This month we worked as a team of three in Bogotá with Gale, Michaela, and Kaya, while Isabel and Nikki continue FOR Peace Presence’s permanent accompaniment, living in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.
In September, the Bogotá team physically accompanied for 17 days in Cundinamarca, Atlántico, Cesar, Santa Marta, and Valle de Cauca, La Guajira and Sucre – a new record! Additionally, we organized 4 joint meetings with Embassies and our accompanied partners and a meeting with the Human Rights Unit of the Colombian Ministry of Defense. We released 5 written pieces on our Peace Presence webpage – check out our News section of our website to stay up-to-date.
As military presence surrounding the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was a constant in September, our team has not only been present in the hamlet of La Unión, but also responded to the community’s movements. Nikki and Isa made the long, 5-hour, muddy trek to accompany a community leader to and in the Peace Community hamlet of Mulatos, where the 2005 massacre took place.
At the beginning of September we responded to the petition of communities in Nilo, Cundinamarca to stand witness to the continued destruction of their habitat, now on behalf of extractive activities, as dredgers from a sand extraction company devastate the local Sumapaz River. Communities first settled in this area around 1920 and in 1954 the military training base of Tolemaida was installed in close proximity and all land was given to the military. Today Tolemaida is one of the biggest military training bases in Colombia and attempts to displace these communities despite several state protections in favor of the communities. Check out our facebook photo album to learn in detail about the different threats the community of Nilo faces.
With our partner Tierra Digna, a Colombian collective of laywers, we accompanied the event “For life, dignity and integrity: Guarantees for communities in mining zones” in the department of Cesar, one of the most active open pit coal mining areas in Colombia. Communities and environmental and human rights defenders came together to exchange experiences and learn about new strategies to confront extractive industries’ affects on more communities throughout Colombia. If you want to learn more about the work of Tierra Digna and this struggle, and you happen to live in the US, we will hopefully see you during the upcoming FOR Peace Presence Tour with Tierra Digna! (see below).
While accompanying in the Humanitarian Space of Buenaventura, news from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arrived and brought hope. Protective Measures, called “preventive measures” or ‘medidas cuatelares’ have at long last been approved – these measures will cover more than 1000 people, who stand for an alternative to violence in the midst of one of the most violent cities in all of Colombia. Now concrete protections, such as a school bus for the children and an armored car for the leaders of the space, have to be implemented by the Colombian state. We hope to contribute to a fast implementation by insistently reminding out different national and international agencies of their obligations.
On Colombia’s Human Rights Day, we accompanied a Human Chain protest, formed by 1200 farmers who are victims of the armed conflict in the area of Montes de Maria in the department of Sucre and Bolivar. These farmers not only demand the liberation of their imprisoned leader Jorge Montes, but also demand that the government fulfill agreements reached after a Peace March in April of 2013. In March 2014, FOR Peace Presence had visited the zone of Montes de Maria with our 2014 FOR International Delegation.
Speaking of delegations – In September we announced our upcoming 2015 FOR Peace Presence Delegation to Colombia. The program will focus on our core partners and the struggle over land throughout Colombia. If you’d like to take part in this on-the-ground educational experience in Colombia, join us: What’s Land Got To Do With It? Prospects and Challenges to Lasting Peace in Colombia.
We are very excited to share with you that after some busy weeks of preparation, one of the two joint-FOR Peace Presence Speaking Tours began in September. Mario Cardozo received the Mohammad Ali Humanitarian Award in Louisville, Kentucky and is now on the East Coast, where he will be until the end of October. Mario was declared Colombia’s first conscientious objector for non-religious reasons, and he is there sharing his music and experience.
And as for our second speaking tour – we had some very exciting moments in the month of September. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights confirmed a hearing on forced displacement due to mega-projects in Colombia with Johana Rocha of Tierra Digna, and 8 other Colombian organizations. FOR Peace Presence accompanier Kaya and human rights defender Johana Rocha of our partner organization Tierra Digna will be on a US speaking tour from October 24 – November 16. They will be traveling through Washington DC, New York, and the Bay Area, California, sharing with audiences the links between multinational extractivism and human rights abuses in Colombia, and how communities have sculpted alternatives in the face of displacement by large-scale development projects. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to hear Johana speak in your city!
We cannot do this work alone – it requires various forms of support. Sometimes we put up calls to action on our Facebook or website, and sometimes we ask you to write to your local members of congress. If you can take a moment today to donate to FOR Peace Presence, it will help ensure that we can continue our physical, protective accompaniment along-side partners in the field, as well as our political advocacy and movement building work. Your help remains invaluable to this cause.
