Saturday, March 8, 2008

South America Log - No. 11

March 8, 2008

Greetings friends and family,

Happy International Women's Day! After receiving numerous worried emails about the crisis between Colombia and its bordering countries we decided to write about that situation. Our team in Barrancabermeja is a long ways from all of Colombia's borders, so there has never been direct danger related to these tensions to CPTers or to our partners here.

As of yesterday, March 7, we are thankful to report that tensions between Colombia and Venezuela and Ecuador have eased due to diplomatic conversations at the 10th annual Rio Summit of leaders of Latin American countries. The Rio Summit was scheduled prior to the events that sparked tensions between Colombia and its border nations. The agenda of the Rio Summit was quickly changed to focus on the crisis between these countries.

Here is a summary of events over the past week for those who have been trying to get a handle on the situation here:

On February 27, through negotiations facilitated by the government of Venezuela, there was another step forward in a peaceful end to the armed conflict when the guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released four more of the approximately 700 hostages they have kidnapped and held for years. Three days later on March 1, Colombian governmental forces crossed into Ecuador and, through aerial bombardment and an on-ground military raid, killed a key FARC leader, 'Raúl Reyes', as well as twenty others identified in the press as FARC members. Some reports suggest this attack on a FARC base inside of Ecuador was aided by U.S. intelligence. According to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, at the time of his death Reyes was in negotiations with the Ecuadorian government regarding a further release of hostages.

On March 2 Ecuador and Venezuela withdrew their ambassadors from Colombia and both countries moved troops and tanks to their borders with Colombia. On March 6 Nicaragua also withdrew its ambassadors from Colombia. On March 7 at the Rio Summit the four countries reached a diplomatic agreement to this conflict.

We recommend Adam Isaacson's blog at the Center for International Policy for ongoing concise analysis of events in Colombia, and links to recommended news sources.


In celebration of International Women's Day, the Women's Popular Organization (OFP) hung posters throughout Barrancabermeja opposing the armed conflict. They asked CPT if we would spend time at each of their community centers, as they were concerned about reprisals for the hanging of the posters. Yesterday we went out in pairs to eat lunch at the soup kitchens operated at each of the OFP's community centers. As Nils and I enjoyed our lunch of soup, rice and beans, salad, plantains and fresh lemonade, everyone in the dining room sat silently watching the television news. The media was announcing that the Colombian Army had killed 'Iván Ríos', another member of the FARC's seven-person secretariat or leadership council. The murder the week before of 'Raúl Reyes' was the first death of a FARC secretariat member in their almost 50-year existence.

As I listened to the news of 'Iván Ríos' death, I felt sad to realize that many people will hear the news of the death of two FARC leaders as proof that a military solution to the armed conflict is working. Thankfully, there are also many people who believe non-violent responses and a negotiated solution to the armed conflict is not only possible but necessary. Near our lunch table at the soup kitchen was one of the posters created in celebration of International Women's Day with the slogan, "We do not want a peace that oppresses or a war that kills." The killing of the FARC leaders by the Colombian Army is certainly, "the peace that oppresses." The hanging of these posters is just one of the many courageous acts of resistance to this war that we witness every day.

International Women's Day will be a more somber one for the OFP this year as it will be the first celebration they have held in 30 years without their President, Yolanda Becerra, in attendance. Ms. Becerra was assaulted in her home the night of November 4, 2007 and members of her family have been harassed and threatened. Ms. Becerra has left the city but the women of OFP are as determined as ever to work for women's rights.

In other news, Michele recently returned to Garzal, the community where we spent Christmas. We are organizing a delegation of 11 Colombians to visit Garzal next week to see first hand their struggle for land titles.

Nils recently spent 4 days with the mining community in meetings to hold the Colombian government accountable to agreements they made after the Army killed mining leader, Alejandro Uribe in September 2006.

We also enjoyed two weeks at the Caribbean Coast in February, where highlights included a visit to where the desert meets the ocean in the northernmost tip of Colombia and a morning spent scuba diving. You can see photos of our vacation below in this blog.

We will be back in Minnesota from March 26 to May 6. Then we will return to Colombia where we plan to stay until September 2008.

In Peace,

Michele and Nils

To learn more about the work of CPT or to make a donation in our names please visit

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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