Colombia

Akos Nagy / Shutterstock

Akos Nagy / Shutterstock

AFTER 52 YEARS of war and four years of negotiations, a peace accord was signed in late September between the Colombian government and FARC rebels. Six days later, a national referendum failed to bring the accord into force.

 

Within a few days of the referendum, a massive popular movement took to the streets of Colombia’s major cities to ensure that negotiations continued. Then, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, but not his FARC counterpart, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

These events have been a roller-coaster ride for Colombian churches, which have been working toward this accord for decades. Colombian Christians have played an important, if often behind-the-scenes, role in advancing peace in this country.

The Catholic Church helped facilitate the highly secret early dialogue between government and rebel leaders, paving the way for the current peace process. Mennonites have worked for more than 25 years for the right to conscientious objection in a country with mandatory military service for all males. In a landmark decision, this year the Colombian military officially granted conscientious objector status to a potential recruit, Juan José Marín Gómez.

In 2015, FARC guerrillas called on “civil society and churches” to monitor their unilateral ceasefire. The Interchurch Dialogue for Peace in Colombia (DiPaz), which includes Protestants, Anabaptists, and Catholics, jumped at the opportunity. “We worked with other civil society organizations and contacted networks of churches all over Colombia, seeking information any time there were reports of a possible ceasefire violation,” said Angélica Rincón, who coordinated the monitoring for DiPaz. “In one of our first surveys, we heard back from numerous pastors in conflict areas saying that this was the most peace they had ever experienced.” The ceasefire held, and conflict-related violence dropped to the lowest levels in more than 50 years.

Graffiti in Bogotá, Colombia. via svenwerk / Flickr.com

The “No” vote on a proposed peace deal in Colombia between the government and rebel group FARC has shocked virtually everyone.

People of conscience and faith here in the U.S. should pay close attention to Colombia for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the struggle for peace there presents a mirror to our own fears and dispositions and to the global logics of the war on terror and drugs. One thing that the results of the plebiscite revealed is that it is hard to change public imagination overnight after spending decades of fueling war, demonizing enemies, and seeing issues one-dimensionally.

David Beltrán 09-01-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

On Aug. 29, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced that his department (which includes ICE) would also review the contracts of private companies contracted in its detention facilities. He cited the DOJ’s recent decision as a contributing factor to this investigation. We can only hope that their review will discover the inefficacies of private detention centers and prioritize the treatment of immigrants in their facilities.

Private prisons place profits over people, and I call on the DHS to end this inhumane practice, so that stories like my uncles do not repeat themselves.

Image via RNS/Reuters/John Vizcaino

Pope Francis has welcomed a groundbreaking deal reached between the Colombian government and rebels that promises to end more than 50 years of violent conflict.

According to a statement released Aug. 31 by the secretariat of state, the pope was “pleased to learn that negotiations have been finalized” after intense discussions.

Chris Herlinger 08-24-2015

Image via Chris Herlinger/RNS

Not long ago, the thought of a transgender person speaking openly to a Roman Catholic priest in Colombia would have seemed unthinkable. Now cultural shifts are making way for LGBT acceptance, at least in some urban areas.

“We are liberal,” said Marcela Sánchez, director of Colombia Diversa, the nation’s most prominent LGBT rights organization. “Please don’t say Colombia isn’t liberal!”

Recent polls estimate that two-thirds of Colombians oppose same-sex marriage, but that is less opposition than in many Latin American countries, including neighboring Ecuador. Support for same-sex marriage is highest in Bogotá, the nation’s capital, where, in a 2010 poll conducted by local newspaper El Tiempo, 63 percent of residents endorsed the right of same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies.

Tom Ehrich 07-08-2014

Brazil fans watch World Cup quarterfinal at the São Paulo Fan Fest - Brazil v Colombia on July 4, 2014. ©Ben Tavener via Flickr.

After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.

They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.

This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.

During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.

Marie Dennis 01-03-2014

What does it take to reintegrate combatants into society?

Rose Marie Berger 09-16-2013
Sojourners editors Rose Berger, Elizabeth Palmberg, and photographer Ryan Rodrick Beiler have all covered stories in the Colombian drug wars.
 
We've visited the Christian base communities. We've traveled with Witness for Peace. We stood in the cash-yielding coca fields of subsistence farmers. We've met with the priests and Protestant pastors who spend more time burying their congregants than marrying them. We've prayed with the families.
 
Writing for VICE, Ellie Mae O'Hagan continues the story of dangerous peacemaking and the demand for justice in Colombia:
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country's 'false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
 
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.

Read more.

Elizabeth Palmberg 09-13-2012

"We the Corporations" sign at protest outside the TPP negotiations

When the U.S. is negotiating a mammoth, powerful international trade agreement, what do negotiators do when faced with tradeoffs between commercial interests in the U.S. and other U.S. values—such as human rights, preserving the planet we all have to live on, and helping the poor?

That’s the question I asked Carol Guthrie, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public and Media Affairs, last weekend at the Leesburg, Va., resort where the next big thing in trade negotiations—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), basically NAFTA for the Pacific Rim—was taking shape in its 14th round of negotiations.

Many parts of civil society, from the Sierra Club to the Columban Fathers, argue the TPP would have profound negative effects on the environment, public health, human rights, internet freedom, and the global poor, among other things. A number of civil society groups showed last Sunday in Leesburg, where they could sign up for a chance to speak to negotiators—but not, unlike around 600 mostly-corporate insiders, to see the actual text being negotiated. (Members of Congress reportedly are allowed to see the text—but, unlike the insiders, not to download a copy, take notes, or bring an expert staffer with them).

Jorge Parra 09-08-2012
Jorge Parra in Detroit

Jorge Parra in Detroit

I worked as a welder at a Chevrolet assembly plant near Bogotá, for General Motors’ South American subsidiary Colmotores--until my back began to hurt. I underwent three surgeries and now walk with a cane and have several screws in my spine.

When I could no longer work due to my occupational injuries, GM fired me, paying me no medical benefits or severance.

... I believe God is a God of justice, that the poor will be filled and the rich will be sent away empty.

But our situation was the opposite. The rich sent us away empty.

Elizabeth Palmberg 07-20-2012

More about the efforts of the Nasa people in Cauca, Colombia to free their territory of armed actors:

"Indigenous leaders in Colombia's conflict-scarred southwest say they will put on trial before tribal elders four alleged leftist rebels they accuse of attacks on civilians."

"Nasa Indian leader Marcos Yule tells The Associated Press the four could face such punishment as floggings or exile if convicted in this weekend's trials."

"The 115,000-strong Nasa say they are fed up with being in the crossfire of Colombia's long-running conflict. They have been trying since last week to force government troops and leftist rebels to leave their territory."

The rest of the short news item is here.

Elizabeth Palmberg 07-17-2012
Indigenous Guard member in Cauca (2011 photo).

Indigenous Guard member in Cauca (2011 photo).

In an Indigenous region of Colombia's Cauca province, activists armed with ceremonial wooden staffs, moral authority, and *lot* of moxie are telling both government armed forces and guerrillas to get out of their territory. In the face of an upsurge in guerrilla-vs.-state violence, Colombian President Manuel Santos made a saber-rattling visit to the town of Toribío to hold an emergency cabinet meeting there, but indigenous activists from the Nasa ethnic group--all too aware that government troops' presence in civilian areas can paint a target on them--were not impressed with Santos' offer of more of the same.

“The military can’t protect us and the guerrillas don’t represent us,” [Indigenous Guard leader] Mensa said, as he cradled the tasseled staff that identifies the volunteer guard. “All of them need to leave this area and let us live in peace.”...

