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Introduction to Peacemaking in Colombia

Introduction for Readers
To some this is new, to others it will be a refresher about the civil war in Colombia in which Christian Peacemaker Teams works at reducing violence.

Peacemaking in Colombia

I will arrive in Colombia September 15 to do peacemaking work on behalf of 80 farm families caught in the 40-year-old civil war. Since 2001, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), by their nonviolent presence, have been providing protection for the farmers on Opon River area of Colombia from threats and killing by guerrillas and paramilitaries. CPT is an ecumenical organization working to reduce violence in conflict areas of the world.

I am a member of Plow Creek Mennonite Church, Tiskilwa, Illinois. I work full time at peacemaking and as part of that I give three months yearly with CPT in Colombia. I plan to post a weekly report about our work.

Since I was there one year ago the situation has improved in several ways. One of the most hopeful signs is that the communities along the Opon continue to build unity amongst themselves in telling the paramilitaries and guerrillas they are not going to cooperate with either of them and that they just want to be let alone to farm in peace.

As security has grown churches and development groups have begun to work with the people. These groups presence has allowed CPT to reduce its presence in the Opon from 6 to 4 days a week. This has enabled CPT to begin to provide security to the people of Micohumado and some to others also.

Most recently there was a setback, when one of the community members was assassinated.

Some background on the war situation follows:

The paramilitaries, guerrillas, and Colombian Armed Forces are fighting each other for control of the farmers, the oil, and the drug traffic in the area. Each group continually accuses the farmers of siding with their opponents.

When CPT encounters any armed group, they urge them to give up their arms. CPTers explain that trying to make peace with a gun hasn’t worked for the last 40 years to resolve this conflict. All you get is more suffering and death every day. CPT then suggests they seek nonviolent ways of working on their conflicts. As result of our dialogue, one commander and some of his soldiers left the paramilitaries and began to carry Bibles instead of guns.

If an armed group is at someone's home, CPT remains until they leave because with CPT’s presence the armed groups are less likely to threaten or kill the farmers. The farmers often say that without CPT’s presence they would long ago have had to abandon their farms. CPT shares abuses they see with the news media in Colombia and through email reports to supporters.

According to numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International, paramilitaries commit about 80% of the human rights abuses in Colombia. They are a right wing illegal group often associated with big business and large landowners. The Colombian armed forces and the guerrillas each commit another 10% of the human rights abuses. The guerrillas are fighting the above two groups for control.

Christian Peacemaker Teams has seen the failure of Plan Colombia’s American-funded aerial spraying to kill coca, and the devastating effects on food crops and on local populations. Pray and urge your representatives to support humanitarian and development aid, which is constructive, rather than military aid and aerial spraying, which are very destructive.

Please join me in peacemaking by praying with me for:

  • The protection of the farmers and the CPTers, especially for when we encounter armed groups.
  • That the CPT Team be given wisdom as to how best to be peacemakers in the midst of much violence.
  • That the CPT Team be given the grace to live together in unity and love. This is one of the biggest challenges to the team, especially when we are pressured to make tough decisions together that not only affect us but Colombians too. Seems always several of us have not known each other before and we are starting from scratch to build relationships and sometimes the others warts seem overwhelming to work through.
  • That I will know what I need to say, and have the courage to say it at the right time and in the right way in love.
Thank you for every one of your prayers.

Peace, Jim

Slow mail me at: CPT, Apartado 280, Barrancabermeja, Colombia -- takes 2 weeks to arrive.
Phone 011-577-621-8777

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