for human rights, striving for justice and peace in a country torn by a 50-year civil war.
I want to tell you about Las Pavas, a farming community in rural Colombia. I want to tell you about their displacement over the past 10 years and the human rights abuses that continue to happen to this day at the mercy of Aportes San Isidro, a palm oil company. I want to tell you this because Canada has recently become Free Trade partners with Colombia, and while Canada imports millions of palm oil products (palm oil is found in a large percentage of every day products) we are perpetuating these abuses against humanity.
I want to tell you about Don Efraín and his son Tito, two hard-working farmers who are struggling to survive on their land because the palm company’s security agency has stolen their fences, knocked down their house, threatened their lives and even shot at them while they carry out daily tasks on the farm and attempt to survive, living under a couple of sticks with a garbage bag roof and a pot hung over coals, with supper that consists of a boiled yucca or banana.
I want to tell you about Rubiela, a 37-year-old mother of five, who lives daily under threats from the company against her and her family’s lives as well as threats of rape towards her three girls, aged fourteen, thirteen, and nine. Rubiela sends her husband off to work the farm with a boiled banana and a fried egg, nothing of real substance for a man who works 14-hour days under equatorial sun. Despite his hard work, Wladymir’s fields of yucca crops have been poisoned and uprooted; his unripe bananas chopped down and left to rot. Rubiela would go help him in the fields but fears leaving the house unattended in the shadow of the palm company’s pattern of destruction.
I want to tell you that I was there when the community, preparing to put a thatch roof on the new ranch house, arrived to find the piles of palm branches burned in gasoline. I was there when they cut down new branches and as they drove the load onto their land the security men came out each armed with pistols and they shot out the tire of the tractor with a shotgun.
I want to tell you about how the police showed up an hour later but ruled in favour of the palm company, despite evidence and proof that the company is acting illegally.
I want to tell you all this but I think I would be wasting my time.
Because before you care about Colombians, you have to care about Canada. But apparently Canada isn’t all that important to you either, Mr. Harper.
If you cared about Canada, we wouldn’t be worried about the environmental damage of the tar sands or the fact that you have shut down many institutions that cared for and protected our fresh water bodies.
If you cared about Canada you wouldn’t have preferred to welcome pandas to the Toronto Zoo instead of welcoming the Nishiyuu youth who had walked 1600 km to Ottawa to bring attention to the indigenous issues you refuse to recognize.
If you cared about Canada, you wouldn’t be muzzling scientists, librarians, or artists, or censoring alternative media and trying to control the CBC.
What is it you want, not-so-honourable Mr. Stephen Harper?
If it’s money, just take it and leave. There’s already a scandal out that $3.1 billion is missing from your “Harper Government” regime. We’re Canadians, we’ll forgive you if you take a little bit more. But just go.
Canada needs a leader who cares about her people and also about the people who are affected by Canada’s actions. Colombia needs international leaders who care about the impunity granted to large business owners at the expense of subsistence farmers. I need a leader who cares. So please leave.
Hannah Redekop, Rubiela, Don Efrain, Tito, and the other Las Pavas community members.