The past months have been momentous for women

By Mike Feinstein, advisor to the International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

July 2nd:
Ingrid libre—finally

After 2,321 days in captivity in the jungles of Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt gained her freedom in a dramatic release covered on international television. Betancourt was kidnapped on February 23rd, 2002 while campaigning for president in a region of southern Colombia controlled by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

Over the ensuing six-plus years, Greens and thousands of others worldwide staged demonstrations and agitated for her release, including directly appealing to the Colombian, Brazilian and French Governments.

Upon her release Betancourt immediately called for a diplomatic and nonviolent solution to the armed conflict in Colombia and for the release of the remaining hostages. Her name is circulating among potential candidates for the presidency in 2010, and she has the second highest popularity rating among Colombian politicians after sitting President Alvaro Uribe.

During her time in captivity, Betancourt and former Senator Luís Eladio Pérez, who was also held captive with Betancourt for four years, created a 190-point government program written on a thick stack of lined notebook paper tied with a string.

“Almost every day we would sit and analyze events we’d hear about on the radio and ask ourselves, if we ever find ourselves in power what would we do about such and such an issue,” said Pérez, who spoke at a special plenary session dedicated to Betancourt at the May 2008 Global Greens Congress in São Paolo, Brazil. That Congress also approved a resolution proposed by the French and Colombian Greens, making Betancourt Honorary President of the Global Greens.

However, it’s not clear Betancourt will pursue that electoral route. “The truth is that after seven years as a victim of tyranny and war, my life’s perspective has changed. Things that used to be important no longer are; at this moment I only feel the need to speak for those who can’t, first of all for those still in the hands of the FARC, people I know very well, and who are suffering.”

She said her priority is to work for the liberation of other hostages in Colombia and around the world. “I no longer have ambitions for a political career in Colombia. Perhaps in the future I will think about it, but I don’t believe my place is in the political arena at this moment.”

Betancourt will address the October European Green Party Council in Paris and is tentatively scheduled to appear at the November Federation of Greens of the Americas annual meeting in Quebec City, Canada in November. Already she has met with the French and Italian presidents, addressed the European Parliament and had an audience with the Pope.

August 19th:
Mongolian Green movement leader Saruul Agvaandorj released

After 14 days of captivity, Mongolian Green Movement leader Saruul Agvaandorj was released after her arrest for participating in a peaceful silent protest against the government. Hundreds of Mongolians were detained for protesting the government for fraud in the June 29th general election.

On August 5th, approximately 20 protesters began a silent protest at Sukhbaatar Square in front of the Mongolian government and parliament in the nation’s capital of Ulan Bator. They wore a piece of paper taped over their mouths with the message “Release.” Agvaandorj and Arslan Gombosuren, Leader of the Just Society Front were arrested on the grounds that the sit-in was unlawful, without having obtained permission from the District Office. The demonstrators had issued a request to meet with the President, but the President’s office replied with a statement branding the demonstration as “hindering with the due government process of finding responsible parties to the post-election riots and therefore illegal.”

An international Green Party campaign for her release was called for by the Global Green Coordination, with requests that messages be directed to Mongolian embassies around the world. Aided in no small part by this international pressure, the two were released on August 19th after being held in a cell for two weeks with 11 or 12 other prisoners.

Upon her release Agvaandorj said “in Mongolia, we have a real Communist dictatorship like before 1989. Calling it the mafia is more accurate. Our Communists must win elections to make big money from foreign mining companies. And as a so-called democratic country, they can get financial support from the G-8 countries. It is similar to the situation of many African countries.”

Agvaandorj said Mongolian parliamentary elections have been manipulated every election since 1990 by the Mongolian Communist Party, which is also called the Mongolian Revolutionary Party. This year it led to widespread protest, to which the government responded with a four-day state of emergency and police crackdown. With plain-clothes police infiltrators inciting violence within the crowds, eight people were shot dead, six others lost their eyes and hundreds were detained.

“Many people could not understand why the police were shooting people in the eyes and killing them,” said Agvaandorj. “Why were these poor people, without any guns or knives, hunted like wild animals? Many of the arrested people did not know their rights. They were punished. They had to sign some documents because they were very afraid or injured. And the Communist leaders, including the President of Mongolia, didn’t want to release those political prisoners.” As a result, Agvaandorj and others began their peaceful protest.

“It was unbelievable that we were released,” said Agvaandor, who attended the May 2008 Global Greens Congress in São Paulo, Brazil, upon her release. “Thank you all dear Greens. We were only fed bread and water for 14 days. Today someone told me that the police did not want to release us. We are not really free though. They are listening to my phone calls and more. We will continue to organize. Thank you and God bless you all!”

September 5th:
Caroline Lucas elected as first Leader of Green Party of England and Wales

For the first time since the Green Party in the United Kingdom was formed in 1973, Greens there have elected a Party Leader and Deputy Leader.

In a two-way Leader race, sitting Member of European Parliament Caroline Lucas (South East England) received 2,559 votes to 210 for British actor Ashley Gunstock. For Deputy Leader the race was uncontested with 26 year-old Green councilor Adrian Ramsey (Norwich) winning all 2,785 votes. The vote was taken among the Green Party’s approximately 7,000 paid members nationwide.

The election culminated a several year party process of internal debate and change from having male and female “principal spokespersons” to a new Party Leader/ Deputy Leader (Co-Leader) structure.

In her acceptance speech, Lucas said that there was an “amazing opportunity” for a party which “genuinely stands for social and environmental justice,” and that “more and more people are ready to vote for us and we need to be ready to provide them with the candidates and the party that they deserve.”

Pointing to growing success in local elections, she said the party was ‘coming of age’ and  she expected it to win its first seats in the House of Commons in the 2009 General Election. “I will work tirelessly to get our positive Green message across to the public, and to see more Greens elected to deliver social and environmental justice in towns and cities across the country.

Calling energy companies ‘robber barons’, she criticized sitting Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown for failing to impose a windfall tax on massive profits. “We’ve got a Prime Minister who says that climate change is the greatest threat we face and yet there he is, unable to even levy any kind of windfall tax.”

Lucas called for a Green New Deal that would include investing the proceeds of such a windfall tax on massive energy company profit into “making the homes of ordinary people warmer and fuel bills more affordable.”

Public investment in “green-collar” issues like renewable energy and conservation, Lucas argued, would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tackle rising unemployment and aid the fight against global warming. Lucas called for a program of free insulation to every home in the U.K. She pointed to the existing and successful Green Party-initiated program in Kirklees. Spearheaded by local Councilor Andrew Cooper, the program insulated 40,000 homes with a subsidy from the municipal government.

In November 2007, the Green Party of England & Wales adopted the new Party Leader structure by 73 percent in a national referendum of party members. It followed a long internal tactical debate within the party about how it could grow to its potential. Members developed strategies to maximize growing support for green issues within the British electorate, including how to achieve the long sought electoral breakthrough in Westminster.

With elections for the House of Commons scheduled for 2009, Lucas identified Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South, and Lewisham as target seats where the party hopes to win. In Brighton Pavilion where Lucas plans to run, the Green Party finished first among the four top parties in the last local elections, winning 30 percent of the vote to Labour’s 25 percent. In Ramsey’s Norwich South district, the Greens came first with 33 percent of the vote, three thousand ahead of Labour, meaning in both cases if the party simply holds its margin from local election, it could win its first Westminster seats.

For more information:
Green Party of England & Wales www.greenparty.org.uk
Caroline Lucas www.carolinelucas.org.uk

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