Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Colombia works together on grassroots initiatives to expose and transform structures of domination and oppression through active nonviolence in order to make possible the reign of God - a world grounded in respect, justice and love, even of enemies.
A combination of full-time and reservist trained volunteers staff the team. Four to eight Spanish-speaking members are serving in Colombia at any given time. A half-time Support Coordinator works in conjunction with CPT's international offices, and oversees participation in the Canadian Council for International Cooperation’s Americas Policy Group in Canada and the Colombia Steering Committee of the Latin America Working Group in the United States. We are here because we feel called to put our faith into action. We live, worship and work in community.
At the invitation of the Mennonite Church of Colombia CPT began its work in Colombia in 2001 accompanying threatened communities in the Opon, organizations, and their leadership. As of today, CPT Colombia accompanies rural communities and human rights organizations on a regular basis in the Magdalena Medio region.
The Team is based in and has a long history of working in the Magdalena Medio region (click here to see maps), although in recent years we have also begun to do occasional accompaniment in other parts of the country. Our home and office is located in Barrancabermeja, the unofficial capital of the region. Many local nonviolent social and human rights organizations are active in the region. We work to support these local peacemakers in building peace with justice. However, there are also Paramilitaries, the guerrilla, and the state forces are present in this strategic area of Colombia and many of the citizens of the region are the victims of violence perpetrated by right-wing armed actors (both paramilitary and military), and to a lesser extent, by the left-wing guerrilla groups. The Magdalena Medio region is typical of most of the country in that it is resource-rich while many of its citizens struggle against cycles of violence and poverty.
Much of the economic and physical violence benefits powerful national and international elites in their efforts to gain and retain control over valuable resources. Civilians are caught in the crossfire between the military and paramilitaries and their guerrilla opponents and civilians are also often directly targeted. These forces are most likely to target civilians if they are politically active and/or occupy land coveted by powerful legal and illegal business interests. For example, multinational corporations are using physical and economic violence to displace peasant farmers to take land to plant palm oil to sell to the Global North. As of May 2009, more than four million Colombians have displaced from their lands, homes and livelihoods due to violence and threats of further violence.
Barrancabermeja is a city of approximately 300,000 inhabitants, and home of the state-owned Ecopetrol refinery - Colombia's largest oil refinery. The oil and large-scale cattle industries are the largest enterprises in the city. Barrancabermeja is also a major port on the Magdalena River, several hundred kilometres from its mouth in the Caribbean sea, and is the unofficial capital of the Magdalena Medio region.
Paramilitaries took control of Barrancabermeja in 2000 with the tacit support of local security forces, after many years of guerrilla military dominance and control over significant areas of the city –a control maintained by violence, open combat with police and other state security forces, and the extrajudicial killing of civilians thought to be collaborating with the state. (Colombia’s right-wing paramilitaries have their origins in US-supported, state-trained, state-sanctioned counter-insurgency militias during the cold war, but have since then evolved to become, first the autonomous private armies of large land-holders, businessmen and drug lords, and later these private armies united under the banner of the United Self-defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), no longer under the direct control of the Colombian military but nevertheless close collaboration continued. For detailed information on the formation and activities of paramilitaries in Colombia see Wikipedia: Paramilitarism in Colombia). The paramilitaries entered the city of Barrancabermeja committing massacres, selective extrajudicial killings, forcing many civilians to displace. (For a detailed account of the Paramilitary takeover of Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Region, see the Center for International Policy report: “The New Masters of Barranca ") Despite the "official" demobilization of paramilitary organizations in 2005 under the Peace and Justice Law, new and reformed paramilitary groups continue to use these same tactics in an effort to terrorize and silence their opponents. In February 2010, Human Rights watched released a new report entitled, Paramilitaries' Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia and their multimedia presentation, Deadly Threats, Successors to the Paramilitary in Colombia (For more information on the Peace and Justice Law see Amnesty International report for Colombia: Justice and Peace Law will guarantee impunity for human rights abusers.)
The Magdalena Medio takes its name from the Magdalena River - Río Magdalena, and refers to the territory along the middle part of the river, including the river flats and parts of the mountain ranges on either side of the river. It is a resource-rich and fertile area, with large cattle ranches, palm plantations, oil and gas wells, and goldmines in south Bolivar. Coca is also cultivated in various parts of the region, and processed into paste before going to laboratories where the paste is further processed into cocaine. The guerrilla, the military and the paramilitary have focussed much of their attention on rural communities surrounding Barrancabermeja, in their struggle for control over those resource-rich territories. Rather than engage the guerrilla directly, a common tactic of the two latter groups is to try to eliminate the support-base of the guerrilla by depopulating the area of civilians - to drain the pool so the fish have nowhere to swim. This tactic also serves to open up territory formerly controlled by the guerrilla to national and international investors
As stated above, much of the work of CPT Colombia is to accompany threatened communities, organizations and their leadership. But what exactly do we mean by accompaniment?
