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.