February 14, 2006, Panama City, Panama.
It’s 90 degrees here, hot and humid, but beautiful. We flew in low under the clouds at sunset, along the Canal, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and then around the beautiful city rising up from the ocean with its lush green mountains in the background and big ships coming and going. Panama has suffered war and occupation, but it remains beautiful.
A long day, from Albuquerque to Houston to Panama and on to Bogotá. I go to Colombia to meet two heroic Jesuits, prophets of justice and peace, Javier Giraldo and Pacho de Roux. Then, to join a delegation of the Colombia Support Network into the countryside, to learn about the war, and what we can do to help stop it.
This pilgrimage was born ten years ago when a Colombian woman showed up at my door asking me to go with her to her country to learn about their hidden war and the U.S. involvement in it. Sure, I said, someday I’ll go with you. In similar fashion, she tracked down Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Father Roy Bourgeois and even Noam Chomsky, and brought them all to Colombia as part of her project, the Colombia Support Network.
Cecilia Zarate-Laun and I became friends and we stayed in touch. Last fall, we toured Wisconsin together with Kathy Kelly, speaking to churches and college audiences about the reality of war and our work for peace. Now, finally, the time has come for me to go with my friend Cecilia to Colombia, to make that long pilgrimage for peace into the dark night of Colombia’s hidden war.
Rich in natural resources, Colombia has over 45 million people. And yet, three and half million of them are internally displaced, the highest number in the Western hemisphere–even though Colombia is not at war with another nation. Thirty people are assassinated every single day in Colombia for political reasons, some ten thousand a year, nearly two hundred thousand over the last few decades, the highest homicide rate in the world. These killings come after a history of death. Between 1948 and 1960, another two hundred thousand were killed. It also has the highest number of kidnappings annually in the world. As one of the Jesuits would say, “Colombia is one of the most violent places on earth.”
Colombia’s government is technically a democracy, with an elected President– Uribe–but actually, it is more like a dictatorship. It has the façade of a democracy, but the reality is that a handful of corrupt politicians work for the brutal Colombian military and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops who roam the countryside ostensibly in pursuit of the rebel groups (FARC and ELN) under the direction of the United States and its military advisors to rid the beautiful countryside of its indigenous peoples, steal their land and give it to their multinational corporations so they can make massive profits in oil, gold, and other resources. Colombia a complicated stew of violence, with the greatest human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere, and the United States government is stirring the pot.
In particular, the Colombian government and army set up thousands of paramilitaries to do their dirty work. The United States suggested that the Colombian army set them up so that the army would not be criticized for human rights violation and U.S. military aid would not have to be cut. So the paramilitaries do most the killings and the massacres, and the Colombian army looks the other way, and then continues to receive millions from the Pentagon. The army trains the paramilitaries, hides them, and gives them lists of names of people to be killed. The army protects the oil fields and the mining areas, and the multinational corporations, while the paramilitaries enforces the overall repression of the poor. They are funded by the rich, the industrialists, the landowners, cattlemen, drug lords, multinationals, and the president. But now, they have become a power unto themselves, like the death squads of El Salvador.
I go to Colombia to stand with my sisters and brothers, to meet these great Jesuits, to learn about the struggle for life, and yes, to fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies, to make peace. I go as a friend, a brother, and a servant, to offer a living sign of solidarity, love, friendship and peace.
The great man himself met me outside the crowded airport. Small, thin, balding, in a gray suit and sweater, 61 year old Javier Giraldo did not look like one of Latin America’s towering giants of human rights with his shy, gentle smile. Actually, according to friends, he is the single greatest threat to the Colombia military. Between his broken English and my broken Spanish, we got on just fine. He took me to the Jesuit high school, Colegio San Bartolome Merced, where Cecilia later met me. A great beginning, to be welcomed by two such heroes.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
A few months ago, PBS News asked President Bush about the future of Iraq. “The future of Iraq is Colombia,” he grinned. Iraq has been destroyed, its resources stolen, its people crushed, and its government taken over, as the whole world now knows. I think Bush is serious. He prefers his war in Colombia, where the U.S. wipes away the indigenous peoples, steals their land, gives it to its multinational corporations, and maintains a façade of democracy, all under the guise of the noble cause, the war against drugs, like his charade in Iraq, his war against terrorism, his fight for freedom. The U.S. carries out the same killing spree in Colombia, but no one knows about it. He wants to control Iraq ultimately just like the US. controls Colombia–without the rest of the world knowing about it. This is why I have come here–to enter the darkness of U.S. imperialism and shine a light of truth on its evil works.
