Colombia: "I Thought You Were Dead!"


by Stewart Vriesinga

Reverend Salvador Alcántara, from Garzal township, is a remarkable, exemplary and inspirational man.  He is a husband, father, grandfather, pastor of a local church, farmer, president of the Garzal town council, and vice-president of ASPROAS - Association of Alternative Producers of Simití.  That he is able to take on all these tasks and do them well has earned him the respect of both the larger municipality and his own smaller community of Garzal.  His interpretation of his pastoral duties has led him to become involved in his community's struggle to stay on their lands in the face of constant threats of forced mass displacement. 

      The much-heralded achievements of Colombian President Uribe's administration - the demobilization of paramilitaries and the recovery of large tracts of land once controlled by guerrilla groups - have failed to provide residents of Garzal with security.  Most residents of Garzal have lived there since the early 1970's and should have received squatters' rights after only five years.  When the title-holder - absent since his cocaine laboratory was raided in the 1980's - returned to Garzal in the company of paramilitaries in 2003, he presented local residents with an ultimatum: leave or die.  Some families fled, and Salvador as the local representative received both bribes and personal death threats. 

      Years later, when Salvador ran into a now-demobilized paramilitary, the man expressed shock at seeing Salvador alive: "I thought you were dead!  I had orders to kill you!  I knew you were a man of integrity, and I couldn't carry out those orders, but I thought another one of my colleagues would!"

      It seems that in addition to the respect of his local community and parish, Salvador has also gained the respect of some of his enemies.  Salvador attributes his being alive to God's providence.