18 December 2009

15 December 2009

U.S. Military Bases in Colombia

Check out these videos that offer a helpful analysis of the new Colombia/U.S. agreement to allow U.S. troops full access to 7 Colombian military bases throughout the country.

Video Part 1

Video Part 2

29 October 2009

28 October 2009

The Body Shop implicated in forced displacement of 123 families

It's been quite a while since I last posted, but I wanted to update you all on a campaign at the forefront of our work these days.

Palm oil has become a hot product in Europe and North America as both a biofuel and in cosmetics. Uribe's administration plans to make Colombia the world's largest palm oil producer by the year 2020, with over 6 million hectares (roughly 14.8 million acres) planted with oil palm trees. As a direct result of these policies, the devastation of land, ecosystems, and communities is already evident and will only increase. Christian Peacemaker Teams Colombia accompanies two communities facing a struggle for their land in the southern Bolivar region, where palm production is already rampant.

On July 14, 2009, the community of Las Pavas discovered riot police on their land, forcing them to leave immediately for the nearby town of Buenos Aires. The 123 families (approx. 500 people) lost their homes, their food crops, and their land in one day. Daabon Organics bought the land in a shady deal with famed drug lord Pablo Escobar's uncle. Uncle Escobar had owned the land in the 80's but abandoned it in 1993 after Colombian military forces killed Pablo. Landless peasants occupied the land soon after and have been living on it and farming it ever since (save a temporary displacement because of paramilitary violence in the region). According to Colombian law, anyone can legally gain ownership to abandoned land if they can prove that they have lived and improved it for more than 5 years. The Las Pavas community had already begun the process of gaining legal title to the land, and must be allowed to finish that process to determine who the land legally belongs to.

Displaced Las Pavas resident describes destruction to CPT delegates
(see more photos)

Daabon Organics, a massive palm oil corporation, has destroyed acres and acres of forest, drained ponds and marshes, and burned down the houses that stood on the land, and have already begun planting palm oil. The Body Shop gets involved in that it buys 90% of its palm oil from Daabon Organics. Many of you will recognize The Body Shop as a corporation that touts its commitment to sustainable environmental and ethical practices. However, the case of Las Pavas shows their claims to be hollow.

Keep posted for an opportunity to get involved by sending letters to The Body Shop and Daabon executives, requesting that the land be returned to its rightful owners, the campesinos of Las Pavas.

For a good article that appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian click here.
For a good article (in Spanish) click here. (You can also view some great photos with this article.)
To read more from CPT writers, check out our website. (action opportunity also available here.)

18 March 2009

Minitejo and send-off for Paul

Here are some photos of our minitejo match last night with friends in Barranca.


12 March 2009

Small Steps toward Justice for Garzal

by Pierre Shantz

*To receive more articles like this one, sign up for the CPT Colombia email list by sending an email to:

“We are called to be faithful, not effective” is something that CPTers say to keep from feeling too depressed. Sometimes it feels like the violent forces always win. We can help prevent some levels of violence but so often it feels like we are only treading water. This past week the waters have started to recede and it feels like we can touch the bottom. One of the community processes that we accompany is the Garzal/Nueva Esperanza struggle to remain on their land. (see articles: Communities Resist Displacement and I Thought You Were Dead) The community challenged the Barreto family’s fraudulent titles in court and has been nervously waiting for the judge to give a ruling. Many felt that the judge, like many other government officials in this process, was paid off by the Barreto family and would rule in their favor. A ruling in favor of the Barreto family could mean that the residents of Garzal would be forcibly removed.

Last week, the judge called the community to a mediation session with the Barreto family on Wednesday, March 3rd. Many questions ran through the community’s mind. Is the process finished? Would the judge force the community to negotiate the surrender of their land? Loaded in the back of a truck, the community traveled to Simiti to hear the ruling. In the end only the lawyers were permitted to enter the judge’s chamber. The decision was not one that the community expected-- the judge ruled that the decision was out of his hands. The Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER) should decide whose land it is.

