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On Monday, June 2, 35 people gathered at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC) to share lunch and dialogue with Milton Mejía, General Secretary and President of the Latin American Council of Churches; Atahualpa Hernández, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Colombia; and Nidiria Ruíz Medina, an African-descended community organizer, land defender, and women’s peace activist from the Naya River area in Cauca, Colombia. The event was sponsored by LSTC, CRLN, and McCormick Theological Seminary.

The guests asked those gathered to get involved in advocacy efforts to rally support by the U.S. government for implementation of the Colombian Peace Accords. They also encouraged U.S. church members to restart the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, join accompaniment missions to seek to protect human rights defenders, and to find other ways to work for peace and reconciliation in Colombia.

Their message was sobering. While Peace Accords were signed by the Colombian government and the guerilla group FARC in November 2016 and later ratified into law, the government has not complied with its obligations under the Accords. FARC members were supposed to receive housing, education, and jobs to reintegrate them into society, but the current administration is reneging on those promises. In addition, the government was supposed to provide resources to encourage rural people to stop growing coca and start growing other crops. Instead, the U.S. has pushed the Colombian government to restart fumigation of coca crops first, without providing alternative means for families to earn an income and survive.

Finally, and most seriously, human rights violations, including assassinations, have actually increased. Since the peace deal was signed, around 700 activists and community leaders have been killed, and more than 210,000 people displaced from their homes amid the continuing violence. Thousands more have received credible threats against their lives, including Nidiria, who expressed some fear about returning to Colombia after receiving threats a couple of weeks ago.

Nidiria said that much of the violence happens in order to displace people from their lands, either so that large corporations or large landowners can increase their landholdings or so that narcotraffickers can have unimpeded access to their routes. Violence is also used to terrorize the population, so that people will not raise their voices to call for needed changes in social conditions.

The 3 spoke in New York and Washington, DC, before coming to Chicago.

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On Wednesday, August 1, former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe again took to Twitter with a political announcement, this time reversing his decision to resign from the Colombian Senate.

Just last week Uribe announced via his Twitter page that he would be resigning from the Senate due to the ongoing investigation into allegations of procedural fraud and bribery.

Today he posted with a change of heart, asking Ernesto Macías, President of the Senate and fellow Democratic Center Party member, to “not take into consideration” his letter of resignation.

Uribe stated that it had not occurred to him that his resignation would mean that his case would be heard by a lower court, and his decision to remain in the Senate was spurred by a desire to have his case heard by the country’s highest judicial authorities.

Ever since Uribe announced his resignation last week, different coalitions in the Senate, including some of the opposition, expressed their desire for him to remain in the Senate.

The Democratic Center Party had been particularly strong about their desire for Uribe to remain, with continuous efforts throughout the week to urge Uribe to reconsider his resignation, especially since Uribe’s departure from the Senate would leave their coalition, the majority in the Senate and second largest in the House, without its leader just before the transfer of power to Ivan Duque’s new administration.

With Uribe remaining in the Senate, the new administration will retain its most powerful political ally, which should have a profound impact in aiding the passage of any legislation introduced by Duque and his administration in the coming weeks.

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On Tuesday, July 24, former Colombian president and influential Senator Álvaro Uribe announced his resignation from the Senate, following the Supreme Court’s announcement that he will be called to testify in an ongoing investigation into his possible involvement in witness tampering and bribery.

The Court stated that it would investigate Uribe and fellow Democratic Center Senator Álvaro Prada for the crimes of “bribery and procedural fraud” that the accusation claims took place this year and were related to other, previous allegations of witness tampering.

The case originates from an earlier attempt to investigate allegations brought forth by Senator Iván Cepeda, which claim that Uribe previously founded a death squad in his home province of Antioquia prior to becoming president in 2002.

Cepeda published a book concerning this matter and was accused by Uribe of witness tampering, claiming that the witnesses received money for their interviews that contributed to the book.

In February of this year, the Supreme Court dismissed the case against Cepeda and opened one against Uribe, claiming it was he who was at fault for allegations of witness tampering. On Tuesday, the Court issued a statement saying that these alleged activities continued after the ruling.

“As a reaction to that ruling and apparently with his consent, persons allied to the ex-president Uribe began new acts of witness manipulation,” the statement read.

Following the news of the resignation, which Uribe announced himself via his official Twitter page, claiming he felt “morally impeded” to remain in his position as Senator while the investigation proceeded, president-elect Ivan Duque expressed solidarity with Uribe and his family and asserted his belief that Uribe’s honor and innocence would prevail.

Jorge Restrepo, a Colombian economist and head of a think tank that monitors the nation’s conflict, identified Uribe’s resignation as “a seismic shift in Colombian politics.”

