Being There: Why I Want to go to Colombia

By Elizabeth Palmberg 07-08-2011

Don't get me wrong -- I love sitting behind my computer here at Sojourners, or proofreading a stack of magazine-pages-to-be, fresh from Art Director Ed Spivey's printer. But sometimes there's no substitute for being on the scene, live and in person.

For years, I've been reading, editing, and sometimes writing about Colombia, the U.S. ally which competes with Sudan for the title of most "internally displaced persons" of any country on the planet -- i.e., the most human beings driven away from their homes, land, and often livelihood. Sudan does it with government-incited ethnically targeted militias (and is doing more of the same to try to undermine South Sudan, which becomes an independent nation tomorrow). In Colombia, right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing guerillas, depending on where you live, drive out poor folk who stand in the way of the men with guns' narcotrafficking, plain old territorial control, or large-scale plantations that grow things like oil palm for the international market. For some Colombian agro-industrialists with a possession-is-nine-tenths-of-the-law approach to land ownership, hiring a paramilitary group to carry out death threats and assassinations against small farmers is apparently a normal business expense. Race isn't absent from the equation: Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities are especially hard hit.

I've never bought any of the narcotics, but I've probably eaten the palm oil in some supermarket brownie-and I've read one of the paramilitary death threats sent to a Colombian pastor. It's time to pay my respects, in person.

That's why I'm hoping to go to Colombia for ten days next month with Witness for Peace, a group which for decades has been working with grassroots Latin American groups seeking justice. (Full disclosure: One reason I'm blogging on this now is that they still need a few more folks to sign up in order for the delegation to happen). They'll introduce folks to local human rights advocates and people from displaced communities.

Live -- and in person.

portrait-elizabeth-palmbergElizabeth Palmberg is an associate editor at Sojourners.

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