Father Francisco “Pacho” de Roux
As in every war and injustice, good people emerge as heroes of peace and justice. Though Colombia’s institutional church leaders by and large support the war against the poor, two Jesuits have stood up for years to advocate for human rights and peace. They have endured persecution, harassment, death threats, and exile, but they carry on the struggle for truth and justice.
This morning, I had the great opportunity to visit with Jesuit Father Francisco de Roux, known as Pacho He began by summing up the situation in Colombia: “President Urribe is a close friend of George W. Bush, the only Latin American president to support the US. war on Iraq. Like Bush, he thinks the solution to everything is war. Here, everyone–the government, the paramilitaries, the landowners, and the rebels–thinks the only solution is war.
“The rebel groups–the FARC and the ELN rebels–fight the Colombian state. We, on the other hand, try to transform the laws and institutions. We all agree that we need profound structural change in Colombia, but some of us do not think war or terrorism will bring peace.
“We are trying to help the people to participate in the reconstruction of their country. All the regions of Colombia are different. The only way we can rebuild our broken country is through its people. I am starting in Magdalena Medio, the region along the river between Bogotá and the Caribbean, with our program for ‘Development and Peace.’ The European Union has funded us for eight years.
“We are not several decades for peace process to begin. We are starting now to transform ourselves. We have started peace conversations, negotiations and agricultural programs. We speak with the guerillas, the paramilitaries, the soldiers and the multinationals–in hope to bring peace. We try to recover our human dignity, reclaim our rights, and create a new world where everyone is treated like the president and the pope. “The landowners expel the peasants, produce displaced people by the millions, through their paramilitaries. We are promoting disarmament. Our development work is a means to create human dignity and human rights. The projects reveals the structural injustice we suffer. We expose it and work to solve it.
“We have never accepted Plan Colombia. If you work with it, you are part of the conflict. You end up taking sides, against the guerillas, and that will never bring peace. When I have problems with the guerillas or the soldiers or death threats from paramilitary groups, people tell me to leave, but I stay and consider it an invitation to talk I go and meet with them and try to build understanding.
“Twenty three people in our project have been killed. Three years ago, paramilitaries killed a fantastic woman on our staff, the team coordinator for a rural area. We found her body. It had no arms, legs or head. The message was–leave this area at once! It was very hard for all of us. So I went to see the head of the paramilitaries, the man responsible for her death.
“‘I presume you think that what you are doing is the best thing you can do for Colombia,’ I said. ‘Please understand that I’m trying to do the best I can for Colombia, too, only without weapons or warfare I do not agree with your behavior. You are generating enormous difficulties for our people.’
“‘This was an act of war,’ he said. ‘She was a lawyer bringing charges against us, so we considered her an enemy and we had to kill her.'”
“On another occasion, the guerillas held a tribunal against us, against me. They said, ‘You are bringing capitalism to our region and telling people not to join us.’ I thought for sure they would kill me, that I would be killed that very day. But I went to speak with them too, and after our conversation, they developed more confidence in us
“None of us in Colombia, myself included, have the freedom to live independently from war. We all suffer from it–by what we do or don’t do So we try to help our people rebuild their region, and we work with everyone, all of us, poor people, guerrillas, soldiers, paramilitaries, government officials. It’s an enormous project and very complicated. But we have to act and try to stop the violence.
“When we started our program, the region was first controlled by the guerillas, and then the paramilitaries. But now through our program, little by little, the people themselves are taking control of the area. The people are taking initiative. We started what we call, ‘Humanitarian spaces,’ areas where we try to protect life, promote dignity, distribute land, and force the government to assume responsibility. We are teaching them nonviolence. There is new determination and confidence among the people, even in the face of death threats. Over the years, both the guerillas and the paramilitaries are realizing that violence is not the way. You can help us by getting people in the United States to understand the relationship of their country to Colombia, especially the connection with Colombian military.”
