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.
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.
Context: 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.
Context: 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.
Context: 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?"
Context: 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.
Context: 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.
Context: 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.
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
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.