By accompaniment we mean both: 1) having a physical presence in the communities and with the organizations we accompany, and 2) doing advocacy work on their behalf.
1) Our physical presence in communities/organizations demonstrates to both members and leaders of organizations as well as armed actors that they are not alone; members of an international organization are present to witnesses and report on whatever is happening, and will non-violently intervene when armed actors abuse the rights of civilians. We ask violators to cease and desist from any behaviour that places civilians at risk or abuses their rights, and make it known that we will report all abuses to local authorities, local, national and North American government representatives, the media, and our international support base. We also publish an annual Human Rights Report and occasionally call for Urgent Action on the part of our support base and government representatives. These actions and interventions on the part of the team also intended to deter violence and humans rights abuses on the part armed actors.
2) Advocacy work for the organizations and communities we accompany is based on the understanding that justice must prevail before peace can be attained. It seeks to support our partners’ initiatives in their struggles to end violence and impunity, and to have their rights to life with dignity and territory respected. It also raises the profiles, not only of community/organization leaders, but also of their struggle for justice. Raising their profiles increases the political cost of doing them harm, and thereby diminishes the ability to oppress them with impunity. It also helps brings their experiences of injustice and their demands for justice to the national and international level, thereby increasing their chances of getting a fair trial in judicial and governmental procedures. Advocacy work takes many forms, all of which address the imbalance of power that allows decision makers to disregard the needs and rights of the communities and organizations most affected by oppression and violence.
Advocacy work includes:
(Simití, South Bolívar)
Garzal and its neighbouring community Nueva Esperanza belong to the rural municipality of Simití, south Bolívar. The communities have asked us to accompany their struggle to retain possession and gain title to the lands. They have occupied and cultivated for generations. Title of the land was granted to a drug lord, who operated a cocaine processing laboratory on until his operation was closed down in the 1980s. He disappeared for about twelve years, but later returned with paramilitaries threatening the lives of anyone who did not vacate “his” land. He has since died, and his heirs are trying to sell the property to agro-businesses that want the land to mono-crop palm oil. Despite death threats, the community is remaining on the land. The community is currently embroiled in a legal struggle to have their right of possession recognized and titles granted to community members.
Links to additional information:
(Rural communities of Morales, south Bolívar)
Micoahumado, a county in the south of Bolivar, is made up of nine communities. Micoahumado started to be populated in the 60s and 70s by refugees displaced by the conflict between large landholders and workers that resulted from the right to tenancy on the land of the departments Antioquia, Santander, and Cesar. The wood industry strongly motivated the populating of this area and the people continue to live from that trade and also from agriculture. Those who arrived built their homes in a single area that became the population center known as La Plaza
Throughout its history the communities of Micoahumado have displaced for short periods of time due to massacres and other violence. They have been the victims of landmines, US sponsored aerial spraying which ruins their food crops, and extortion. In 2003, the community formed The Constituents’ Popular Assembly, where the communities come together to seek the right to life, justice, and peace.
At the beginning of the process, the community said, “We are tired and we know that weapons have never brought good results; we have decided to start a process of dialogue and create a space where we can harvest peace, development, life, and culture without exclusion or weapons.” Since , then they have successfully dialogued with the military, paramilitary and guerrilla and negotiated an end to armed conflict within their towns and villages. They have also negotiated a commitment with the guerrilla to de-mine the zone closest to the communities. Though there have been many successes, the community leaders continue to receive death threats and their lands continued to be threatened by multi-national interests.
(El Peñon, Sur de Bolivar)
In 1997 one hundred twenty-three families (more than 500 people) organized themselves as the Buenos Aires Farmers Association (ASOCAB) and began working communally on the Las Pavas farm. The farm, located two miles from the community of Buenos Aires, had been abandoned by the previous owner, Emilio Escobar. Colombian law enables people to take possession of abandoned land; after five years, they are entitled to legal ownership of that land. The government agency responsible for that process, the Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER), visited Las Pavas in June 2006 and verified that the families met the conditions to begin the process of transferring the ownership of the land from Escobar to the ASOCAB families.
After the INCODER visit, Escobar came to Las Pavas with a group of armed men and threatened the farmers. A paramilitary group also went to the farm in late 2006 and issued a threat: if the people didn't leave, they could be killed. The farmers abandoned Las Pavas. A few months later a land contract was signed between Escobar and a subsidiary of Daabon.
In January of 2009, the families felt that the threat of violence had diminished and they returned to Las Pavas and planted their food crops. Daabon sought a court order to have them evicted and riot police carried out that order on July 14, 2009.