CINEP, The Center for Investigation and Popular Education
Later in the morning, I visited with Jesuit Father Alejandro Angulo, director of CINEP, the Center for Investigation and Popular Education, an enormous social research center which publishes books, reports and magazines on various aspects of Colombia. Sixty people staff the center, which is located in a five story building next to the Jesuit high school. Several floors make up its widely used research library.
“This is a civil war, a class war,” Father Angulo told me as we toured the center. “The FARC and the ELN both started with a desire for agrarian reform, which Colombia’s president promised back in the 1950s. But those reforms were never passed into law, so people left the countryside and moved into the cities. The main objective of the war is land. The landowners formed the paramilitaries to steal and claim the land from the people. Today the FARC continues to use an old model of land reform. The paramilitaries represent capitalism and economic and social exploitation. In recent years, the paramilitaries have begun to fight themselves. They have become a wholly independent movement with some 30,000 soldiers. They are well funded and present in every section of the country.
“The army is technically separate from the paramilitaries, but they cross over. There are some 120,000 soldiers in the Colombian army, but the government is trying to double it. There are 20,000 rebels. Most of the daily assassinations are made to look like car crashes or robberies.”
He spoke about the Jesuits, how most of them go about their business working in schools and parishes, never speaking out or doing anything about the war. “In the 1980s, a Jesuit, Fr. Sergio Restrepo, a published poet, was working in a parish when the paramilitaries took over his area. He painted a mural inside his church and outside it on the walls, with themes about justice and peace and freedom from slavery. Soon afterwards, he was brutally killed. His body left in front of the church.
“Francisco de Roux has received many death threats. Sometimes, he has to go to Europe to get away, but now he has decided to stay. They could kill him but he is too well known. He speaks to the European Union each year, and occasionally to US. Senate committees.
“Javier Giraldo is the most well known advocate for human rights in Colombia. He started his human rights data base almost thirty years ago. He has documented every killing in the country for decades. He has kept a complete record of the atrocities by the Colombian government and its forces, and been critical of the rebels as well. He publishes an enormous quarterly periodical called Noche Niebla, [Night and Fog], deliberately using the Nazi name for its strategy of genocide. He registers every death When he gets enough evidence, he takes generals to court, even though he’s never had a verdict or a resolution in his favor. He has now even started to hold press conferences to denounce the massacres.
“Javier, too, has suffered countless death threats, and retreated to Europe and the United States on several occasions. From the beginning, he was targeted by the government. He does not hide, but he is careful. He lives downtown at the Jesuit high school, next door to the Presidential Palace and the Congress. Many of his friends have been killed, but he keeps at it. It’s a miracle he has not been killed.”
Afterwards, I met with Father Fernan Gonzalez, a Jesuit historian, who has spent decades studying Colombia’s dark history of violence. “First there was the genocide of the native peoples,” he began. “Then in the last half of the 18th century, Spanish domination brought further violence to the region. As the population grew, the big landowners set up the paramilitary groups, and eventually, guerilla groups appeared in the rural areas. Now the FARC controls certain villages and rural areas, sometimes with the drug lords, while the government and its armies wage war throughout the country. The countryside is a disaster. We need to end the war, but we also need a new Marshall Plan to rebuild our land, transportation, villages and cities.”
The 40th Anniversary Mass for Camilo Torres
Javier Giraldo took me across town for the afternoon to the National University, for a special Mass in the university chapel to mark the anniversary–forty years ago today–of the killing of Camilo Torres, the priest and popular university chaplain who joined the rebels. Camilo Torres worked here and even built the large concrete chapel where we celebrated Mass. The church was packed with students and faculty. Just as Javier, myself and several other priests processed to the altar, two dozen students, covered in red and black clothes, marched up the aisles and remained standing there for half of the Mass. They were members of one of the rebel groups, and were trying to honor Camilo Torres. (Personally, I wish they had stayed for the whole Mass, and honored Camilo by adhering to Jesus and his way of nonviolent resistance. But I was there to listen and pray.)
