Update on Colombia Accompaniment: Tension and Threats

The situation in Colombia is very tense right now. The now long-running Havana-based peace-talks between government and FARC had made significant progress, including the establishment of a truth commission, but the talks are in a very fragile state after cease-fires broke down. There are new signs of de-escalation of violence; our prayers for peace are more than welcome. However, with right-wing (including paramilitary) groups feeling particularly threatened by the progress of these peace-talks, violence against human-rights and land-rights defenders has been increasing, and vigilance is required. With elections coming up in October, everything is politicized.

Back in January, just as we were going through a ten-year-anniversary evaluation of the Colombia Accompaniment Program, and thinking that it was perhaps time to retire the program, church-leaders and community partners (including a number with whom we’ve worked directly) received death-threats from the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) paramilitary group. We reported on death-threats against human-rights workers – including some of our IPC partners - when we returned from our January program-evaluation in Colombia. For those who read Spanish, here is a much more in-depth update from Jerry Garavito, a human-rights lawyer who has collaborated closely with the IPC. At the request of our partners in the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (IPC), we asked for experienced accompaniers willing to serve alongside them, and some have done so, spending time in La Alemania and El Tamarindo where community leaders have been threatened, as well as with the churches in Barranquilla and Urabá. We continue to request experienced and trained accompaniers for this service. A letter directly to experienced and trained accompaniers will be going out in the next few days. If you don’t receive it in July 2015, please let MaryAnn Harwell know, at maryann@presbypeacefellowship.org, because it will mean that our database needs updating.

Thankfully, the threats issued against our Presbyterian colleagues in January have not been acted upon, but negative impacts of the US-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) are all too obvious. They’ve played out very strongly with the community in El Tamarindo, on the outskirts of Barranquilla. This community of people displaced from various parts of Colombia continues to seek to be relocated to adequate land (as the law requires) after the land which they had settled and legally claimed was rezoned as tariff-free under the FTA, and became very valuable building land for new warehouses. The main response to the community’s request for relocation has been threat and violence. Guided by the IPC, we continue to advocate on their behalf.

Meanwhile, the IPC is looking forward to the time of “post-accords” when peace-building and reconciliation at the local community level may be one of the most urgent needs. Their emphases remain:

  • Care of life – for victims of violence, in partnership with other churches and civil organization.
  • Reconciliation – for churches to be ready for “post-conflict” to work with those – both victims and victimizers – damaged by the country’s violence.
  • Faith that acts – to improve the quality of life for all the communities in which the church is present – in partnership with both the State and with civil organizations.

In this difficult time, the IPC continues to ask for both our advocacy and our accompanying presence in support of the displaced communities with whom they work. Shannan Vance-Ocampo continues to lead our advocacy work, and Linda Eastwood is slowly building up a volunteer team to co-ordinate our accompaniment work.

What can I do to help?

  • You can help us recruit (especially Spanish-speakers) for our next Colombia Accompaniment training / discernment session March 10-14, 2016. Please refer people to our webpage at http://www.presbypeacefellowship.org/colombia/accompaniment
  • You can look out for advocacy alerts (although at the moment much of what is being requested is letters and contacts at organizational rather than individual level.)
  • You can keep informed at our Colombia Accompaniment Program Facebook page.
  • You can give to PPF in support of our work.
  • And you can hold our Colombia partners, and the peace process, in prayer.

Our solidarity with our Colombia partners continues. The work of peace has a long way to go.