¡Adelante! Peace with Justice for all Colombians

March 12, 2014

worshippacket-img“I only ask God that he keep bitterness and revenge far from my heart and that he fill me with the wisdom to confront and endure this nameless torture. God will help me forgive those who have made me suffer… Only he who is strong enough to forgive an offense knows how to love.”

These are powerful words from Colombian community leader Jorge Montes who writes from his maximum security prison where he is being held due to false accusations of guerilla connections. He is one of many who have shared prayers, reflections, and hopes for Colombia in the worship packet for Days of Prayer and Action (DOPA) 2014.

These worship materials invite us to learn about the experiences of Colombians and MCC workers there, to hear their prayers, and to pray with them on April 6th.

The included prayer of confession expresses our complicity in the conflict in Colombia and our responsibility to act saying, “we confess that for too long we in North America have stood complacently by, unaware of the situation, and in our silence, giving implicit support to government policies that have prolonged the war.”

This year’s theme is “¡Adelante! Peace with Justice for ALL Colombians”. It reflects the need to call for peace with justice for ALL Colombians in the peace talks, not just the government and the guerillas.

¡Adelante! is a Spanish word that means “forward”. It was chosen because it symbolizes the imperative need to keep the peace talks moving forward towards peace and justice.

Jhon Henry Camargo Varela, a Colombian Christian Peacemaker Team staff, reflects saying, “I invite all of you to sing, to pray, to preach and to act in a way that protects the community processes in our country. I invite you to recognize the struggles taking place in our territory and to hold our hope in your minds. Peace is not something that falls from heaven, but something that we all construct together.”

We too invite your church to join with our sisters and brothers in Colombia in an event that dedicates your prayers, thoughts, and actions to this situation, so that soon, all Colombians may experience God’s shalom.

To access the new worship packet and register your church, visit http://washington.mcc.org/days.


Colombia – Release of Newest Prophetic Call Report

March 4, 2014

The Research and Advocacy program of JUSTAPAImageZ [the Christian Center for Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action] and CEDECOL [the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia] have just released the eighth edition of A Prophetic Call, an annual report that documents human rights violations against Protestant and evangelical church members, leaders and pastors in Colombia. This report brings to life and provides a record and analysis of the abuses that Colombians within the church face due to the ongoing armed conflict in the country.

This year’s report summarizing violations for 2012 includes 42 cases mostly involving displacements and threats, being conducted by neo-paramilitary and by FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] the largest guerrilla group in the country. These stories are collected by trained regional teams, and then categorized and entered into a central database, where they can be subjected to statistical analysis. The research and advocacy program that documents these stories also runs peacebuilding training for churches, spiritual accompaniment for victims, legal aid, and political advocacy.

A Prophetic Call provides a national contextual analysis of Colombia, the cases documented, as well as a quantitative analysis of the demographics of victims, their locations, the identity of the perpetrators, and the most frequent types of violations. The report shares formal statements, experiences, and peacebuilding proposals from Protestant and evangelical churches.

Finally, the report recommends a number of action points. This year’s recommendations include:

  • That the Colombian government give priority to social programs and reduce military spending
  • That the United States government continue to redirect military aid towards socio-economic aid and peace initiatives
  • That new anti-narcotics policies be adopted that reduce coercive strategies in favor of a renewed focus on addiction, demand for drugs, and arms trafficking
  • That new methods be developed for comprehensive protection that include nonviolent strategies

It is important to share these stories that are being recorded and shed light on our brothers and sisters sufferings. As the report explains, “Historical memory has been a key element in helping Christians to better understand their faith and social responsibilities as bearers of hope.”

Read the Full Report Here.

Take action for peace in Colombia and participate in the Days of Prayer and Action.


Human Rights Commission Hearing on Colombia

October 25, 2013

On October 24th, 2013, Representatives James McGovern and Frank Wolf co-chaired a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Colombia. The hearing focused on several topics, including the issues of labor rights and victims’ rights in the context of the on-going peace process happening in Colombia. Several expert panelists spoke on these topics and discussed both the successes and the work that needs to be done when it comes to addressing human rights violations in Colombia.

Tom Lantos Human Rights CommissionThe evidence and research presented by these panelists is very clear on the point that human rights violations are being committed against Colombians, who often have little support in receiving the justice they deserve.  For instance, despite the Colombian government creating the “Law on Victims’ Rights and Land Restitution”, only 1% of the 5.8 million Colombians registered under the law have had their cases reviewed an been able to return to their homes. The “Labor Action Plan“, an agreement between the United States and Colombia that protects workers’ rights, has been largely ineffective due to lack of enforcement and workers continue to be deprived of their rights and have their leaders threatened. There is hope, however, that the peace process will help bring justice to these victims.

Many panelists called for the United States to support the peace process, and emphasized that the United States was in a position to help the process by making their support clear to the Colombian military. By transitioning the majority of its aid money from military aid to social and development aid, the United States would send a clear statement that the U.S. is willing to support Colombia as they transition from war to peace.

Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Washington Office on Latin America identified two additional areas in which a change in U.S. policy would help show support for the peace process in Colombia.

  1. The U.S. should speak more frequently and publicly about its support of the peace process.
  2. The U.S. needs to be willing to change its drug policy, as Colombia’s drug policies could change as a result of the peace process.

These recommendations call for a major shift in mentality on the part of the United States government, but that shift is necessary if the U.S. wants to play a positive role in Colombia as that country transitions from civil war to peace. Following the hearing, on Tuesday, October 29th, Representative James McGovern and Representative George Miller published a report about the failures of the Labor Action Plan in Colombia, recommending changes to the LAP’s implementation that will hopefully make it more effective and provide real security to Colombian workers. It is these kinds of changes that will need to be made on the part of the United States if they  want to help make all the difference to the peace process.

Read more information about the hearing here.


Take Action to Protect Ricardo Esquivia and other Community Leaders

September 23, 2013

Send a message to Congress and the U.S. embassy in Colombia. Urge them to speak out against the persecution of Ricardo and other Colombian community leaders.

Ricardo Esquivia is a Mennonite peace leader and a close partner to Mennonite Central in Colombia. He is the director of Sembrandopaz (Associate for the Sowing of Seeds of Peace), which helps to build community processes of justice and peacebuilding in the Montest de María and Caribbean region of Colombia.

On September 13th, community leaders, including Ricardo, were falsely accused of being members of the FARC guerrillas by paramilitaries. One community leader, Jorge Luis Montes Hernández, has already been arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy, homicide, forced displacement, extortion, and other charges. It is suspected that Ricardo will be the next leader arrested on false charges.

Last week, MCC U.S. and 21 other organizations published a letter to the State Department urging Congress and the U.S. embassy in Colombia to take action.

Take action now to help protect Ricardo and other community leaders in Colombia from threats and intimidation. Click here to contact Congress and the U.S. embassy in Colombia.


A New Opportunity to Support Peace in Colombia

June 5, 2013

Rebekah Sears writes about aid to Colombia in Third Way Cafe.

The U.S. has been connected to Colombia through aid, trade and politics for many years. Plan Colombia, a 10 year aid program run throughout the 2000s, brought in over 7 billion dollars, 75 percent dedicated to military and police operations. It focused on eradication of illicit crops and other state efforts in the ongoing armed conflict with guerrilla groups like the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Read the entire article here.


30 Colombian Communities March for Justice

April 4, 2013

This Saturday, April 6, approximately 1,000 campesinos from the Montes de Maria region of Colombia will be taking nonviolent direct action to demand holistic reparations as victims of the decades-long  disastrous armed conflict. They will be walking 80 miles from El Carmen de Bolivar to the city of Cartagena.

Picture1

A panorama of the Montes de Maria region of Colombia.

According to Anna Vogt, a Mennonite Central Committee worker in Colombia, this region has been the locus of battles between the guerrilla group FARC, right-wing paramilitary groups, and state forces. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, this violence was accompanied by numerous human rights violations, including massacres, arson, kidnapping, and mass displacement.

Though The Victim’s Law of 2011 is supposed to facilitate land restitution, delays in implementation and a policy of targeted reparations have prevented real change in these communities. The Victims Unit – the Colombian government entity responsible for implementing the Victims Law – asked if the campesinos would agree not to march if the Unit set up a working group to dialogue on the issues, but the leaders have refused this offer. The campesinos are seeking to create national awareness and true change.

Vogt says “The preparation for the march has turned into an important first step in rebuilding the area, as regional ties are strengthened and grassroots organizing takes place through its planning.”

Stand in solidarity with our Colombian brothers and sisters as they seek justice by participating in Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia. Go to our website to learn more and sign up: http://washington.mcc.org/days.

You can also ask your representative in Congress to stand for peace with justice.

To learn more about the march, see these articles:

 


A Worship Resource – Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia

March 28, 2013

This week, MCC released worship resources for churches participating in Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia to use on Sunday, April 28.  Participant churches will organize their worship service around this theme of this year’s Days of Prayer and Action, “Now is the time for peace with justice in Colombia.” The packet includes: summaries of the main issues facing Colombia and its peace process; songs for peace in Colombia; prayers and poems; readings; and reflections from MCC staff in Colombia.

Michael. Photo by Anna Vogt.

Michael. Photo by Anna Vogt.

In its first few pages, the packet presents four issues as the context for this year’s reflection and advocacy. They are: unresolved armed conflict, land restitution and reparations, conflicting approaches to economic development, and internal displacement. Despite enormous challenges in each of these areas, “there are countless signs of hope.”

The songs, prayers, and poems all reflect a passionate desire for peace, an end to injustice, and a petition for continuing strength in the face of hardship. They thank God for being a source of strength: a prayer from the Mennonite Church of Rincon del Lago in Soacha, Colombia reads, “You fill my soul with strength in the midst of my suffering. You have always been there showing your love and unconditional support.”

Colombian churches are also asking God for healing: “Hear our crying and have mercy on us,” writes Adaia Bernal.

The reflections from those in Colombia are infused with words of hope, patience, reconciliation, and justice. They urge Christians to be engaged in the work of shalom by building justice in broken parts of the world. For Christians, this is not an option; this is an occupation.

In her reflection, Sandra Baez of Torre Fuerte Mennonite Brethren Church in Bogota quotes Miroslav Volf:  “Being the church means being for others, with others, especially the neediest. The ministries of justice and reconciliation are not additions that flow out of the church, but are constitutive of ecclesial life in union with Christ.” As the Church, our hearts should break when we hear our Colombian brothers and sisters cry to God for justice and weep for their family. Their stories – some of them collected in this worship packet – should move us to action on their behalf as we draw from a Christian tradition of unswervingly pursuing justice.

Read the reflections of those on the ground, hear the words of Colombian believers, and be inspired by words of hope amidst terrible injustice, download the worship packet and sign up to participate in the Days of Prayer and Action.


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