According to Pedro Medellín, a political scientist and columnist for Colombian newspapers, Uribe’s resignation and the issue of the investigation overall will affect the Democratic Center Party and their influence as a political coalition.

Uribe’s resignation could also offer a chance for Duque to govern outside of his mentor’s influence, allowing him to follow a more independent path. According to Adam Isacson, who works with the Washington Office on Latin America, “Duque is way more moderate than most of his party, including Uribe. Having Uribe out of the picture makes Duque less dependent on hard-liners in order to govern.”

Isacson also said that with Uribe out of the picture, “it makes it harder for Uribe and Duque’s party to move the new president’s legislative agenda through the Senate. Nobody else in that party’s bloc is enough of a political heavyweight to do the necessary arm-twisting.”

Without Uribe in the Senate, it will be interesting to see how Duque governs once he takes office on August 7. Despite his continued support for and allegiance to Uribe as a personal friend and mentor, Duque may now feel more confident in approaching his legislative agenda from a more moderate standpoint.

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JUSTAPAZ, a peacebuilding organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, learned recently that the illegal armed group “Aguilas Negras [Black Eagles]” has included them on a list of social leaders, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists they threaten to kill. Please ask the authorized representative of your congregation to sign the letter of support they have prepared, which they will use in advocating with the Colombian government to investigate and judge those responsible for the death threats and provide protection for their staff and the communities they accompany. You can sign onto the letter by sending an email to justapaz@justapaz.org.

JUSTAPAZ’s statement and the sign-on letter follow:

JUSTAPAZ CHRISTIAN MENNONITE ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE, PEACE AND NONVIOLENT ACTION
STATEMENT ON RECENT DEATH THREAT
A Call for Hope, for the Caring of Life and Continued Peacebuilding
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

JUSTAPAZ is an organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, with more than 26 years’ experience accompanying Christian churches, community organizations and victims of the armed conflict, strengthening nonviolent community peacebuilding processes, on which human rights and peace with justice are built.

We are pained by the increase in threats, aggressions, and systematic assassinations of social leaders from different regions of the country. Our prayer and commitment is, and will continue to be, with churches, victims of armed conflict, women, youth, conscientious objectors, and all who dream and long for a country reconciled and at peace. With hope, we proclaim that neither death, nor threats, nor wars can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:37).

In this biblical spirit and in solidarity with peacebuilders in Colombia, we write to let the public know that on Saturday, July 14, 2018, we learned of a communiqué in which an illegal armed group, self-identified as “Águilas Negras”, threatened to kill a group of social leaders, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists. JUSTAPAZ was included in the list.

Responding to this threat, which seeks to sow fear and dismantle citizen efforts to overcome the wounds caused by the armed conflict, we, as JUSTAPAZ:

  • CALL ON all illegal armed groups to cease all intimidating activity, to respect life and the dignity of every human being because we are all children of God. Life is sacred and we must care for it and defend human rights, peaceful coexistence and the well-being of all Colombian citizens. Therefore, we reject the use of any type of violence or intolerance that limits broad peacebuilding efforts.
  • WE BELIEVE that peace is the fruit of social justice (Isaiah 32:17). We need to overcome social exclusion, strengthen a culture of democracy and embrace the path of reconciliation, grounded in dialogue and in the peaceful solution of social conflicts. From our experience of faith, peacebuilding demands healing wounds, restoring lives and making a diverse participatory nation, founded on the respect for human dignity possible.
  • WE URGENTLY CALL FOR PRAYERS FOR PEACE IN COLOMBIA AND FOR ACTION on behalf of those of us who seek truth, justice, holistic reparations for victims and non-repetition of acts of violence. It is time for dialogue, for full implementation of the peace accords and to continue building social, cultural, political and environmental agreements to build true peace in all the regions of Colombia.
  • WE REAFFIRM THAT JUSTAPAZ, as an entity of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, has a pacifist calling inspired by the gospel of peace (Matthew 5:9), and we join the millions of citizens throughout the different regions of Colombia that promote human rights, citizen participation and the democratic values that inspire and give meaning to nation-building.

We encourage churches, faith-based communities, human rights defenders and social organizations to not falter and to join efforts for peacebuilding in our country. Please consider signing-on to the attached sign-on letter that will be used in advocacy efforts in Colombia.

Sincerely,
CHRISTIAN MENNONITE ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE, PEACE AND NONVIOLENT ACTION – JUSTAPAZ
Bogotá, Colombia
July 17, 2018.