Javier preached eloquently about Camilo, how he gave his life for justice and peace, how he longed to reconcile all the people of Colombia with one another, how he hoped one day that the war would end and he would return to his pastoral work. Everyone applauded. Then, two of the revolutionaries took the pulpit and started shouting about Camilo and the struggle for justice. One of them ended by chanting, “The country or death!” (Again, I thought Father Javier’s way of nonviolent resistance was much more powerful, not to mention more eloquent.) We all prayed for Colombia, for an end to the killings and the poverty and the injustice, for the coming of God’s reign of peace on earth, here and now, in this broken land.
Afterwards, I was thrilled to meet members of the San Jose de Apartado peace community, including Gildardo, the young man I helped to bring to the United States. We spoke together in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1999, and I presented him with FOR’s International Peace Prize. The money for that prize, he said, helped the commnity buy fifteen calves. Those calves have now turned into forty cows, he said with a smile. Many of his community members have been killed. Next week marks the first anniversary of a terrible massacre which killed eight community members, including Luis Eduardo Guerra, the leader I met at the SOA protest a few years ago. Javier later told me that Luis had a photo of me in his home. Gildardo said he has a photo of me too. They are my heroes–true peacemakers and Christians.
Thursday February 16, 2006.
Today brought the extraordinary opportunity of meeting village leaders from around the country, thanks to Javier Giraldo. He invited me to join their day long meeting. Leaders from ten resistance communities had traveled for days by foot, mule and bus to get here. They were tribal chiefs and community organizers. Several of them sat through the meeting dressed in the handmade native clothes, chewing coca leaves. Coca leaves are sacred to indigenous communities in the Andes, so for them chewing them is as natural as chewing gum. What a blessing to meet them and hear their stories! Hundreds of rural communities around Colombia are persecuted, but these are the most consistently targeted.
“These people identify with the persecuted Christ,” Javier later told me. “They identify with Jesus as a victim of the military and the empire. They identify with Jesus who was arrested, tortured and killed by soldiers, just like them. And the people who were killed live on in their memory as martyrs, and they have a sense that as they carry on the community life and work for peace, the martyrs come alive among them.”
Javier calls these periodic meetings, “an alternative university,” so they can share and learn from one another. We spent the morning listening to reports from each community about their situations, the paramilitary and military infiltrations, the latest kidnappings and killings (In order to protect them, I will not use their names).
Meeting the Persecuted Communities
San Jose de Apartado spoke about preparations to mark the first anniversary of the massacre next week. The government has been blaming the community for the massacre. Many people have left and moved to other places. The military has been taking their land by force, and is now building a new military base, a fortress, nearby. The paramilitaries threaten them when they go to town for food. They control their movements and treat the people roughly. They have been told that they have to take sides. Either they must side with the government, the paramilitaries and the soldiers, or it is presumed, they side with the guerillas, and therefore should be killed. They want a third option. They do not want to side with either violent group.
“Last November, several peasants were in the fields collecting corn, and were shot at,” one of the leaders reported. ‘They hid. When they came out, the soldiers threw grenades at them, then forced two dozen of them to the ground, took their tools, and shot one of them dead. The body was then dressed in guerilla clothes and a gun was left in his hand, as if he had tried to kill them The army then claimed he was a guerilla and that there had been an exchange of gunfire and had finally killed him. Soldiers get paid according to the number of guerillas they kill. Actually, their friend was shot many times at close range. Some fifteen innocent people have disappeared, been arrested, and either imprisoned or killed. People are leaving, but we are conscious of the importance of the struggle and the need to stay together.”
The next group talked about the recent fighting near the village, and the army’s plan to build a new military base nearby. They have suffered ten years of massacres, but their area has been calm in recent months.
Another community told about being harassed by the army last December. After the army left, the paramilitaries come through. Both groups asked about the guerillas. After they left, the guerillas themselves came through, asking about the army and the paramilitaries. People continue to flee their region as well.
Another group described how the guerillas have taken complete control of their rural area. When the paramilitaries come through, they do not look for guerillas; they harass and massacre the people. At one time, there were 14,000 people in their area. Sixty percent have fled. In May 2000, they went to the local capital and made a peace agreement with the government, but two months later, the systematic assassinations began. They have continued to seek peaceful solutions. Recently, the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights has visited them. One of the Indian leaders was captured by the army, then shot. Some people have been forced at gunpoint to become military informants. They had no choice. They tell the army that everyone of us is a guerilla, because that’s what the army wants to hear. Meanwhile the guerillas demand food and no one can say No to the guerillas, or the guerillas may kill them. The community organized a demonstration against the army, and sent a letter to the President. The letter was given to the head of the army, who had personally organized the violence against the community. So he came to the community, held up the letter, mocked them all and said their letter meant nothing.
In December, the person who was giving us this report, was himself arrested and imprisoned, then released. The paramilitaries told him they had orders to kill him, but let him go as long as he promised to leave the region. If he returns, he will be killed, so now he’s in Bogotá. His region has been completely taken over by the military, paramilitaries and guerillas. He says they are in total war. All the leaders have left. Any leader who stayed was killed. It may not be possible for him to return. Yet the government is telling people to return to their local villagers. They are telling us to go back and be killed. Meanwhile, the paramilitaries have taken over the land which belonged to those who left. The land is not being returned, except to those who join the paramilitaries.
Another group told similar stories about the paramilitaries, the killings, and the destruction of their indigenous villages. “Everyone is very worried,” he said quietly.
A group of indigenous peoples from the mountains began their sharing by talking about their effort to retrieve their native traditions. “We need to reclaim our ancient traditions, to produce our own food, and to be strong,” the leader said. “We have to recover our true identity.” he was dressed head to toe in white handmade clothes. “The military has set up bases near our indigenous communities, on our sacred lands. They also fumigate our sacred places, even though there are no coca leaves there. Our people are not allowed to leave. If they try to leave, they are killed. The government put a picture of me on TV,” he said at the end, “saying I was a guerilla. But none of us Indians even know how to use a gun or any weapon.” He put his head down as he said this He wasn’t angry, just in a state of utter disbelief at the false accusations against him and his people.
The last community leader spoke about the huge army presence in his area. Seventeen percent of his extended community depends on the larger community for food, since they have no food in their immediate area. But the army has prevented all movement between our region, so we cannot get food to the seventeen percent of our community, and they are starving. They need food and medicine. The military has also been fumigating their region. The military base next to their village now has 2000 soldiers. They are supposed to fight the guerillas, but instead they harass and kill the people, so the people are trying to flee. The region is also being taken over by multinational corporations, which have taken over 35,000 acres in their region. The government has offered to give thousands of acres back to the community, as long as there are no guerillas. But we can’t control the guerillas, and we are not guerillas, so we can’t get our land back. At one point, forty of us protested the main military base, so they closed the main base and now the army roams throughout the region.
“I heard that yesterday, soldiers wearing masks beat up and kidnapped a boy. He was released later in the afternoon. Then last night, another boy and four men were disappeared. They told the first boy that if he said anything about it, they would come back and kill him. Some international solidarity people are visiting us from Italy, and they are helping them search for the disappeared. The military apparently has orders to kidnap all eighty leaders from our region, including me,” he said. “We are worried that the government wants to displace all our people and bring in more multinational corporations to take our land. The multinationals want to dig for gold, tear down the trees, and plant their own kinds of trees for lumber and paper.”
The Government’s Strategy
After a coffee break, one of the Bogotá activists gave a presentation on the overall strategy of the Colombian government and military. The first and most important goal is the total militarization of Colombia, he began. They want to take over every part of the countryside through the massive presence of the army. They also want the army to have complete control of the courts and judges. They will kidnap and arrest anyone, especially the leaders, but anyone working for change. They have a massive propaganda campaign. They are telling the nation, through the media, that militarization is good for Colombia and will bring greater security–even though it doesn’t. It leads to massacres, assassinations and the total violation of human rights.
In particular, no one is allowed to be neutral, especially the so-called peace communities. You are either for the government and the armed forces or for the guerillas. There is no other option. The government says all “neutral” peace communities are terrorists and guerilla bases, and they have made people around the nation believe it.
