I recently returned from a CRLN – Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia.  We spent ten days there, primarily in the City of Cali, but also traveling to Buenaventura, the major port on the Pacific Ocean, and to Trujillo, where a notorious massacre (actually a series of massacres) took place between 1986 and 1994, and to an indigenous farm in the North Cauca region of the country.  We met with Community representatives and labor organizations.  We toured the docks of Buenaventura and talked to the laborers there.  We visited a marginal community living in shacks sitting on poles over swampland.  It was an eye-opening experience.
There are a number of things to know about Colombia which I, and probably some of you, did not know or really appreciate.  For example, I was not aware of the size of the Afro-Colombian population.  Estimates of Afro-Colombians range from 10.5% to 18% to 20-30% of the approximately 44 million people in Colombia.  The Afro-Colombians, despite their numbers, are even more marginalized than the indigenous population.  Afro-Colombians are concentrated in the western and northern coasts of Colombia.  They live in the worst housing and do the hardest physical labor.  They have never really been given a fair share of the Country’s wealth.
The second matter of note is the pervasive impunity which exists in the country.  Murder is common and almost never punished.  The military and the paramilitary forces are responsible for a majority of the killings and forced disappearances, but the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the major guerilla group, also contributes its share.  Enemies are kidnapped, tortured and murdered.  Often the offenses are imaginary — such as attending a rally, signing a petition or even making the wrong comment (or no comment) to the wrong person.  It is hard to overstate the fact of forced disappearances.  Examples:  in Trujillo, a popular priest spoke up for the people; he was kidnapped, and when his body was subsequently recovered, it was without its hands, feet, head and testicles.  It is believed that the members were cut off while the priest was still alive.  In Trujillo also, village authorities who opposed Army murders were themselves kidnapped and taken to the Army’s local center of operations, where their bodies were allegedly cut up with a chainsaw by Army Major Alirio Antonio Urueña, a graduate of the School of the Americas.  Again, people organized a rally on March 6, 2008, against military and paramilitary violence.  Colombian President Uribe denounced the demonstrators as guerilla sympathizers.  A new paramilitary group, the

Aguilas Negras

(Black Eagles), announced threats against the organizers, several of whom were subsequently tortured and murdered.  Jesus Caballero Ariza, an instructor of human rights for his teachers union, disappeared on April 16, 2008.  His body was found in a mass grave two days later, with signs of torture, machete wounds and a shot to the head.  Of all labor union murders, three-quarters of them occur in Colombia.
We also saw the bad effects of Free Trade on Colombia.  In Buenaventura, the port facilities have been privatized.  The laborers work longer and receive less.  For example, sugar arrives on huge semi trucks and is unloaded by Afro-Colombian laborers, who load the sacks weighing about 120 pounds each onto pallets, which are then taken into a nearby warehouse.  It takes 6-8 laborers about an hour to unload the truck, for which they each receive about $1.00.  The are paid only while unloading, meaning that if there is not another truck, they must wait (unpaid) until there is another truck to unload.  We spoke to some of the laborers, and their anger and rage were obvious.   There may well be a civil disorder in Buenaventura during the next month or two.  Incidentally, even for a country noted for violence, Buenaventura was especially dangerous.  Outside our hotel, two men had an argument during the overnight, and one shot the other.  Police then came and clubbed some people and took away four men.  The fate of the four was unknown to us.
Cali itself was a scene of violence while we were there.  On Sunday just before midnight a car bomb went off in front of the Palace of Justice, destroying the front of the building and damaging several nearby structures.  Five people were killed, and another 26 were wounded.  At the time, we were at our hotel, which was a mile  or two away from the blast (but I still heard it).  The government immediately blamed FARC, but it was also reported that the public prosecutors were closing in on a drug conspiracy.  I am not aware that anyone has claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel and Egypt.  Most of the money has gone for military aid to suppress the insurgency, because the Colombian government says, and our government apparently believes, that the insurgents are really narcotraffickers and terrorists.  The real conditions are extreme wealth amidst grinding poverty and government lawlessness against its own citizens.   It seems perverse, but all too typical, that where our government helps another country militarily and economically, the violence and lawlessness in that country increase.
Complicating all of this is the narcotics problem.  Coca production and eradication, and the enormous sums of money to be made by the traffickers, are corrupting influences throughout the country.  The FARC taxes and controls the narcotics traffic, as do the military and paramilitary forces, each within the areas of their influence.  Because the cocaine trade is illegal, it is difficult to determine its precise size, but many people have become very wealthy.  Also, because of the illegality, the acts of the traffickers are also unlawful.  Human rights activists charge that the former paramilitary forces, which have been officially disbanded, have become narcotics protectors and enforcers, albeit in a different guise, such as the Black Eagles noted above.  FARC also is involved in the trade, although apparently in a lesser quantity.
In Africa there is an old proverb that when elephants fight, it is the grass which gets trampled.  Say a prayer or two for the people, the grass of Colombia.  The situation is intractable, and probably will not change unless the United States changes its drug policy and until some sense of justice can come to the people of that poor unfortunate country.