FOR Peace Presence Team
Candice, Michaela, Kaya, Gale, Isabel, and Nikki
August was a month full of movements. In the midst of a move into a lovely new apartment in Bogotá, team member Gale transitioned from our team in the Peace Community to our team in Bogotá. There she will work with Michaela and Kaya, while Isabel and Nikki continue FOR Peace Presence’s permanent accompaniment, living in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó.
As of late there has been an increase in militarization of the area surrounding the Peace Community. Most notably there have been numerous firefights between the mobile 24th military brigade that commonly operates in the Urabá region, and the FARC guerrilla group. This has put the civil population in heightened danger, including members and leaders of the Peace Community, where FOR accompaniers also live and work. See the Peace Community’s latest communiqués for further updates. Our team has been present to respond to the community’s movements and stand in solidarity with their political work.
Supporting our team in the field is an important element of the work we do in Bogotá. This has meant telephone and written communication with commanders of varying military brigades, an emergency response intervention, and follow up with national and diplomatic authorities. In these communications, we have shared our concerns about the situation in San José de Apartadó and surrounding areas, and of course that we are in constant communication with our accompaniers in the Peace Community.
In August, the Bogotá team physically accompanied for 5 days in Cundinamarca, Bogotá, standing in solidarity with former GM workers organization ASOTRECOL in their ongoing protest at the US Embassy. We also accompanied in other regions of Colombia for a total of 13 days, including accompaniment of a human rights defender from Tierra Digna in Magdalena and Cesar, ASOTRACAMPO in Tamarindo, Atlántico, the Inter church Justice and Peace Commission and Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero in Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca, and the “People’s Consultation – Yes to Life, No to Mines” event in La Guajira.
Political work has included a joint meeting with the European Delegation and our accompanied partner ACOOC (Collective Action for Conscientious Objectors) regarding the irregularities in Colombia’s army recruitment and illegal roundups of young men, a meeting with the Human Rights Unit of the Colombian Ministry of Defense about the right to conscientious objection and recent escalation of military presence in the Peace Community, and three informative letters sent to national and diplomatic authorities.
We released four written works on our Peace Presence webpage, one of which focuses on the newly formed Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Buenaventura and is published on Upside Down World. It can be viewed here. You can always see what we’ve been writing about in the News section of our website.
Last but not least, we are very excited to announce that we’ve been busy preparing for two quickly upcoming FOR Peace Presence US Speaking Tours!
We are eager to continue beside our partners in their courageous struggle for land, life, and dignity. Your help is invaluable to this cause. If you would like to make a one-time or ongoing donation to FOR Peace Presence and our work in Colombia, please click here.
FOR Peace Presence Team
Candice, Liza, Gale, Isa, Kaya, Michaela, Nikki
By Nikki Drake, accompanier at FOR Peace Presence
Article originally published on Upside Down World
An 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.
Prior 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.
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 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.
FOR Peace Presence
In the first 90 days following the creation of the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Buenaventura, no one within the space has been killed and people are beginning to go outside again (more information on the crisis in Buenaventura). About 1000 adults, adolescents and children have recently ratified their commitment to nonviolence and to promoting the Humanitarian Space. Nevertheless, threats in the area persist. Last Friday, five people were threatened, including two young Humanitarian Space leaders under the age of 18. Our team recently accompanied the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission in the Humanitarian Space in Buenaventura. Read the English version of the communique released by the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission about these recent threats:
Friday, July 25, 2014, by Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission
Today at 2:40pm, Diana Susana Angulo, a 16 year-old leader, was approached by paramilitaries called Chinga and Oscar with a death threat written on a paper containing the AUC* of Piedra Cantan sign.
“For all toads, this is not a game, get out of here Jacob, Susana, Jampier, Jazmani, Chavita, Orlando, you’re all going to die. You do not have a lot of time left to live, you can ask Susana, we almost got her on Sunday, but she was with the bitch Commission. This is not a game, the Commission is deceiving you, they are using you. The police is our ally. I am one of those who want to hurt Susana, but first I want to rape her and then I’ll cut up Jacob, that damn dog, with fervor. Be careful or get out of here, we are giving you time, this is serious, it’s not a game. We don’t want you in the wrong place at the wrong time or late a night a guy is dead.
Bogotá, D.C. July 25, 2014 Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission
*Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia)