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

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“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.