News

Announcing a Speaking & Concert Tour with Conscientious Objector Mario Cardozo

FOR Peace Presence is excited to announce a Fall U.S. Speaking and Concert Tour in collaboration with Mario Cardozo, conscientious objector and winner of the 2014 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award! Mario will accept the award in Louisville, Kentucky, on August 28th, and go on to travel to Chicago, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington D.C. from there.

After declaring himself a Conscientious Objector at 18 years old, Mario began working with Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Consciencia (ACOOC – the Collective Action for Conscientious Objectors), to develop strategies in support of conscientious objection, anti-militarization, and active nonviolence in Colombia. Together, they have created and shared these ideas through theater and music presentations. The Colombian Supreme Court recently named Mario Colombia’s very first Conscientious Objector for non-religious reasons, a huge accomplishment. Mario is hoping to speak to, network and exchange ideas with public audiences, organizations and departments at universities involved with or interested in anti-militarization, music for social change, and youth movements.

You can download the Concert/Speaking Tour flyer below, and contact us at info@peacepresence.org to arrange a concert or speaking event near you!

Download (PDF, 390KB)

 

Sumapaz River – A River in Crisis

Haz click aquí para ver el artículo en español

The Naranjala Creek, which feeds the Sumapaz River – in June 2014 and August 2014 (left to right)

On September 2nd, 2014, FOR Peace Presence visited the community of Naranjala and Yucala, Nilo, Cundinamarca, only a few kilometers away from the tourist destination Melgar.

Around 1920, the first families of this community arrived in the settlements of Yucala, Naranjala, and Mesa Baja, all part of the municipality of Nilo, Cundinamarca. Since then, they have tried to make a living raising domestic animals and engaging in agricultural farming and fishing in the nearby Sumapaz River and the creeks which feed it. In 1954, the state converted the community’s land into state property and constructed the military training base of Tolemaida, one of the biggest bases in Colombia today.

In attempts to displace this farming community from what is now claimed as state property, the military has consistently violated the community’s rights in numerous ways. The community of the Yucala, Naranjala and Mesa Baja has been given protections by two sentences from the Colombian state; nevertheless, violations continue. A common grievance is that the community’s attempts to farm and cultivate their crops have been sabotaged by the military – soldiers up-root planted trees and obstruct the entrance of farming or construction materials. Given the expansion of the military base, the community has been forcibly displaced further toward the Sumapaz riverside. It is then no surprise that this river has been and is becoming a crucial element of the community’s identity.

On this recent accompaniment, we headed down to Sumapaz River. Only two months ago, the company “Arenas y Gravas de Sumapaz” (“Sands and Gravel from Sumapaz”) began extracting stones and sands from the riverbeds and banks – and eventually from two islands named after the creeks of Naranjala and Yucala. These islands had been naturally formed at the junction between the creeks and the Sumapaz River. Non-violent interventions by community members have protected the island of Yucala, however there is hardly anything left of the island of Naranjala. The destruction of the island in addition to the dredging up and removal of sands and stones means that the Sumapaz River now runs low — trucks and excavators turn what remains inside out, fish have disappeared as their breeding grounds and the river’s flora and fauna have been destroyed, and the river must consistently find a new through-path, not allowing for recuperation.

We hear from community members about five licenses for extracting more material from the river that have been approved.

How much can Sumapaz River and the community bear?

To see more Before and After shots, see the FOR Peace Presence facebook album 

El Río Sumapaz – Un Río en Crisis

Click here to read the article in english

La Quebrada Naranjala en Junio 2014 y Agosto 2014 (izquierda a derecha)

El 2 de septiembre de 2014, FOR Presente por la Paz visitó la comunidad de Naranjala y Yucala, en Nilo, Cundinamarca, a pocos kilómetros del destino turístico de Melgar. 

Alrededor de 1920, las primeras familias de esta comunidad llegaron a los asentamientos de Yucala, Naranjala y Mesa Baja que hacen parte del municipio de Nilo, Cundinamarca. Desde entonces, han tratado de ganarse la vida mediante la cría de animales, la agricultura y la pesca en el cercano río Sumapaz y los arroyos que lo alimentan. En 1954, el Estado convirtió las tierras de la comunidad en propiedad del Estado y construyó el centro de entrenamiento militar de Tolemaida, el cual es hoy en día una de las mayores bases en Colombia. 

