Colombia: River of Life – and Death

by José Edward Escobar, CSB
translated by William Payne

[Escobar, of the Congregation of St. Basil (the Basilians) participated in CPT’s June 10-16, 2008 delegation of Colombian Mennonites and Catholics].

For many of us Colombians, the Magdalena River is simply a source of great fish.  What we too often fail to realize is that, for those who live within its reach, the Magdalena River can mean both life and death.

As villagers spoke to us of the river’s importance to the region, frustration and desolation marked their stories.  The river allows for commercial development and transportation, but it has also been the site of many massacres committed by armed actors.

Although these humble farmers from Los Ñeques, La Florida and the Ciénaga del Opón seemed not to understand the political motivations of the various armed groups, they were well aware of how the violence perpetrated by these groups has affected their lives.  Still, they remain on the land, with aspirations to live and thrive amidst all of it.  In their faces, we saw a hope for peace and for true political solutions often absent among other Colombians.

Wanting to give voice to what we had seen and heard from these firsthand accounts of people who have lived through massacres and displacement, our delegation held a time of public prayer.  Through a Ritual of Purification of the River, we clamored for a time when the waters of the river, too often marked with sickness and death, will instead flow with hope.

To live as prophets in the midst of this armed conflict means announcing an ethic of peace and the protection of life and denouncing every type of reality that goes against that, particularly the violent actions of armed groups against civilians in this area.  It means accompanying and supporting the communities victimized by this conflict.  It means working to rehabilitate the essence of the Magdalena River, turning it once again into a source of hope and sustenance for the inhabitants of the Middle Magdalena region by rejecting the violence that brings death to the people who live near it.