Riot police prohibited the people from returning to their fields and Daabon workers destroyed their entire 60 hectares of food crops. Fourteen houses that belonged to the community were demolished. Daabon cut down a communal forest and is drying up wetlands in order to plant palm. CPT Colombia began accompanying the people of Las Pavas in April 2009 and is part of a coalition of human rights organizations that are working to enable for the community to return to the farm.
Daabon, the main palm oil supplier to The Body Shop, The Body Shop and Daabon both claim to maintain high standards for human rights and environmental protection, and they receive a premium price for their products as a result of their public image. Daabon is also a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and has committed to upholding the principles of that association. Daabon's acquisition of Las Pavas, the eviction of the families from the land, and the destruction of trees and the alteration of waterways on that land, violate the stated values of the Body Shop and Daabon
Womyn’s Social movement against War and for Peace
AGROMISBOL (Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation) is a federation of primarily subsistence small-scale miners and peasant farmers throughout the entire Sierra de San Lucas mountain range in South Bolívar. Although their peasant economy is supporting hundreds of thousands of people, their very presence in a resource-rich part of the country is considered to be a barrier to economic development. The livelihoods and life-styles of these miners and farmers is in jeopardy because of military and paramilitary efforts to clear the land in order to provide international corporate mining and large-scale mono-crop agricultural projects with unfettered access to resources. Their subsistence lifestyles are seen as unproductive by global capitalism.
At present, they have been abandoned by the state and there is little to no state infrastructure or services in the area. The communities of the area have organized under the umbrella of AGROMISBOL to defend their right to life and territory. Furthermore, the communities have attempted to dialogue with the government the La Mesa de Interlocucion and/or Southern Bolivar Roundtable for Dialogue. These discussions have failed because the government has failed to show to meeting and refused to continue dialogue.
On the contrary, the government has continue to militarize the region and persecute the leaders of AGROMISBOL. The leaders have been assassinated by both paramilitary and military. Most recently, there were the murders of Alejandro Uribe Chacón on 19 September 2006, Edgar Martinez April 22, 2009, OMAR ALONSO OSPINA RESTREPO and JOSE DE JESUS RESTREPO nn February 10, 2010.
Links to additional information:
For more information about the beginning of CPT accompaniment see
CPT Colombia release: Santa Rosa: Gold miners call for support to stop killings
CPT Colombia Translation of Announcement : Two Miners of FEDEAGROMISBOL Assassinated
Excellent background videos to the oppression and struggle of the small miners of the Sierra de San Lucas
“Crown to the Crona Goldfileds: the golden curse”.
This peasant organization started in 2004 after years of repression from Colombian Armed Forces and Paramilitaries. Isolated from the rest of the province of Antioquia by a mountain range and historically abandoned by the government, the north-eastern region of the Antioquia province has had a strong presence of rebel guerilla groups FARC and ELN. As in most armed conflict the civilian population suffers the worst consequences. Labeling all civilians as guerilla fighters or as sympathizers, the Colombian Armed Forces and Right Wing Paramilitary groups prevented food and medical supplies from entering the region accusing the community of passing of the food and medical supplies to guerrilla forces. The Army and paramilitary groups set up checkpoints to monitor the movement of goods and forced people to pay illegal taxes for the right to enter goods into the area.
Community leaders who spoke up against this gross violation of International Humanitarian Law (laws which dictate rules of war and treatment of civilian population) received threats or were assassinated. Assassinated leaders were often dressed as guerrilla fighter killed in combat but the community has been able to show that they were civilian leaders killed by the army and have brought army officials to trial. The blockade and assassinations led to the population of the region organizing themselves and demanding respect. They seek to stop the humanitarian crisis (serious lack of food, medical supplies and basic freedom of moving in and out of region) and the violations of human rights in their communities. Every year they organize a caravan of different organizations called a Humanitarian Action to a community to visualize the continued human rights abuses and bring in much needed supplies that the armed groups have restricted entry. Furthermore, they host trainings in rural communities to educate remote communities on defending their basic human rights and s the struggle for a more dignified life.
To participate and/or more information: http://www.mujerescontralaguerra.com/
“Womyn will not bear nor raise children for war”
The Women’s Movement against War and For Peace consists of 40 organizations, including CPT Colombia, that are constructing a women’s agenda that starts for the perspective of base communities. They work to develop a common agenda that enables them to collect experiences and proposals of womyn. With these proposals they develop a collective strategy that contributes to the construction of peace at a local, regional, national, and international level. In 2009, they help conversations around three topics. 1) Womyn Land and Development, 2) Womyn, War, Peace, and democracy, 3) Womyn and Social Movements. For 2010, they are hosting the Womyn's and People's summit of the Amercias against militarization and in 2011, they will be hosting Womyn courts for the Truth, justice, and Reperations.