En intentos de desplazar a esta comunidad agrícola de lo que ahora aparece como propiedad del Estado, los militares han violado sistemáticamente los derechos de la comunidad de muchas maneras. El Consejo de Estado ha proferido dos Sentencias a favor de las comunidades de la Yucala, Naranjala y Mesa Baja; sin embargo, las violaciones continúan. Así los militares han saboteado intentos de la comunidad por cultivar sus cosechas; arrancaron árboles y obstruyeron el ingreso de materiales de construcción y materiales necesarios para la agricultura

Teniendo en cuenta el desplazamiento forzado de la comunidad -por la expansión de la base – hacía la orilla del río Sumapaz, no sorprende que este río ha sido y se está convirtiendo en un elemento fundamental de la identidad de la comunidad. 

En este acompañamiento reciente, nos dirigimos al río Sumapaz. Hace sólo dos meses, la empresa “Arenas y Gravas de Sumapaz” empezó con la extracción de piedras y arenas del cauce y de las islas. Antes del inicio de la extracción, dos islas nombradas por los arroyos de Naranjala y Yucala, se habían formado naturalmente por la confluencia de estos arroyos con el río Sumapaz. Las intervenciones no violentas de miembros de la comunidad han protegido a la isla de Yucala, sin embargo casi ya no queda nada de la isla de Naranjala. La destrucción de la isla, además el dragado y la extracción de arenas y piedras ha ocasionado un menor nivel del río Sumapaz, mientras camiones y excavadoras revuelven toda la materia, los peces han desaparecido así como sus lugares de cría, además la flora y fauna del río han sido destruidos, y el río tiene que buscar constantemente un nuevo cauce, que no le permite su recuperación. 

Igualmente, personas de la Comunidad nos informaron sobre cinco licencias que han sido aprobadas para explotación de materia de arrastre en la misma región.

¿Cuánto más pueden aguantar el Río Sumapaz y la comunidad?

Vease nuestro album en el Facebook del FOR Presente por la Paz

Hope in the Midst of a Violent Crisis: Life in Buenaventura´s Urban Humanitarian Space

By Nikki Drake, accompanier at FOR Peace Presence
Article originally published on Upside Down World

IMG_0927An alarm of lively music starts each day around 6am, and the street slowly comes to life. Sweetened coffee percolates in houses, fishermen head out in their small wooden boats, and kids get shuffled off to school. Over the ocean, the houses on stilts become busy, and playing children fill the rocky dirt road and elevated walkways of wooden planks. As day turns to night, the doors and windows remain opened until late, the smell of food and sound of voices and music fill the air, and the news of the day is shared between small groups of neighbors and families gathered outside of their houses. It is a daily scene far removed from what it was just four months ago. Welcome to Puente Nayero, the first urban Humanitarian Space in Colombia.

The petition to create the Humanitarian Space came from one of the community leaders of La Playita. After exploratory visits and exchanges with rural humanitarian zones in other regions of the country, he proposed the creation of an urban space free from the presence of all illegal armed actors. He made an official petition to the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (Inter-Ecclesiastic Commission of Justice and Peace), a Colombian human rights NGO, to help facilitate the establishment and accompaniment of the Space. The Commission accepted the petition, and in turn requested the presence of international accompaniers to help provide additional security and spread international visibility for the community.

IMG_0937Prior to the creation of the Humanitarian Space on April 13th of this year, this road in La Playita was empty by 6pm every evening. One of Buenaventura’s most dangerous neighborhoods, residents were prisoners in their homes, afraid to be out in the street after dark. At the end of the road was a ‘chop house,’ where local paramilitary groups tortured and dismembered people, tossing their remains into the ocean. As a bold move toward empowerment, during the opening week of the Humanitarian Space the community made the decision to burn down the house.

It is not a new violence in Buenaventura, but one that continues to be complicated by the presence and involvement of the region’s powerful actors: Colombian public forces, illegal paramilitary groups and drug-traffickers, multi-national corporations, and touristic mega-projects. Buenaventura contains Colombia’s largest port, and has been the country’s drug-trafficking hub for decades under the control of surrounding illegal armed groups.For as long, the city has also been a destination for families and communities forcibly displaced from throughout the Department of Valle de Cauca by these same powerful groups. As people fled to the city for safety, lack of space soon became an issue. In order to create more habitable space, communities constructed roads out of garbage, dirt, and rocks, allowing for new neighborhoods to reach out over the ocean waters like outstretched fingers.

Now these same neighborhoods have become the new urban targets of 21st Century Colombia. Their coastal location has been identified as prime real estate for tourist development and mega-projects, such as hotels and boardwalks. Great efforts have been made to free up the valuable property, including threats and violence toward residents by paramilitary and criminal groups. Since the 2005 “demobilization” of Colombia´s paramilitary groups – considered largely unsuccessful by many national and international entities – smaller, but powerful factions have continuing operating throughout the department. Officially referred to as criminal or delinquent gangs by the State, said groups have had a heavy presence throughout Buenaventura’s urban neighborhoods and rural surroundings, using extortion, threats, violence, and murder as a means to control and displace the civilian population anew.

Local officials have tried other large-scale tactics, such as the campaign they launched in February for tsunami emergency evacuations drills. Poor neighborhoods along the coastline were urged to permanently evacuate and relocate due to the high probability for tsunamis. Coincidentally, these are the same locations that have been earmarked for new hotels and a long, extensive boardwalk. As another way to relocate residents from neighborhoods on desired land, authorities have used the promise of an opportunity for better living conditions in newly constructed housing further inland called San Antonio. According to the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz and residents, those who accept the offer find themselves in a completely isolated area without potable water, a health center, a school, or access to transportation. It isn´t until they attempt to return to their previous house that they realize they unknowingly signed it over to the state.

With the port expansion, entry of more multinational corporations, and increase in large-scale tourist projects, violence and displacement in Buenaventura have continued at an alarming rate. Local and regional authorities, plagued by years of corruption, have yet to develop an effective or comprehensive strategy to address the urgent situation. As part of his bid for reelection, President Santos demonstrated his dedication to curbing the extreme violence in Buenaventura by calling for additional militarization of the city during the months leading up to the May elections. Despite the massive joint effort between the marines, coast guard, and national police, neighborhoods continue to be controlled and terrorized by violent groups who identify themselves as paramilitary factions, but whose existence the State refuses to acknowledge. These groups regularly announce their connections to and support by the local authorities, an accusation residents have been making for years. Local residents have reported that not only do the marines and national police ignore the movements of paramilitary and faction groups, but often clear out of areas just before violent acts are perpetrated against civilians.

Labeled a humanitarian crisis by Human Rights Watch and featured in a report by Amnesty International earlier this year, Buenaventura and Puente Nayero have been gaining international attention. Even so, since the Humanitarian Space was established, more than fifty threats have been made toward community leaders and members, as well as toward the national and international accompaniers. It has remained a challenge to prevent illegal armed groups from moving through the Space, which can be easily accessed by water and neighboring streets. The community is also still waiting for a response from the State to its official request for the provision of additional security measures, including a request for protective measures made to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Despite all the obstacles they face, the members of Puente Nayero are continuing to organize and unite one another in their mission to maintain a space free of violence, and hope to serve as an example and inspiration for surrounding neighborhoods of the power of a non-violent social movement. To date, there have been no murders in the Humanitarian Space.

At the end of Puente Nayero, the dirt road meets the ocean and a welcome breeze cools the hot air. Between two houses there stands an empty space where just four months ago the ‘chop house’ used to be. In the time since, the community has converted their grief into a space to commemorate and celebrate life. Life. Welcome to the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero.

FOR Peace Presence Monthly Update

Greetings!