Frank Schneider
Read More
image-title



Today a national and international campaign for the protection of Colombia’s human rights defenders will be launched in Bogotá. In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job and the situation is only getting worse. Those working on issues ranging from displacement to the rights of women, Afro-Colombians, the indigenous and other victims of the armed conflict are threatened, attacked, stigmatized, and put under illegal surveillance on a daily basis. In response to this situation over 200 organizations across the globe, including CRLN, have joined the United States Office on Colombia to help develop an international campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights.

The Campaign will be launched today by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, in Bogotá. Click “Read More” for more details.

The Campaign has five policy goals it will be urging the Colombian government to enact over the next year. These are:



  1. End impunity for violations against human rights defenders



  2. End the misuse of state intelligence



  3. End systematic stigmatization



  4. End unfounded criminal proceedings



  5. Structurally improve the protection programs for people at risk

To read more about the Campaign, it’s declaration and recommendations please go to

http://www.usofficeoncolombia.com/

.

Read More
image-title

General Assembly Council100 Witherspoon St

Louisville KY 40202

Tel 502-569-5315

Fax 502-569-8039

www.pcusa.org

The 218th General Assembly approved Item 11-18:


Report on Human Rights in Colombia

From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program (PPP) recommend that the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do the following:

1. Call on the members and congregations of the PC(USA) to study the situation in Colombia, diligently pray for the work of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, and advocate with senators, representatives, and the president of the United States to lay down the weapons of violence and support the nonviolent struggle of the churches and civil society of Colombia and those in the U.S. who stand beside Colombians to end the violence by:

  • Withdrawing military support to the government of Colombia.

 

  • Reorienting U.S. policies toward Colombia in such a way as to encourage a more equitable distribution of that country’s immense wealth, and to protect the rights of groups threatened by the interests of large corporations, including indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, labor leaders, human rights workers, and many campesinos.

 

  • Ending the aerial fumigation for coca crops and focusing on programs that provide higher levels of  support for farmers to convert to alternative crops and that reduce demand for drugs in the United States.

 

  • Transferring U.S. support to the growing civil society committed to democracy and nonviolence.

 

  •  Providing aid to strengthen health care, education, and nutrition, especially among the displaced.

 

  •  Increasing aid for resettlement of displaced persons in their homelands.

 

  •  Channeling aid through nongovernmental organizations.

 

  • Supporting the commendable work of the United Nations in Colombia, especially the work of the high commissioner of refugees with internal refuges, displaced women, and threatened indigenous communities.

 

  •  Ratifying and urging Colombia to also ratify, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

 

2.  Direct the World Mission’s ministry area, in consultation with the appropriate entities of the General Assembly Council (GAC) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), to continue to monitor the situation in Colombia, and to keep the whole church abreast of these findings; and to offer advice and counsel, as needed, about how this denomination can continue to support the peacekeeping efforts of our partners in Colombia.

3.  Direct the Presbyterian Washington Office (PWO) to continue to educate the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and their representatives in the Congress of the United States of America about the effect of American legislation on the lives of individual Colombian citizens with particular emphasis on Plan Colombia and the Free Trade Agreement.

4.  Direct the Presbyterian United Nations Office (PUNO) to continue to represent the concerns of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to the committees and delegates of the United Nations.

5.  Affirm and further encourage the work of the Accompaniment Program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that watches over and shadows vulnerable and threatened Colombia citizens as they seek justice for their most threatened and needy population.

6. Direct the appropriate entities of the General Assembly Council (GAC), in consultation with the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), to continue to monitor and address human rights violations in the United States, and in other nations brought to their attention by the members of this denomination and/or the partner churches.


7. Direct the Stated Clerk to write to the members of Congress of the United States of America, urging them not to ratify the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, which would have grave consequences for workers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations, and the environment.

Read More