Women will not give birth nor raise our sons and daughters for war
The Women Popular Organization started in 1972 to defend life and human rights by empowering women to transform their social reality and reconstruct their own social fabric and that of civil society. They seek to train and mobilize grassroots women to build projects of life while resisting all forms of violence (economic, social, cultural, civil, and political)
Currently, there are more than 1200 women in the Middle Magdalena River Region that are part of OFP. Individuals look to the OFP as one of the possibilities to transform their reality -- a reality where the state denies a great majority of its citizens any possibility of existing with integrity (access health, food, clothes, work, education, liberty, dignity, gender equality, recreation).”
The OFP offers medical and legal attention, professional training, parenting support and other kinds of support to women and families. They also offer community kitchens that provide inexpensive yet healthy meals to the communities. The OFP has classes in leadership training for women in rural communities. They work with the women to build women’s community action groups in their villages.
The Two principles of the organization are:
Civil Society: We defend civil society as a political process that allows us to construct proposals of life for everyone, in which the rules that govern us are inspired by democratic process that are not authoritarian nor militaristic.
Autonomy: This principle is the foundation of our ethics and organization. We do not accept pressure from the state or illegal armed actors. We are not subordinate to authority. We defend our autonomy as women with rights.
For more information in Spanish, check out their website: www.ofp.org.co
The peasant farmers association of the Rio Cimitarra Valley is a non-governmental organization of peasant farmers that organizes people into community action groups, cooperatives, and committees to defend human rights and the struggle for land.
ACVC started as a result of a massive peasant mobilization in 1998, where the government signed agreements with the peasant sector of Colombia to pursue and punish paramilitary groups, military, and government agents that preformed human rights abuses by omission and or direct action. They also agreed to invest the resources to implement a development plan and to protect human rights in the region. These agreements have been systematic and intentional ignored by the government. Since 1998, over 100 community leaders have been killed and 20,000 displaced.
ACVC works to strengthen the unity and solidarity between rural organizations, communities, and student works. Furthermore, they continue to organize and resist against the social, civil, and political authoritarian development – a fascist project that continues to violently expropriate and displace thousands of Colombians.
Programa started in 1995 by people of the Magdalena Medio region with the purpose of building a region that focuses on life, peace, sustainable development, and Respect for human rights. With the slogan “Life first,” program has grown to work most areas of the region. They are building this process with two fixed objectives: 1) sustainable human development, with all participating fully and fairly. 2) Construction of a civilian culture, a shared public space, where rights and obligations are guaranteed and demanded by handling diverse interests in a democratic way.”
ASODESAMUBA (Barrancabermeja association of People Displaced)
This Organization is focus on advocating for rights of displaced families in the Magdelena Medio Region. They work in poor in communities of displaced families. All of the leaders have been displaced themselves.
ASORVIM – Victims movement of Magdelena Medio.
This is an organization comprised completely of victims of the civil war here in Colombia. Their objective is to advocate for “truth, justice, and reparations” recognizing that the crimes against many of its members can never be repaired, looking for truth and justice will alleviate the suffering a little. Part of a nation wide movement (the local movement was formed in 2005).
Corporacion Nacion seeks to contribute to building a democratic society by promoting thel defence of human rights, dignity of men and women without discrimination, peace and sustainable development. They participate in the process of accompanying autonomous communities, coordination with other organizations and strengthening the rule of law. They seek to to build a state that recognizes multiculturalism and social justice. They begin their work at the level of family, working up to community, city, region, nation, and finally the entirety of the social fabric, both territorial and cultural. Corporación Nación focuses on building representative democracy through sustainable human development projects..
JustaPaz – Christian Center for Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action
A program of the Colombian Mennonite Church founded in 1990. Mission: “Based on the example and calling of Jesus Christ, we search to encourage the action of individuals, churches, and communities in the practice of nonviolence for the constructive transformation of the conflicts and the formation of structures and life-styles that lead to a just and sustainable peace.” Three main projects: Training for Peace and Conscientious Objection, Analysis and Transformation of Conflicts, Construction of Peace at the Local, Regional, and National Level.
ONIC: National Organization of Indigenous from Colombia is an organization that works towards human rights and self determination for the Indigenous of Colombia. It represents more than 90% of the indigenous groups within Colombia and divides its work into 5 sub regions. Its focus is four fold; 1) Unity as a mechanism of strengthening the defense of indigenous communities; 2) Land as the essential element for life and development of indigenous peoples; 4) Culture to reclaim and strengthen the identity of indigenous peoples; and 4) Self Determination, for the freedom to apply the above principles, to exercise the communities own power and authority.