About CPT Colombia

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.

Christian Peacemaker Team in Colombia :

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 and the Magdalena Medio Region:

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

Threatened Communities, Organizations and Their Leadership:

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?

Communities we accompany:

  • Community Process of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza
  • Constituent Assembly of Micoahumado
  • Community Process of Tiquisio
  • Community of Las Pavas

Organizations we accompany:

  • Federation of AGROMISBOL
  • Corporation for Coexistence and Peace in Northeast Antioquia  (CAHUCOPANA)
  • Human Rights Workers’ Forum of Barrancabermeja  (ESPACIO)
  • Womyn’s Social movement against War and for Peace

  Related Organizations:

  • Campesino Association of the Cimitarra Valley ACVC
  • Woman Popular Organization (OFP)
  • Human Rights Workers’ Forum of Barrancabermeja  (ESPACIO)
  • “Programa” PDPMM– Program of Development and Peace of the Magdalena Medio

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:

  • 1) Doing public actions and participating in demonstrations that promote justice and seek to end violence and impunity in the communities accompanied by CPT.
  • 2) Posting information and photos on our Web Page that will raise the profile of our partner communities and organizations and their struggle for justice and peace.
  • 3) Writing releases for subscribers to our list-serves that put a human face on the most adversely affected Colombians and their struggles.
  • 4) Presentations in our countries of origin (mostly North America and Colombia) that increase support for our Colombian partners and promote justice.
  • 5) Hosting national and international delegations who will become advocates for the communities CPT accompanies in the home communities and countries.
  • 6) Working with local, national and international media to draw attention to the oppression and struggles of our Colombian partner communities and organizations.
  • 7) Campaigns to end military aid to Colombia, end aerial spraying of food crops and people, block Free Trade Deals, and hold foreign corporations accountable for their actions here in Colombia, and close the SOA (School of the Americas), etc.
  • 8) Increasing and mobilizing our support bases nationally and internationally to take action on behalf of our Colombian partners.
  • 9) Lobbying government representatives to change policies that perpetuate injustice and violence to ones that will help create the conditions for peace with justice in Colombia.
  • 10) Public education about the national and international context and root causes of military, economic, social and political violence and oppression in Colombia.