15 December 2008

Christmas lights in Barranca

Parque de la Vida (Park of Life) in downtown Barranca,
all lit up for Christmas

My favorite, the iguana in a ceiba tree

Posing in the women sculptures

My other favorite, the snowman beside the palm trees

Enjoying ice cream at the Parque de la Vida on the Night of Lights

Sara, Chris, Stewart

Christmas lights on the palm trees lining the park

Velitas (little candles) lighting Mary's way on the night of the Immaculate Conception

18 November 2008

David versus Goliath

It's been ages since my last post, so kudos to any of you who are still checking in to see if I have anything to say this time :)  

A few weeks ago I and two of my teammates (Kim Lamberty & Julián Gutierrez) traveled to Santa Rosa in the southern part of the Bolivar province to attend a round table discussion between a federation of small miners and government representatives.  The Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation (FEDEAGROMISBOL-- la Federación Agro-Minera de Sur de Bolivar) have been trying to schedule a meeting with the government for months now.  The first meeting was planned for mid-September, and we found out the night before that the government had cancelled.  So it was re-scheduled for a few weeks later.  The government didn't go to that one either; nor did they bother to let anyone know they weren't coming.  Hundreds of miners, some from as far as a 10 hour journey away, had already made the trip and weren't very happy about being stood up.  They organized a commission of 150 representatives, who traveled to the Ministry of Mining office in Cartagena to demand an audience.  Finally, on 6 November, both parties met together in Santa Rosa.  

The Federation brought a huge agenda, which they didn't get through in its entirety, but they did broach several key topics.  The Federation presented a human rights report from the past 2 years, documenting 35 instances of human rights abuses which resulted in over 100 deaths.  One of the dead is Alejandro Uribe Chacón, former leader of the Federation and instrumental in organizing the miners to advocate for themselves.  Death threats continue-- leaders of the Federation, priests from a local diocese, and members of a development organization that work in the region received threats twice so far this year from a paramilitary group, promising to "exterminate them like dogs."  Paramilitaries continue to move and act with impunity.  Often, local police know just enough of their plans to be conveniently absent when killings and kidnappings occur.  In this, and many other cases, trying to make a living for yourself and your family on your land is enough to attract the attention of armed actors.  More on this dynamic in a bit...

At the end of the day, people seemed energized and pleased with the achievements of the meetings.  The biggest step forward came in the formation of a joint human rights investigation committee, made up of representatives from government entities and members of the Federation, who committed to look into the human rights abuses reported by the mining communities.  Another positive outcome is the promise to put a bank in the region to be accessible for miners to sell their gold.  (The government hadn't been pleased that the miners were selling their gold on the black market; the miners didn't have a bank to sell it to.)  Some speculated that the government representatives felt a bit sheepish after failing to attend so many previous meetings, which made them a bit more prepared to work with the miners and their requests.  Whatever the reason, it seemed like a constructive discussion.  

So why so much paramilitary activity in the Sur de Bolivar?  The answer is chillingly simple-- the veins of gold underground attract not only local miners, scraping to make a living, but also powerful corporations such as AngloGold Ashanti, a South African mining giant.  Their subsidiary, Kedahda, is actively purchasing land in the Sur de Bolivar region.  (see an article about Kedahda's activity in Colombia)  Small mining communities determined to keep their land represent a threat to the interests of AngloGold, and while they haven't been directly linked to fomenting violence in Colombia, they have admitted to paying off rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in exchange for access to gold mines there.  

The story is sadly similar the world over, and free trade agreements like the FTAA and the proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement (which could be voted on in the U.S. Congress as early as this week) open the doors to corporations intent on increasing their profits, with little incentive for small farmers and miners just trying to survive.  The "disposable poor" continue to be stripped of what power they have, so that the already rich can get even richer.  But power comes in many forms, and economic power is just one of them.  Communities such as the miners in the Sur de Bolivar know that they have a power to which corporations have assigned little value-- the power to organize and stand up for themselves.  As the familiar quote goes, indeed, it is only the small groups of committed people who have ever brought true change to the world.  The Federation and the families they represent face a huge, uphill, David-vs.-Goliath battle, but their efforts give witness to the strength of those small committed communities who work for nothing less (and nothing more) than the right to a life with dignity.  

So this is what CPT does-- we go to meetings like this one in Santa Rosa, so that community activists can meet without fear of violent reprisal.  We can't be everywhere at once, but our presence signals the attention of the international community, and hopefully, reminds those who would perpetrate violence that their actions will not go unnoticed.  

02 October 2008

International Day of Nonviolence

Happy International Day of Nonviolence!  

My teammate Stewart and I spent the afternoon at an assembly for local schools, where various groups spoke to the students about nonviolence.  One group, Quinto Mandamiento (5th Commandmant; a conscientious objector group) asked the children what violence was, and the first response was "land take-overs."  A form of violence all too common here, especially in resource-rich areas.  

