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Colombia Reports

Greetings:

I am in and around the city for a few days. Yesterday we went to the Opon to
cheer at 2 soccer games between the communities. We were there to give them
some security, for they fear the Paras or Guerrillas could use the occasion to
force them to agree to help them in some way, like pay a tax on all the goods
they transport or to bring them supplies from the city. They have done this
before. It is hard to say what you really feel when a group of armed people is
threatening you and your village with their guns. Erin and Pierre stayed the
night at the community's request just to insure that nothing happened later in
the evening.

We live in a house with 3 bedrooms, a long hall, a patio front and back,
kitchen, dining room and living room. Each of us hand washes most of our
clothes. I like that, because it's good exercise for one thing, and it also
feels good to be doing manual work to take care of ourselves. This is a bit of
my simple life philosophy coming through. We use almost no prepared foods, eat
a lot of the many delicious tropical fruits, like papaya, pineapple (which are
so good), and banana. We do all our cleaning. This all makes just living take
a lot of energy and time. Right now my stomach is a bit off so I am eating
papaya and bananas.

Another day: today we accompanied 3 human rights workers to a remote village to
give a workshop. While we were waiting in a town on the journey, three men who
had firearms under their shirts came into town on motorcycles. From some things
that happened, the human rights workers feared that there was a good chance
they might be after them, and so they decided not to continue the trip. So it
feels like that might have been a close call. Your prayers may have had a part
in our protection here.

Here in Barranca in the last 10 days, 22 people were killed by Paramilitaries,
mostly for reasons of political assassination and social cleansing. One of the
persons was a human rights worker from our neighborhood. Just outside her house
she was forced into a taxi, shot, and dumped out dead 5 minutes later at a
school.

When the OFP found about her disappearance, they tried to contact the police,
but no one answered the phone. Previously the police had agreed to an immediate
response in case of human rights violation.

We went to the funeral. I was very impressed that the Priest had the courage
to say to a full big church that we cannot return blood for blood, lest we
continue the cycle of violence. For I am sure many of the mourners had feelings
of anger and revenge, which humanly seems justified. I see the call to return
good for evil as part of God’s acting here to break this cycle of violence.
Thanks be to God.

The basic responses of the human rights organization are publicly denouncing
the Paramilitaries, and pressuring the government to do its job so there is
better security for its citizens. For the problem here is basically that the
Paramilitaries and not the government control the city. For instance in many
neighborhoods, residents pay a forced 2000 peso tax per week to Paramilitaries.
I ask for your help in this by praying for peace and an end to the violence in
Barranca. I ask for you to help also by writing these officials below, and
sharing your knowledge of this situation and asking a full investigation into
this crime. Inquire why the Police did not answer the phone as was supposed to
happen as way of planned government responses to this kind of human rights
violation. US foreign aid should concentrate on bringing back control and peace
to Barranca.

You can say in your response that you learned about this through Jim Fitz who
is a part of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Barrancabermeja. Contacts are
below. Please let your Senators and Representatives (1-800-839-5276) know also.

Matthew Johnson Human Rights in US Colombian Embassies
JohnsonMR2@state.gov
Vice Presidents office Francisco Santos
fsantos@presidencia.gov.co
Presidential Human Rights Programme
Programa Derechos Humanos Precidencia de la Republica:
Email: ppdh@presidencia.gov.co
Fiscal General de la Nacion/ Public Prosecutor Dr. Luis Camillo Osorio
Email: denuncie@fiscalia.gov.co
Public Defendor Dr. Luis Eduardo Cifuentes
Email: defensoria.org.co

Enclosed below is a letter CPT CO sent out that you might find helpful.
We feel the need to pressure the Colombian government to investigate the
murders that are now occurring almost daily in Barranca in order to put an
end to the paramilitary control of this area. The Barranca NGOs here have
directed most of their attention to addressing the failure of the legal
security forces rather than contacting illegal groups. In accompaniment of
their decision to petition the government and call for an end to impunity,
we encourage you to think about writing to the US Embassy in Bogotá, to
your senators and representatives, questioning why the proper authorities
failed to answer the call reporting the disappearance of Esperanza.

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