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Jim Fitz's 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. It would probably be helpful to keep this for reference while reading my letters when I am in Colombia.

Since 2001, CPT, by their nonviolent presence, has been providing protection for 80 farm families on the Opon River in 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 volunteer 2-3 months each year with CPT in Colombia. While in Colombia, I will send you a weekly letter about our work there.

As security has grown, local Catholic and Protestant churches and development groups have begun to work with the people in the Opon area. The presence of these groups has allowed CPT to reduce its presence from about 4 to 2 days a week. This has enabled CPT to begin to provide security also to others like people in the Micohumado area.

The civil war started 40 years ago out of a situation where about 3% of the population controlled about 70% of the good land. Out of desperation, poor farmers formed guerrilla groups to take over land so they could sustain their families. The large landowners than began to hire people to protect their land holdings from the guerrillas, and these hired fighters have become the paramilitaries.

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

The situation has evolved to the point where the paramilitaries, guerrillas, and Colombian Armed Forces are now 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 suggests they seek nonviolent ways of working on their conflicts. As a result of our dialog, 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 any abuses they see with the news media in Colombia and through email reports to supporters such as you.

Christian Peacemaker Teams has seen the failure of Plan Colombia's American-funded aerial spraying to kill coca, and its 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.

Most recently, the paramilitaries have officially demobilized (disbanded) though it has not been done very well, because they continue to threaten and kill in the area. Some community members were assassinated or threatened, causing numerous families to again leave their farms. It seems things go one step back for every two forward. Please continue to pray.

Please join me in peacemaking by praying with me for:

The protection of the farmers and the CPTers, especially for when we encounter armed

That the CPT Team be given wisdom as to how best to be peacemakers in the midst of much

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. It always seems that several of us on the CPT Team have not known each other before and we are starting from scratch to build relationships, which can easily make problems feel 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.

Keep praying; prayer is the backbone of our peacemaking,

Peace, Jim


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