This week we are excited to send our first email update as FOR Peace Presence to our grassroots community. We are eager to share with you the evolution of our ongoing work in Colombia as we continue with our transition from a project of Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (FOR USA) to our own independent organization that is part of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) family. Here’s what we have been up to in the past few months:

  • In March we organized and facilitated two successful delegations in Colombia. The first was a collaborative effort with the IFOR, specifically IFOR Austria, Service Peace and Justice (Servicio Paz y Jusitica – SERPAJ) in Colombia, and IFOR Sweden (SweFOR). We also hosted a delegation of the Pacific School of Religion Changemaker Fellows, an incredible group of US-based activists and artists. We are organizing another delegation from February 21-March 6, 2015 that will include time in the Caribbean Coast mining regions, in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, and with the Collective of Conscientious Objectors in Bogota. Please check out our website for more details on this upcoming delegation!
  • In May, we facilitated a training of new volunteers at the FORUSA headquarters in Nyack, New York. It was amazing to engage with young activists committed to nonviolence in the collective quest for peace and social justice.We welcomed Nikki, our first new team member from the training, in July and we look forward to sharing with you as the others join our team throughout the upcoming year. Meet our current team of accompaniers here.
  • In June, FOR Peace Presence program coordinator Michaela Soellinger and I traveled to Europe to launch our joint campaign with IFOR Austria with LUSH Cosmetics, Austria. LUSH uses the organic, fair-trade cocoa from the Peace Community in their products. We also had the opportunity to attend and participate in the peace event in Sarajevo that marked the 100-year anniversary of the start of the First World War. To reflect on this time in history, activists from around the world came together in roundtables, lectures, and workshops to deliberate and share methods of nonviolent activism. FOR Peace Presence facilitated a workshop on our protective and political accompaniment work in Colombia and took part in a panel presentation, featuring our accompaniment work as one approach to nonviolent intervention in armed conflict.
  • Our ongoing presence in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó, a community emblematic of the struggle for peace in Colombia, continues. Our team in the field – Gale Isabel, and Nikki– live there full-time, sharing daily joys, sorrows, and ongoing struggles with the community and helping ensure that they may continue their brave stand for nonviolence. Gale recently wrote a piece about the military illegally entering the Peace Community hamlet of La Union, and we remain very concerned about increased militarization in the area. Things have heated up in the region after a firefight took place there one week ago.
  • Working with the Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors (ACOOC), we recently accompanied a visit to Arauca in an effort to support and seek the release of the young conscientious objector being held by the military, despite his commitment to nonviolence and continuous refusal to participate in Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict. Check out the article that Nikki wrote for NACLA following this visit to the military base.
  • Our relationship with the lawyers collective Tierra Digna continues to deepen. Excited to be a part of the global movement to demand accountability and challenge corporate practices which devastate communities and the environment, we accompany them in their work with communities threatened by mining, industrial agriculture, and large development projects. Kaya from our Bogotá-based team just returned from our monthly accompaniment of Tierra Digna on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, an area that has been and continues to be heavily controlled by paramilitaries. Additionally, we are organizing a U.S. speaking tourwith Tierra Digna this Fall -we will send out more information in the near future.

In recent months, we’ve been saddened and concerned as other international accompaniment and solidarity organizations face difficulty funding and maintaining their teams on the ground. We are doing our best to respond to an increased demand for accompaniment here in Colombia and to be here for the long haul. In response to this increased demand, we’ve started traveling to the Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura to accompany the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission and their work with the incredibly courageous people of the Puente Nyero Humanitarian Space.

Additionally, two members of our team just returned from the northern Guajira Department where they observed a People’s Consultation, a community-led endeavor to publicly examine the impacts of mining on territories and communities in La Guajira. This region is undergoing a major drought and environmental and social ills directly associated with the Cerrejón mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in Colombia, and we urge you to sign this petition in solidarity with the affected communities.

We regularly update our website (www.peacepresence.org), our Twitter (https://twitter.com/Peace_Presence), and our Facebook (www.facebook.com/PeacePresence) with the latest happenings on our team and with our partners.

Our work is still needed at this critical moment, and with your support, we continue to stand with Colombian communities and organizations engaged in active nonviolence to defend life, land, and dignity.

Please stay in touch, and thank you for joining us as we carry out this important work in Colombia and explore new paths forward! Together we are building a real and lasting peace.

In solidarity,

Candice Camargo
CandiceElectronicSignature

 

 

Executive Director
FOR Peace Presence