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.