Friday, March 2, 2007

South America Log - No. 5

Greetings Friends and Family,

In the beginning of February we returned to Merida, Venezuela for a week of vacation with Nils host family from when he was a high school exchange student. In Merida, we enjoyed the cooler climate, hiking in the Andes with Nils host father, cooking with his host mother and playing with our Venezuelan nephews. Back in Barranca we are preparing to leave tomorrow for a 10-day accompaniment with small gold miners who are struggling to maintain their livelihood in the face of increasing multinational interest in their land.

We once heard Colombia described as holding a candle as the wax drips: beautiful and painful at the same moment. Living in Colombia these past 5 months it is easy to name many beautiful experiences: being welcomed into people’s homes, hiking to small villages in the mountains, swimming in an isolated and immense waterfall, traveling in an 80-person canoe through a jungle river, and working with Colombians who remain committed to the struggle for peace despite the violence around them. We also often feel the pain of those around us being burned by the candle’s wax.

Last week a boat driver got up in the morning to work on his small motorboat, ferrying people and goods across the Magdalena River. A few hours later the boat driver was killed in crossfire between the Colombian Army and an illegal paramilitary group.

Nils, another CPTer, and the Human Rights Ombudswoman were traveling on the river that morning to accompany a meeting of small farmers who are being forced from their land by the large palm tree plantations that are moving into the region. The Ombudswoman received a call to say that 4 people were dead in the nearby port town. Nils and his companions returned to the port town where they learned that an armed group of paramilitary members had come into town and forced two boat drivers to take them down the river in their boat. They let one of the drivers go, but the other one was forced to continue with them until they were intercepted by an Army patrol. A firefight broke out and the boat driver was killed, along with three paramilitary members. The civilian boat driver had little choice about transporting the armed paramilitaries, but he paid for their presence in his boat with his life.

In previous logs we have mentioned a powerful women’s organization that has been fighting for peace and justice in Barrancabermeja for 30 years. Members of the organization often receive death threats. Between 2002 and 2006 three staff members were assassinated. Now, the sister of one of the organization’s leaders has disappeared. On February 13, Katherine Gonzalez Torres, 20 years of age, left for work and she has not been heard from since. Her family joins the over 15,000 families in Colombia that have grieved a disappeared family member in the past 35 years. Only about 1,500 of the victims have reappeared alive.

With 4 of our teammates we joined hundreds of others at a vigil to call attention to Katherine’s disappearance. The street was blocked and people in cars, buses and motorcycles were forced to pause and consider the disappearance of Katherine.

"Today our womb hurts because we give life and today they are taking life away from us" was the phrase tirelessly repeated by leaders of the prayer vigil. "Today our womb hurts because one of our daughters is not here with us. The mother, who dedicated twenty years to raise this seed (her daughter) and make of her a woman, is missing her. Those that took her were also born from a woman's womb"

"We do not want the guerrillas or the paramilitaries, we are against the war. We don't give birth to or raise our sons and daughters for war", the leaders chanted loudly. A truck full of soldiers appeared from a side street and tried to drive through the demonstration. The solders were forced to turn around by women who stood firm in front of the truck.

As vigilers lit candles, Sister Marina prayed, "The light that we are lighting will not be extinguished. It's our job to keep it lit.”

Peace and light,

Michele and Nils

P.S. Most of the greetings we receive from home include a weather report. Here is ours. After a week of 102 degrees in the day and 82 degrees at night the forecast shows a break in the weather in a few days: 96 in the day and 78 at night! We seem to have traded a climate where the standard greeting begins, “It’s cold!” for one where conversations begin with, “It’s hot!”

P.P.S. We have convenient and fast e-mail access in the CPT office (it’s also the only air-conditioned room in the house) so please do not hesitate to write back. We love receiving news from home.

CPT MISSION STATEMENT: Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Colombia is
a community made up of trained volunteers from different cultures
that forms part of the international, ecumenical organization, CPT.
Our work is based in, though not limited to, the Middle Magdalena
region of Colombia
. We work together on grassroots initiatives to
expose and transform structures of domination and oppression
through active nonviolence in order to make possible a world
grounded in respect, justice and love, even of enemies.

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