Colombia

COLOMBIA REFLECTION: What it means to be a union member in Colombia and Chicago

CPTnet
26 July 2013
COLOMBIA REFLECTION: What it means to be a union member in Colombia and Chicago

by Ruth Fast

[Note: Fast was a member of the most recent Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Colombia in May.]

 DSC_5484b
 William Mendoza speaks to CPT Colombia
delegation while CPT Colombia team member
translates.

Eleven years ago, company thugs attempted to kidnap William Mendoza’s four-year-old daughter. They were unable to take her because his wife simply refused to release her grip on the child.  This incident caused William’s marriage to break up because of his wife’s fear of further violence. His story is one of thousands that, when combined, have for decades put Colombia at the top of the list of most dangerous nations to be a member of a trade union.

Mendoza is President of the local Coca Cola ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) in Barrancabermeja, Colombia.  Because he was working for fair wages and decent working conditions for Coca Cola workers, paramilitary groups hired by the company to intimidate and threaten leaders of the union had targeted him.  This U.S. company operating in Colombia is keeping wages and benefits low so they can extract more profits for the company and we can drink soft drinks at lower prices.  

COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Other nations deserve to live strong and free as well

 On 1 July Canadians celebrate the 1967 creation of an independent nation.   Their national anthem refers to, “The True North strong and free.”  The United Nations often names Canada is as one of the best countries in the world to live in because of its public healthcare, public education, good infrastructure, friendly and welcoming people—everything a healthy society needs to develop and flourish.  If only Colombians could enjoy the same thing.


San Pedro Frio

From 27-29 June 2013 San Pedro Frio, a mining town in the hilly southern region of the province of Bolivar hosted approximately three hundred people from local communities and fifty people from the provinces of Nariño, Cauca, Chocó, Huila and Antioquia for the second preparatory hearing of the “Ethical and Political Trial against Dispossession.” They gathered to share and document their stories about how multinational mining company AngloGold Ashanti has committed or supported grave human rights violations to acquire mining rights in these different territories. The community of Bolivar talked about the Exodo Campesino (Farmers Exodus) of 1998 where a mass mobilization of farming and mining communities from the south of Bolivar rose up, demanding their rights of access to healthcare, education, potable water, roads and the right to work the land or mines without the threat from right wing paramilitary groups. This mobilization led to agreements signed with then President Andres Pastrana.  Unfortunately instead of fulfilling the agreements, the army and paramilitary groups began a harsh campaign of repression against the communities and the now identified leaders who had negotiated the agreements.

COLOMBIA: New acts of terrorism against the community of Las Pavas

 

Following the recent attacks on the community of Las Pavas, ASOCAB, the farmers’ association released the following denunciation: 

THE FARMERS ASSOCIATION OF BUENOS AIRES "ASOCAB" denounces, before the national and international community, the acts of terrorism to which we are victims, which we add to our previous complaints of assaults by the private security department of the palm company APORTES SAN ISIDRO S.A.S.

On Thursday 27 June 2013, in the presence of members of the international organization CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams), at around 11:10 a.m., a fireball was thrown, made out of socks tied with wire and soaked in diesel fuel, at the settlement of our community located in Las Pavas…

A week later, on Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 12:15 a.m., when all the families living in the settlement were asleep, three fireballs were launched—using the same material [as was used on 27 June]—at the community housing and the two communal ranches…

Prayers for Peacemakers, 3 July 2013

Prayers for Peacemakers, 3 July 2013

 Epixel* for 3 July 2013
 
 

 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

-Psalm 30:1

 


Ask that God grant protection to the people of Las Pavas, who were once again the targets of violent harassment when a fireball was launched from amidst the the palm tree crops of the Aportes San Isidro Corporation on 27 June 2013 at the community's ranch house.  Give thanks no one was hurt, but pray that the hearts of the corporation executives, the henchmen they are paying to attack the Las Pavas community, and the police officers they have paid to look the other way will be transformed and that the impunity for their actions will end

Related story: COLOMBIA: Aportes San Isidro increases violent harassment of Las Pavas community, including attempted arson



COLOMBIA: Aportes San Isidro increases violent harassment of Las Pavas community, including attempted arson

On Monday 24 June 2013, as two CPTers arrived in Las Pavas, four armed security guards on horses appeared and prevented them from traveling by motorcycle the rest of the way to the settlement of campesinos.  The guards claimed that the land they were traveling on was private property of the palm company Aportes San Isidro despite government rulings that the land of Las Pavas is state land to be titled to the small farmers who have been working the land for decades.  After engaging in conversation about the illegality of this restriction of movement, the CPTers dismounted the motorcycles and walked the remaining fifty meters to the settlement.




Community members carry
supplies along the road the
company's security guards
are patrolling.

The next morning, 25 June, three Las Pavas community members were arriving to the farm with their farming tools when five armed guards stopped them on the main road and would not allow them to continue.  Two CPTers arrived with other community members. The guards were adamant that the men could not pass with farm implements regardless of international presence.  They insulted the CPTers and accused them of being guerillas who had brainwashed the community.  The three men had to return home and lost a day’s work in their fields.