 

Sign-On Letter for Churches and Faith-based Organizations in Response to Death Threats Against JUSTAPAZ

As churches and organizations from around the world, we know of and support the work of JUSTAPAZ. As an organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, JUSTAPAZ has acted to promote peacebuilding in the midst of armed conflict for many years in Colombia. JUSTAPAZ is characterized by applying principles of nonviolence, justice and holistic peace in Colombia.

On Saturday, July 14, 2018, we learned of a communiqué in which an illegal armed group, selfidentified as “Águilas Negras”, threatened to kill a group of social leaders, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists. JUSTAPAZ was included in the list.

Responding to these threats and as part of the international community:

WE EXPRESS our solidarity, support and accompaniment of JUSTAPAZ in face of this threat.

WE REJECT all forms of violence that could affect the staff of JUSTAPAZ and the communities that
they accompany in different regions of Colombia.

WE DEMAND that the government of Colombia act with celerity and efficacy in investigating and
judging those responsible for the death threats against JUSTAPAZ. Additionally, we demand they
provide appropriate protective measures for the staff of JUSTAPAZ and the communities they
accompany, with the goal of guaranteeing the continuity of the human rights and peacebuilding
efforts they accompany, as a faith-based organization in Colombia.

Signed,

**Please indicate your willingness to sign-on by emailing us at: justapaz@justapaz.org

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As someone who ran on a platform that was vehemently opposed to the Peace Accord agreed upon between Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC, Ivan Duque presents a challenge to the future of peace in Colombia.

It is unlikely that Duque will uphold or implement many of the aspects of the Peace Accord. The Constitutional Courts of Colombia have already reviewed the Peace Accord and made it clear that the Accord is law and must be upheld by the next three presidents, as the Accord envisions a 15-year implementation period. Despite this, it is still possible for Duque to take such slow measures in implementing the accord that there will be no progress at all during his presidency.

Although Duque has presented the Peace Accord as nothing more than a get-out-of-jail free card for ex-FARC members, in reality, the Accord offers a far-reaching opportunity for Colombia to develop into a more equitable and modern country. Many of the elements of the Accord focus on rural reform in the countryside and increasing educational opportunities and participation in government and politics among all Colombians.

While it is true that there are elements of the Accord that offer relatively lenient punishments to ex-combatants, such as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace that offers a means to avoid jail time, it is also true that this mechanism is largely responsible for preventing more than 7,000 combatants from disappearing and remobilizing.

Rural Reform

The rural reforms mentioned in the Accord are the foundation of creating a truly stable and lasting peace in Colombia. Many of the issues that cause conflict stem from the lack of positive state presence in the Colombian countryside in order to provide the infrastructure necessary for transportation, education, health care, and clean water. Much of this would be remedied by provisions in the Accord. Other provisions would provide a viable alternative to the cultivation of coca crops, so as to provide a continued income for rural farmers without contributing to the production of illicit crops.

Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that Duque will implement these aspects of the accord. The section on rural reform alone would take up about 85% of the cost of implementation for the entire Accord, something that would most likely be unpopular with Duque’s supporters. The majority, if not all, of Duque’s support comes from city dwellers and large landholders who benefit from the current status quo and would likely prefer to see resources allocated to urban projects rather than rural ones, as about 77% of all Colombians live in urban areas.

Furthermore, the Santos Administration never introduced the legislation that would be necessary to implement most of the rural reform seen in the Accord. Again, it is very unlikely these provisions will be included in Duque’s agenda, as it would require working against the interests of many of his strongest supporters.

Transitional Justice Mechanisms

In addition to his apathy towards to the rural reforms, Duque is also largely opposed to the transitional justice mechanisms introduced in the Accord, above all the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which Duque has called a “monument to impunity.”

Duque wants to strengthen the punishments handed out to ex-FARC members, but will most likely be unable to do so, as the courts already approved the mechanisms and structure laid out in the Accord. Even if Duque were able to modify the punishments, it would be unlikely that the FARC members would accept any harsher punishments resembling those given to enemies defeated in battle, rather than through negotiated agreements as is the case for the FARC. Duque refuses to acknowledge the many atrocities carried out by the Colombian military during the long Civil War and never speaks of punishment for them.

Additionally, Duque has proposed Constitutional amendments banning amnesties for narcotrafficking, but these could not be applied retroactively and as such would only be able to be applied to future peace accords, not those involving the FARC.

Overall, it is unlikely Duque will carry out any of the provisions of the accord that are not specifically related to the FARC and their demobilization, effectively wasting one of the greatest opportunities Colombia has had to date to see truly meaningful efforts to create a stable and lasting peace.

As Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America said, “The FARC accord, especially its chapters on rural development, coca, victims, and political participation, offered an opportunity to make Colombia a modern, prosperous country.”