This gives the community much hope. In February the Garzal communities had a meeting with the national legal representative of INCODER. She is the first government official to commit to a fair and open process reviewing all titles and documents related to the Garzal/Nueva Esperanza case. She will personally visit and inspect the Garzal communities to see who is in fact on the land. “I wanted to let out a loud shout of joy right there in the courthouse I was so happy,” said Pastor Salvador when I called him to congratulate him on this small step towards justice for the community.

The struggle is not over. Other low-level INCODER officials have been involved in trying to remove the families from their land. There is some hope that the long arm of corruption of the Barreto family isn’t long enough to reach the highest levels of INCODER.

Anxious yet hopeful we all await the date set for March 19th and 20th. The community requests your continued thoughts and prayers. I still believe that we are called to be faithful rather than effective, but it sure feels good to see a process we accompany stand firm and in the end, remain standing.

02 March 2009

Garzal Update

The conciliation mentioned in this post is taking place tomorrow and Wednesday in Simití, which I and my teammate Chris will be accompanying. It's an important stage in the Garzal struggle, and the outcome could be triumphant or disastrous for the communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza.


The Garzal township, including the towns of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza, lie along the Magdalena river a few hours north of Barrancabermeja. Just to the west, the foothills of the San Lucas Mountains begin sloping upwards. The 136 families who live in Garzal and Nueva Esperanza make their living on the land, growing cacao and vegetables, raising cattle, and fishing.

During the 1980’s, the Barreto family lived and worked in Garzal processing coca into cocaine and transporting it for the notorious drug czar Pablo Escobar. Flights full of cocaine took off as frequently as 3 times per night from a small runway on the Barretos’ land, carrying drugs that had been brought down from the mountains. In 1989, the drug lab was raided and Mr. Barreto received 2 years in jail. Over the next few years the Barreto family all but abandoned their land in Garzal. Other landless families moved to the area and began working the land. Now, the Barretos are back and demand not only the land they used to live on, but the entirety of all the land in Garzal for their own.

Approximately half of the families in Garzal and Nueva Esperanza legally own their land based on a Colombian law that states that a person can take legal ownership after 5 years of living on and working the land. INCODER, the Colombian Institute for Rural Development, issued paper titles to 64 families a few years ago, but returned and took them back under the pretext of needing to make changes to the documents. The Barreto family had false titles drawn up which show that they own all of Garzal, and have used these papers to bring a legal suit against the community. They want to officially revoke the 64 titles that currently exist and have mired the case in court for years.

Update: In recent weeks, the conflict has escalated significantly. The Barretos brought a criminal case against ten members of the community, including arrest warrants against them, based on trumped-up charges as a measure to put pressure on the communities. The judge currently assigned to the case has called both parties—the communities and the Barreto family—together for a “conciliation.” This essentially implies that the communities will have a chance to address the terms of the sale of their land to the Barreto family. The communities do not want to sell at all, and will attend but will not negotiate. Despite having no legal claim to the land, the Barreto family has used their sizeable wealth and power to intimidate and bully the rightful owners of the land.

The situation is tense at present as the communities wait to see whether or not justice will be done. The two parties meet for the “conciliation” on Wednesday, 4 March. An INCODER representative plans to visit the communities in approximately 2 weeks to investigate facts on the ground. CPT will maintain a presence in the community during the first week of March, as the farmers consult with their lawyer, prepare for and attend the meeting with the Barreto family.

28 February 2009

Ash Wednesday Public Action

Public Action

We presented a public action/prayer in front of the main cathedral in Barranca to publicize the release of our annual human rights report and to publicly mourn the deaths and massacres happening in Colombia.

Praying for Peace

This is the reading, written by Pierre and Chris, that we used at our public action on Ash Wednesday.

Esther 3:8-10
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, "There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business." So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.

Today, multinational corporations and countries like the U.S. and Canada have said to Colombia, "Colombia, you have a certain people dispersed and scattered in all your provinces that do not obey the laws of privatization, monocultures, fumigations, and the concentration of wealth. They don't obey the laws of the free market. If it pleases you, Mr. President, issue a decree of Plan Colombia to annihilate them, and we will deposit in the hands of your administrators billions of pesos."

Esther 3:13
Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

And the army and the paramilitaries were send to all the provinces of the country with the order to exterminate, kill and annihilate the farming villages, miners, indigenous groups, labor unions, social organizations, and human rights workers, and to forcibly recruit youth to be soldiers in the war project.

