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April 5, 2002

South American Priest to Address Drug War at UW-RF

The implications of the war on drugs in Colombia, South America, will be the topic of a presentation by Rev. Campo Elias de la Cruz on Tuesday, April 16, at 4:30 in the Davis Theatre in the Kleinpell Fine Arts Building on the campus of UW-River Falls.

In what will be his first trip to the United States, de la Cruz will explain how U.S. policy is affecting the people of Colombia and the environment. His trip is sponsored by Witness for Peace, a politically-independent grass roots organization. Founded in 1983, it is dedicated to non-violence and working for peace and justice in the Americas.

Through the Andean Initiative, known previously as Plan Colombia, the United States is trying to decrease Colombia's supply of drugs through aerial fumigation of its coca plants,the raw material for cocaine.

According to John Pegg,Witness for Peace regional coordinator for the Upper Midwest, the civilian population is victimized by this practice. "For every acre of coca that is sprayed, another acre of edible crops is destroyed. Human health is endangered and the environment is affected, including the Amazon Rain Forest," he said.

Pegg said there are several factions warring amongst themselves for control in Colombia, including guerillas and rebels, a paramilitary group and the countryıs military. The civilians are caught in the middle.

Unemployment is 60 percent, and the economic situation is desperate. The only options people have are to go with someone who will pay them to fight or to grow coca. De la Cruz has personally been threatened with death in his country for speaking out against the situation.

A native of Colombia where he is currently director of the social ministries office of his diocese, de la Cruz has a master's degree in political science and international relations and is a specialist in conflict resolution. His talk will be interpreted by John Hunter, a Witness For Peace international team member who is based in Colombia.

Also as part of the presentation Mark Aumann, legislative aide to U.S. Representative Ron Kind, will show slides he took while on a visit to Colombia with a congressional delegation last August. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 715/425-4911.

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