"Even before Santos had finished the emergency meeting, the community had decided to take matters into its own hands. One group confronted the FARC at the roadblocks and another walked more than two hours to a barren mountaintop army battalion that overlooks Toribío.

"After a short standoff with troops, about 200 people swarmed the base and began toppling sandbagged bunkers and filling in foxholes."...

"At the FARC roadblocks, villagers shouted the guerrillas back into the jungle and seized five homemade mortars, called tatucos..."

Read more from the Miami Herald

When I visited Colombia last summer, I interviewed two members of the Indigenous Guard for an article for Sojourners magazine, and was deeply inspired by their commitment, strategy, and guts.

Elizabeth Palmberg 02-01-2012

Caught in the crossfire of army, guerrilla, and paramilitary forces, women, farmers, and Indigenous leaders in Colombia fight bravely for the right to live.

Elizabeth Palmberg 01-19-2012
Francia -- Photo curtsey of Elizabeth Palmberg

Francia -- Photo curtsey of Elizabeth Palmberg

Most real-life law students I've met are at way, way less risk of being murdered than their counterparts in a John Grisham novel--except for Francia Marquez. The Afro-Colombian activist and mother of two has received multiple death threats as she advocates to keep her home community from having their ancestral home stolen by a land-grab big mining project.

There's gold in them thar hills in Francia's home, La Toma, in Colombia's Cauca province. Families in her hometown have lived for generations off of small-scale, by-hand gold mining. (Francia herself still puts in some mine time when she visits home, although these days she's spending the most time in her legal studies in Bogota.)

But lots of larger-scale mining concerns want in on the action. Some have sent in bulldozers illegally. Others are joining the land rush of getting mining concessions from the national government--notwithstanding laws on the books that give local communities various rights, including prior consultation on any mining projects.

Elizabeth Palmberg 01-18-2012
Girl Scout cookies. Image via Wylio http://bit.ly/zwXfFU

Girl Scout cookies. Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via Wylio http://bit.ly/zwXfFU

We're once again in that sugary time of year, Girl Scout cookie season — but, as two Girl Scouts from Ann Arbor, Mich., want you to know, there's palm oil in those cookies, as there is in many foods we eat. And palm oil has been linked not only with rainforest destruction in Indonesia, but with plantations in league with paramilitary killers in Colombia. (Kind of gives appalling new meaning to the phrase “cookie monster.”)

Last year I also met with Colombian farmers driven off their land by paramilitaries, as I write about in this month's issue of Sojourners, so I was excited to interview Madison and Rhiannon after their recent trip to Colombia.

Read on to find out about how, trying to live by the Girl Scout Law, these two intrepid 11th-graders have been on a five-year mission to stop cookies — and lots of other things you may be planning to eat — from, well, palming off human rights abuses on U.S. snack-seekers.

Seth Wispelwey 11-11-2011
Campesinos in Monguí, Boyaca, Colombia. Image via Wylio.

Campesinos in Monguí, Boyaca, Colombia. Image via Wylio.

Colombia's campesinos ("people of the land") — peasants, farmers and artisanal miners, the indigenous — are calling out for an end to the exploitation and environmental destruction of their lifelong territories and homes.

They call out for a restoration of their livelihoods. Greed and violence punishing their land is also visited upon the campesinos themselves, leaving them dead, disappeared or disenfranchised as one of the world's largest internally displaced people groups.

The campesinos of Colombia have come together and called out.

Will we listen?

Will we locate our own story in theirs?

Will justice be done? Are we willing to work for it?

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.

Janna Hunter-Bowman 04-01-2010
Colombian paramilitaries target community and church leaders.
Matthew Soerens 03-12-2010

Pastor Walter is experiencing firsthand the effects of a broken immigration system. Walter migrated to the United States from Colombia when he was young, petitioned by his parents, who were Lawful Permanent Residents. Walter's parents wanted for their son to enjoy the opportunities that the United States had to offer.

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