To ignore this accord for being “too lenient” on the FARC is frankly a disservice to the thousands of Colombians who have suffered for generations due to this conflict, and to the thousands more who will lose the opportunity to be the generation that undertook the necessary reforms to create a true and lasting peace in Colombia.

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Overview

At 41 years old, Ivan Duque will become the youngest president in Colombian history. Educated as a lawyer and having spent the past decade working in Washington, DC at the Inter-American Development Bank, Duque is a relative newcomer to the political scene.

Duque first appeared in Colombian politics about 20 years ago, serving as an adviser to then-Finance Minister Juan Manual Santos. His political career continued in the United States as well, where he served as an adviser for three Andean countries as the then-Chief of the Cultural Division of the Inter-American Development Bank.

During his time at the IDB, Duque formed a close relationship with former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and later returned to Colombia in 2014 when he was elected to the Colombian Senate with Uribe’s backing.

Concerns

Many are concerned that Duque will act as a puppet for Uribe’s political plans, but Duque is firm in his statements that he will govern as himself, without influence from his mentor. Duque has presented his time spent in Washington as a necessary distance between him and the established Colombian political elite as evidence of his independence from their influence, but his plans so far seem consistent with those of Uribe, whether or not Uribe is directing him.

Other areas of concern surround the Peace Accord, notably Duque’s lack of recognition of state and paramilitary forces as perpetrators of violence. Additionally, Duque does not want to maintain the terms for talks with the ELN that former-president Santos had begun, leaving future talks a mystery.

Plans

Duque has stated that he will make the necessary “corrections” to the Peace Accord in order to emphasize provisions on victims’ rights and to push for greater security measures and punishments for guerrillas.

In order to spur some of the much needed economic growth in Colombia, Duque’s platform includes cuts to business taxes, support for oil and coal industries and to help manufacturing.

Duque is also sees the large influx of Venezuelan refugees spilling over the border into Colombia as a security rather than a humanitarian crisis, and will most likely dedicate a significant effort to addressing this issue.

For more reading: https://newrepublic.com/article/149185/colombia-keeps-electing-presidents-tied-murderers

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As Colombia moves forward with a new administration led by President-elect Ivan Duque, marked by their aversion to the Peace Accord reached by former-president Juan Manuel Santos, the future of the Peace Accord is uncertain and other non-governmental entities have begun to pick up some of the pieces of the accord left abandoned.

The Presbyterian Church of Colombia has a considerably smaller presence than the Catholic Church, but focuses on more progressive approaches to many social problems. With a strong presence in Barranquilla, Urabá and Bogotá, and serving Afro-descendants, Indigenous and displaced persons, the Presbyterian Church has long been a proponent for peace.

Recently, CRLN was able to meet with representatives from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and the Reformed University to discuss the current status of the peace process in Colombia, as well as the Church’s role in this process.

The Church’s main areas of involvement include: monitoring the implementation process; educating demobilized FARC members through the Reformed University; running reconciliation processes in communities and; providing leadership for DiPaz, an ecumenical group based out of Bogotá.

DiPaz has been involved in social processes and accompanying communities that work in building peace with justice through nonviolent action, the search for truth and justice that would allow for true reconciliation in Colombia.

Conversation focused on the current status of the Peace Accord in Colombia, which the representatives from the Church and University saw as shaky at best. They thought that the peace process would be unlikely to continue into the administration under Ivan Duque, and although that administration cannot legally do anything to end the accord, it seems likely that they will simply kill the initiatives through inaction.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Peace Accord is the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, known in Spanish as La Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, and commonly referred to by its Spanish acronym as la JEP. La JEP was designed to exercise judicial functions and fulfill the duty of the Colombian state to “investigate, prosecute and sanction crimes committed in the context of and due to the armed conflict.”

La JEP offered amnesty for certain crimes in exchange for an admission of guilt from the perpetrators in order to facilitate some sort of reconciliation and transitional justice. However, not even state actors could unanimously declare support for this – the Colombian military supported la JEP, due to the ability to avoid any jail time, whereas former president Álvaro Uribe and his supporters, some of the most vocal opponents of the Peace Accord and its mandates, are strongly in opposition to la JEP as it requires an admission of government wrongdoing.

Due to the controversial nature of la JEP, it has progressed in its mandate much slower than planned. It seems that little will be done with the reconciliation aspect, especially under the new administration, and so the Presbyterian Church is working to pick up some of the pieces.

The Church is now working to carry out much of the reconciliation aspect, running reconciliation processes through the churches in local communities. These processes typically consist of a demobilized FARC member or Colombian military member coming to the Church and admitting guilt and asking those in the community for forgiveness.

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