Colombia exports oil, coal, coffee, and gold, among other things.  The gold mining region of Sur de Bolivar has experienced much upheaval, assassinations and displacement over the past two decades due to the value placed on their land, but not on the lives of those who inhabit the land.  Paramilitary incursions and violence accompanied the arrival of mining giant Kedahda (a subsidiary of AngloGold Ashanti), who have set their sights on the profit to be made off this land.  For more information about the Sur de Bolivar region, as well as the local federation formed to defend local, small-scale miners and their land, check out the Colombia Solidarity Campaign's blog.  

01 October 2008

Getting Oriented

So here I am in Barrancabermeja at the CPT house.  "Barrancabermeja" you say... or more likely, you wonder "how on earth do I say that?"  Well, if you sound it out phonetically (that's the great thing about Spanish!) you get: Ba-ran-ca-ber-me-ha (the "j" makes an "h" sound).  Or you can just stick with Barranca for short :). 

Barrancabermeja is the unofficial capital of its department, Santander, and lies to the north and a bit east of Bogota.  The national oil refinery, Ecopetrol (though in the process of being privatized), forms the backbone of the industry and economy here. Though predominantly industrial, Barranca also has a lively downtown business and shopping district and some pretty parks.  

In our neighborhood of Barrio Versalles, I've already found a great little ice cream shop (the passion fruit ice cream beats all the competition!) and a soccer field where I can go jogging.  Due to in part to Barranca's extremely low elevation of 246 ft. above sea level, and in part to its proximity to the equator, the climate is perpetually HOT and humid.  I'm told it rarely falls below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and I know it frequently climbs above that.  Thankfully tank tops are appropriate attire in nearly all situations!  For more information about Barranca, check out its Wikipedia entry, no doubt edited by one of CPT's own at some point :)  

CPT, or ECAP as we're known here, set up house in Barranca in 2001 at the invitation of the Colombian Mennonite Church.  Initially, our work focused on accompanying communities in the Opon River region who were under threat from guerrilla and paramilitary groups.  Some communities were displaced by the violence, and some were eventually able to return. Currently ECAP's accompaniment work takes us to six different regions on a rotation, visiting each community every eight weeks or so.  Each different area has its own distinct characteristics and challenges, and I'll be able to write more about each of them once I'm better acquainted with the specific work we do in each place.  

For now, I'll wrap it up and get back to you with more later.

24 September 2008

Fingerprints and paperwork

No, I didn't get arrested again-- I'm just trying to register my Colombian visa here in Bogotá. It's taking longer than I thought, so I might end up spending another day in Bogotá til things get wrapped up.

I arrived last night, at the same time as a Christian band receiving a very warm welcome at the Bogota International Airport. I walked out of the baggage claim to discover all the fans just outside, crowding behind metal barricades, and straining for a glimpse (and a cell phone pic) of the band. Somebody had a guitar, and everyone was singing "Cantaré de tu amor por siempre" (I will sing of your love forever). Anybody know who sings that?

I'm staying with a very hospitable Mennonite couple here in Bogotá. José Luis even accompanied me all over town this morning, and agreed to do it again tomorrow. Apparently my visa doesn't include specific enough information about my work in Colombia, so I have to go to another office to have that clarified on my visa. Then the immigration office can issue me a cédula, or ID card, which will state my status and allow me to carry it instead of my passport for identification.

With the added morning of paperwork, I'll probably leave for Barrancabermeja on Friday instead of Thursday. More later!

25 May 2008

CPT Borderlands Delegation

Just wanted to let any of you who are interested know what I'm up to for the next two weeks. I leave this afternoon, Sunday 25 May, for Tucson. There, I'll meet 11 delegates and my co-leader, Renee, and I'll begin a familiar experience (a CPT delegation) in an unfamiliar role (as a leader). This delegation aims to educate and inspire justice-minded individuals about the injustices and militarization along our border with Mexico.

In Tucson, we will sit in court to experience first hand "Operation Streamline." This legislation has been in effect in parts of Texas and began this year in Tucson. Instead of the previous pattern of "catch and release," immigrants found in the U.S. without proper documentation are now arrested, booked and processed. This results in many immigrants spending a few weeks in jail before their court dates, and jails around the Tucson sector are swamped.

We'll also travel to Douglas, Arizona, to meet with those providing relief services to migrants weary and dehydrated from their trek across the Sonoran desert. The walk from Altar, a popular staging site, takes about 6 days, and it's impossible to carry enough water for the journey. All who walk become dehydrated, some to the point of convulsions and even death. This time of year is particularly deadly as temperatures climb into the 100's. Last year, 238 people died trying to cross the desert. And how many more were never found?

U.S. laws criminalize people, and those who would try to help them. Yet as followers of Christ, we know that no human being is illegal. Keep posted for updates on this journey, as we open our eyes to the strangers in our midst and how they are treated. (for more details on CPT delegations, check out our website.

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in so doing, some have entertained angels unawares."