Colombia: conscientious objector freed following protests

Diego Alexander Pulgarín, press-ganged into the Colombian military through the “Campesino Soldier” anti-guerilla militia program on Jan. 5, was released from the Rionegro Battalion military base in Antioquia department April 14, after declaring himself a conscientious objector. Pulgarín was held at the base against his will after refusing to take part in military training. The Medellín anti-militarist group Red Juvenil (Youth Network) held a demonstration in his support outside the base where he was held in the town of La Union March 27. (Red Juvenil, April 2, 14)

See our last posts on Colombia, citizen peace initiatives and war resistance.

  1. Colombian conscientious objector speaks
    Statement of Diego Alexander Pulgarin Ossa, translated by the FOR Colombia Program:

    After being conscripted against my will on January 5, 2008, when I enjoyed my right to freedom of movement and I was in the bus terminal, I was incorporated into the military as a peasant soldier. From that moment on, I said that I didn’t want to belong to the military, with the reason that my first choice is for life, that I choose to reach peace through peaceful means, that I have always believed that weapons, instead of making peace, are simply cause for more war and so more deaths. I declared myself a conscientious objector from the moment I was conscripted, and after stating my position, the army took on macho, vulgar and ignorant positions. They received my arguments with ridicule, psychological mistreatment and sometimes with physical punishment. I was also forced to carry various weapons in preparation for war.

    Faced with military orders, my position always consisted of not following military formalities, of maintaining my civilian condition even when forced to wear camouflage. I always put the gun to the side and didn’t carry it as I was supposed to, the same with the camouflage. In the hallways of the barracks I would read, play guitar; I avoided and did not follow the orders of superiors. In response to this, the soldiers began to see me as a problem because they really couldn’t control me. Sometimes they threatened to put me in the hole or write me up; many times they said it was my problem, why didn’t I want to be in the army, that I would have to stay. They said no one got out of there, that I could rot in the army.

    The support for my position was consistent from different places. One of the main ones was the Medellin Youth Network [Red Juvenil], which from their support as conscientious objectors sent constant letters, they wrote to me; the legal piece was key, human and moral support. From the beginning in the courts there was a motion presenting the arguments for my freedom, which the army didn’t accept, saying that in the army men ready to act at any moment were needed, and that military service was an obligation to the country. Then there was a court action, which was not ruled on, but which they received and which they also said were not enough for my release. Two weeks ago, there was a peaceful demonstration at the entrance to the Juan del Corral Battalion, asking that I be withdrawn from the military. They were surprised by that, because they said nothing like that had happened before, and they asked me who were those “marijuaneros” out there.

    During all this time of being conscripted, different military commanders called me to ask who I was and what was happening. They even asked me if I belonged to the FARC or if I had something to do with the Polo [Democratic Pole, Colombia opposition left party].

    When they released me they didn’t want to say what reasons they had, the only thing they said was that a bad influence had called on me to be taken out, that it wasn’t because I am an objector, since that has no validity in Colombia, nor for the other reasons I gave them, since the constitution requires doing military service, and so there was nothing more. They told me that the card for being a conscientious objector was a piece of paper that could be printed on any computer and had no importance.

    It is important to say thanks to all those people who were following my situation. It is one more demonstration that if we are united in a cause and maintain a firm position with character and reason, we can achieve our objective. To all those people I reiterate my thanks. Really there are many and it would be impossible to name them but I make special mention of the Youth Network with their attorneys, War Resisters International, the Conscientious Objectors Movement of Spain, the National Assembly of Objectors.

    Now I want to continue in the activities I was working on, looking for peace through totally peaceful means, continue my studies, and if possible join the work of the Youth Network to continue in the firm purpose of saying no to war.

    TO OTHER OBJECTORS: My case is a demonstration that objecting in conscience is worth it. The important thing is to maintain a firm condition, with character. We are not covered well in the media, and it is important to make this objection grow in strength and be valued as a choice in the face of war and all kinds of violence. April 15, 2008

    To write a letter of support for another Colombian objector “who is still being held by the military” click here.

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