Esther 4:1-3
When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king's gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

The Jews used sackcloth and covered themselves in ashes to show their sorrow. Today we come to dress ourselves for mourning and sit at the door of the government to lament the decree of economic, social and military war against the Colombian people.

Esther 4:6-8, 12-14
So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king's gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to urge her to go into the king's presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.
When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

Like Mordecai, we have knowledge of plans of destruction and how much they are prepared to pay for them. We have copies of the decrees that have gone out from the businesses and governments and we know the consequences of those actions. Just like Esther we are called to speak out and report to the king what we know is happening.

Esther 4:15-17
Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther's instructions.

As Esther fasted and prepared herself to present herself to the king, we also must prepare ourselves and think about what our roles can be in the face of this monster of war. This season of Lent can be a time of reflection for each one of us. Esther made the decision of "if I perish, I perish" and sadly many have perished because they have confronted the king. Now we invite you, out loud or in your hearts, to name these people.

Esther 9:28
These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants.

The story of Esther ends well for the Jewish people. The king issued a new decree, allowing the Jews the possibility to defend themselves against the threat. Today we have come together here not to celebrate a victory but to defend ourselves against the great threat of war with our one powerful tool-- the truth. We are present here to denounce the violent acts so that they won't be lost to memory or remain in impunity. We hope for the day in which kings carry out their duties to respect the lives of each one of the inhabitants of Colombia and the entire world.

25 February 2009

CPT Colombia 2008 Human Rights Report

For the past 3 years, the Colombia team has compiled reports of violations to international humanitarian law and published them in an annual report. We've just wrapped up the report covering Dec. 2007 through Nov. 2008, and you can read our findings on our website: Colombia 2008 Human Rights Report

19 February 2009


We traveled to Garzal and Nueva Esperanza, two towns along the Magdalena River whose inhabitants face forced removal from their land. After living on the land for 5 years, Colombian law states that they become the rightful owners of the land, and these communities have been here for 20 years or more. Many farmers grow cacao, which turns a pretty good profit. Plans are in the works to build an entire chocolate production plant in the area, so that the communities can manage all stages of the process themselves and greatly increase their profit margin. But the land title issue has them worried. At one point INCODER (the Colombian Institute for Rural Development) issued 64 titles to many of the inhabitants. Later, they returned and collected the titles, claiming they needed to make a few small changes, and have never returned the titles.

The Barreto family used to live in the area where they managed the region's drug trade working for Pablo Escobar. When Escobar was under attack, the Barreto family fled. But now they are interested in returning, and have had fake land titles drawn up that show themselves as the owners of the entire area. The real titles, which belong to the members of the community, are in a legal process to be revoked. Thankfully the communities have a good lawyer helping them navigate the system, but so far the odds are stacked against them.

Garzal and Simiti

31 January 2009

More photos

I've just uploaded some more pictures, this time from an accompaniment last weekend to support the families of the victims of the 16 May 1998 massacre in Barrancabermeja as they received the remains of 5 of the victims.

On 16 May 1998, close to 50 paramilitaries showed up at a soccer field in Barrancabermeja where lots of people were out celebrating Mothers' Day. They rounded up a bunch of men and told them to get in the back of their pickup trucks. One man refused, so they shot him. 7 men were killed at the soccer field, and 25 were disappeared. In Dec. 2008, an ex-paramilitary disclosed the location of some of the bodies of the victims of this event. On 23 Jan. 2009, the exhumed remains of 5 of the 32 victims were returned to their families in Bucaramanga. The families (accompanied by quite a number of social organizations, including CPT) returned to Barrancabermeja with the remains of their loved ones. In the very same field where their loved ones had been taken, the families set up a night-long vigil, followed by mass the next morning, and finally, burial.

Mining Zone accompaniments

So far nearly all the accompaniments I've participated in with ECAP Colombia have been in or with people from the mining zone, in the Southern Bolivar region. This link will take you to a Picasa photo album with pictures of two recent accompaniments in the mining zone.

Accompaniments in the Sur de Bolivar mining zone