A couple of hours later, community members asked CPTers to accompany their people arriving from town, carrying supplies for their homes.  CPTers carried baskets along the road under the watchful eye of the security guards who looked inside to see what they were carrying but let them pass.  While passing through, Mario Marmol the head security guard, unsuccessfully tried to steal a CPTer’s personal camera from the hands of a campesino. 

CPT INTERNATIONAL: Urgent invitations from Colombia, Elsipogtog and the Owe Aku--Can you help us respond?


A week ago, on 30 May 2013, we got word from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Colombia that Tito, one of the members of Las Pavas community in Colombia, had been attacked with machetes by workers for Aportes San Isidro, the palm oil company that has been trying to push the community of Las Pavas off their land for many years…



Tito (yellow and green shirt) taking
picture of security guard who had
ordered his men to shoot out tires of
Las Pavas's tractor.
 

This attack is an escalation of the pressure on this community that is deeply committed to nonviolence.  The Las Pavas leadership asked CPT to provide increased accompaniment for community members as they walk to and from their fields.  Our team on the ground is already stretched thin and they have made an appeal to CPT reservists to support them.  We have people ready to go to Colombia if we can raise the funds. Can you contribute $10 now to make this possible?

This request is just one of four that CPT has received in the two weeks.  On 8 June 2013, our Aboriginal Justice team sent a group of reservists to New Brunswick, Canada in response to an invitation 48 hours earlier from Elsipogtog First Nation. Mi'kmaq and Maliseet peoples have been using creative Nonviolent Direct Action to stop shale gas exploration on their traditional lands, including peacefully blockading a truck hired by the exploration company, SWN Resources Canada.

COLOMBIA: When victory brings disaster—Las Pavas and Garzal/Nueva Experanza need your help now

Victories are for celebrating.  They are moments that give us the satisfaction of a job well done.  That the fight we undertook was worth it.  Why then in Colombia does a victory for so many communities who struggle for something as basic as a piece of land to farm to provide food for their families, become a nightmare and for some a death sentence? 

This sounds sad and discouraging and I wish I didn’t have to paint such a bleak picture but to hide the truth would be worse.  In fact for the past months, we as a team have (not intentionally) hidden the truth by announcing several victories.  We did it because in fact there have been several victories that fully deserve a celebration.  Also for our own emotional health we needed to enjoy these moments.  Communities affected by the violence of the ongoing economic, political, and armed conflict of Colombia don’t often have victories, tangible successes to grab on to.   We even used them as a fundraising strategy because hey, everyone wants to support a winning team.

Great victories happened for Garzal/Nueva Esperanza and Las Pavas, two communities that CPT Colombia accompanies and under normal circumstances we would all still be celebrating.  But as I said earlier these victories have become hard-to-imagine tragedies that could dishearten the happiest soul. 

 
  

COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: FARC and Colombian government agree on first peace accord

In the news this week, the negotiations between the leftist guerilla group FARC, and the U.S.-allied right-wing Colombian government have seen some progress.  After more than six months of discussions, the opposing factions have come to a decision regarding land reform, the first of six points they planned to address in Havana.

This first agenda item is one of the most contentious, and the root cause of much of the violence here in Colombia.  The factions have not publicized the agreement in detail but most believe it will include land restitution through the creation of a land bank where displaced farmers will receive the rights to their land previously seized by paramilitaries, drug traffickers, multinational corporations, and guerilla groups.

“This is the first time in over thirty years of negotiations that significant progress has been made on the issue of land,” notes Camilo Gonzales Posso, the director for Centre for Peace in an interview with Al Jazeera, and “for the first time there is recognition of farmer’s rights and a plan to redistribute the land.”

Prayers for Peacemakers, June 5, 2013

Continue praying for persecuted Colombians: healing for Tito Alvear of Las Pavas, who suffered machete wounds after an attack by palm company guards; safety, solace and solidarity for rights worker Gloria Amparo Suarez, and for her sons exiled after threats due to her work.

COLOMBIA: Palm oil company security guards shoot at Las Pavas community members, attack Tito Alvear with machetes

On 28 May 2013, around fifty people of the Las Pavas community entered their land with their community tractor carrying palm branches in order to build a roof for their communal ranch house.  Upon arriving they saw various armed men come out of the brush, who were identified as Mario Marmol Montero, Francisco Florez Marmol, and Carlos who goes by the name "El Calvo," all of whom are security guards for the palm company Aportes San Isidro.  The guards shot repeatedly and indiscriminately at the men, women, and children of the community, shooting out the tire of the tractor as well.

On 30 May at 5:30 p.m., Tito Alvear Perez, a member of Las Pavas community, was assaulted by Mario Marmol, Carlos "El Calvo" and a man who goes by “Gentil,”—employees of the palm oil company Aportes San Isidro.  He was walking from the farm "El Oasis" back towards Las Pavas after having gone to fetch water for a meal when the security guards beat him using machetes, cutting one of his legs and his arm, kicking him in the head repeatedly, and insulting him.  They threatened his life and that of other community members and shot at him twice.  Hearing the shots, Bladimir Alvear ran out to find Tito bleeding while the company guards ran away.  Tito is in stable condition and Las Pavas leaders are filing charges with the authorities.