We received the tragic news that a partner of the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia, Albeiro Suárez, was assassinated last week. Albeiro was an ex-combatant of the FARC* and leader of a community in Meta in central Colombia.
Albeiro was a leader of a community of ex-combatants and was deeply committed to the peace process in Colombia, “renouncing war and walking in the way of peace in search of a better world,” said Rev. Luis Sanmiguel of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) when he shared the news with PPF. “Even the president of Colombia had affirmed that in September that Albeiro Suarez was an example, but the balas [bullets] silenced him.”
Albeiro’s community of La Pista (often referred to as La Julia, a nearby town) is connected with an interfaith peacebuilding project, Teusaquillo, in Bogotá that Presbyterian pastor Rev. Luis Sanmiguel is deeply involved in. When a delegation from PPF traveled to Colombia in January 2019, they had the opportunity to attend a panel by Tesaquillo where various faith leaders and ex-combatants were sharing visions and plans for building peace.
PPF continued a connection with this work through Rev. Sanmiguel, and Emily Brewer met with Albeiro during a visit to Colombia in January 2020 to talk about the possibility of accompaniment of the community of La Pista. The conversation about the need for international accompaniment came about because of the increasing numbers of social and political leaders who are being assassinated in Colombia since the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016. Albeiro and the community had received death threats and intimidation from unknown armed actors multiple times and wanted to explore the possibility of having international accompaniers present, in addition to the presence of Colombian accompaniers from Bogotá and other places.
“During that meeting about the possibility of accompaniment, I expressed to Albeiro that part of PPF’s commitment to nonviolent accompaniment, decided in partnership with the IPC over our 15 years of accompanying together, requires that there be no armed guards of the community present when the international accompaniers are present,” said PPF Executive Director Emily Brewer remembering her January 2020 meeting with Albeiro and Rev. Sanmiguel in Bogotá. (It’s not uncommon for communities of ex-combatants to contract with security guards for their protection since so many have been targeted and assassinated in recent years.) “I was surprised when he so quickly responded with, ‘Of course. If there were international accompaniers, I would send away the armed guards. We would be safer with unarmed international accompaniers than we are with armed guards.’”
PPF and the IPC were beginning to take next steps to evaluate whether we could provide the accompaniment La Pista needs when the coronavirus pandemic cut short Rev. Linda Eastwood’s visit there. All in-person accompaniment has been suspended since then. The IPC continues to provide internal accompaniment, and conversations with the community of La Pista continue.
The assassination of Albeiro makes clear, once again, what our partners in the IPC continue to tell us: “peace signed is not peace realized,” and the work of peacebuilding is crucial right now. Accompaniment is a part of that peacebuilding work, as are the protests in Colombia planned for Monday, November 2, a mass mobilization to protest the right-wing Colombian government’s resistance to fully implementing the 2016 peace accords, including their failure to support the communities of ex-combatants or curb the escalating violence against social leaders.
This news also comes after the sadness of learning about the death of Pastor Elkin Pereira, who died of coronavirus earlier this month. The pandemic has been devastating in Colombia, especially in rural communities like those where many accompaniers have been in Urabá. We continue in relationship and prayer with our partners in Colombia during these hard times and assess the possibility and need for in-person accompaniment when it is safe again to do so.
*Formerly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, now a political party still known as FARC that stands for the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force in English, or Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común