Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Rafael Uzcategui is a Venezuelan conscientious objector, author, and human rights activist who has been active with War Resisters' International, and in antimilitarism more generally, for many years. Here, he summarises the main tendencies of the Latin American conscientious objection movement, and details how his own nonviolent anarchist position fits into this picture.

During the eighties, many Latin American countries were living under military dictatorships or suffering the consequences of civil war. These were also the days of the Cold War, during which the US considered Latin America one of its 'zones of influence': almost like a back garden. The traumatic and progressive democratisation process meant that broad swathes of the continent's youth developed an antimilitarist sentiment, which began to take on an organised and political dimension. As an adolescent at the beginning of the nineties in Barquisimeto, a town 5 hours away from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, my peers and I had to hide ourselves twice a year for fifteen days, to avoid compulsory military service. Otherwise they would seize us on the streets and, without wasting words, force us into a truck, with others just as terrified, and from there take us to the barracks. For many of us, these forced recruitment raids or 'press gangs' were the starting point for our rejection of authority and of the military uniform.

Cesar Padilla, Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America, OCMAL

It is not news to say that extractivism in Latin America has been imposing an increasingly deeper model of extraction and export. The competition to be a destination of mining, oil-reserves, forestry or fishing investment is a characteristic of the majority of the countries in the region.

However, extractavism is receiving increasing criticism from broad sections of society including academia and social movements.

By Xavier León Vega

In Ecuador, antimilitarist and environmental activists are currently working together in a way that allows us to imagine a post-extraction society. Since the 1970s, the country has been heavily dependent on petroleum extraction in order to finance its budget and achieve sought-after 'development', as defined by the Western world view.

This has led to Ecuador depending on petroleum for almost 35% of its income. (El Telégrafo, 2012) This model based on extraction has not taken into consideration the environmental and social costs in some areas of the country, displacing and contaminating indigenous and rural communities in the areas where petroleum is extracted.

Many of us have seen or heard about the events on 30 September in Ecuador, a day where, quite simply, the world was turned on its head. Police officers burning tyres and throwing stones, taking over the hospital where the President had been allegedly “sequestered”.

What happened that day?

During January (2009), Ecuador was the scene of protests against a new mining law that allows and promotes large-scale mining and open pit mining - carried out by big multinationals. This mining will cause great damage to the life of the indigenous Amazonians, affecting access to water and generally degrading the environment.

The Ibero-American Convention on Young People's Rights, which entered into force on 1 March 2008, explicitly recognises the right to conscientious objection. Article 12 of the Convention reads: "Young people have the right to form a conscientious objection against compulsory military service." It also includes a commitment of states to create legal instruments to safeguard this right, and to progressively end compulsory military service.

Statement by Latin American antimilitarists

We don't need another war. We, conscientious objectors and antimilitarists from Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and all Latin America and the Caribbean, united, emphatically refuse a military escalation leading to a war that, once more, will try to divide us. With hunger, corruption, extreme militarism, shameless military spending, civil insecurity, the continual assault on human rights by our governments, we already have enough without being given another armed conflict.

During the last weeks of November and during most of December of 2007 a state of emergency (militarization of the zone) was declared in the Province of Orellana in the Amazon region of Ecuador, due specifically to the actions of the inhabitants of the Dayuma settlement who have raise up in protest because of the situation of abandonment on the part of the Ecuadorian government.

This militarization and repression has lead to various arrests and unlawful entry into homes of the residents, violating their Human Rights, only because they demanded that their basic needs be met.

During the first two weeks of December, a state of emergency was declared in the Orellana Province in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

This state of emergency is carried out through the militarisation of Orellana which took place after representatives of the town of Dayuma (area in the country that brings in more resources to the nation) started protesting about the complete abandonment from the government in which they live, as they have almost no access to any public services.

What is the main reason behind for the

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