The government wants to kick out all indigenous peoples, take their land and bring in more multinational corporations. It WANTS the displacement of whole populations so that it can take the land and give it to the corporations, so that they can all get wealthy Meanwhile, the government promotes tourism and the idea of “development when in reality, the paramilitaries control entire regions on behalf of the government, the army and the coming multinationals. The United States makes all of this possible through “the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.”
Colombia’s situation is very complex–the government, the army, the paramilitaries. Sometimes they act together; sometimes not. But they are all connected with the drug dealers. Politicians are paid off by the mafia, drug dealers and the paramilitaries, which are technically supposed to be demobilizing but they never do. If they leave one region, they simply appear the next day in another part of the country. Guns are never turned in. In fact, the paramilitaries are rewarded with large land grants, land stolen from the indigenous peoples. In the end, the government uses extreme aggression and violence against people and organized communities, in order to steal the land for the multinational corporations under the U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
“The communities of peace are an obstacle to this government strategy,” he said in conclusion, “so the government is trying to crush them and destroy them. These communities offer another model, another way of life, outside the government’s strategy of violence, oppression and domination. That is why they are seen as a threat.”
The University of Resistance
Javier Giraldo concluded this first session with a lecture on his idea, “The University of Resistance.” In 2003, twelve communities met together for the first time in San Jose de Apartado to share and discuss human rights. They decided to set up this group to help teach one another about their basic rights, to create their own university of resistance. “It’s for the poor, the oppressed, and the threatened,” he said. “Here, knowledge is not a commodity. Our university has no titles, diplomas, students, teachers, requirements, rooms, or buildings. You don’t need to read or write or be a certain age. Instead we have a free interchange of information about how to live, farm, and build community. This is more practical. It happens in meetings like these, in our villages, and in the fields. Everyone knows something, and everyone can share something. We focus on the basic necessities of life–food, health, education, and human rights. Together we will learn alternative ways of living, and give each other a vision of life.”
Everyone listened attentively to Javier’s vision of this underground university. Clearly they respect him a great deal, and find hope and strength in his wisdom, vision and leadership.
Later that afternoon, Javier sent me with one of his friends for a drive through the Southern, poorer half of Bogotá to see for myself the endless sprawl of shacks and two story rickety houses, and the millions of poor people who live crowded together, barely surviving, surrounded by tall green mountains.
Tonight, Javier and I had our final visit. He confessed his disappointment with the Jesuits. He has been ostracized and hated, not only by the government and its soldiers, but by other priests, bishops and Jesuits who go about their business and ignore the killings. I told him that was my experience as well. We talked about Daniel Berrigan and Bill Bichsel, a Jesuit in Seattle imprisoned for protesting the SOA. Most Jesuits do not support our work for peace, I said, but we support him.
I asked him about hope. He told me about a speech he gave in Italy several years ago to a large conference on hope. He concluded that his hope must be the hope of Jesus on the cross, hope in the face of total failure, the hope that refuses to give up one’s values
and hopes for justice and peace, even if everything collapses around us, even if we seemingly fail. He sounds like Thomas Merton, who wrote that hope is only authentic if it looks despair in the eye and keeps on struggling for justice and peace.
One of the greatest, most faithful Jesuits I have ever met. A blessing to know such a saint, such a peacemaker, such a companion of Jesus. He gives me hope.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Bogotá has seven million residents, most of them barely surviving in wretched poverty, but some few live like millionaires off the back of the poor. I expected to see streets filled with soldiers, tanks and machine guns, after my visits to El Salvador and Guatemala. Not Bogotá. This is a new kind of war, a hidden war, based on genocide against the rural indigenous and peasants through the daily use of systematic assassination and terror, so that U.S. multinational corporations can take the land of poor and set up shop. It’s all done in secret, out of sight, for the most part, far and away from the hustle and bustle of Bogotá. You might never know there was a war.
Driving through Bogota, I can see how Colombia has succeeded in its pretense of democracy. But the reality is far more sinister. Noam Chomsky calls it a “democra-tatorship” The U.S. overshadows every aspect of Colombia and its war. Whether through Plan Colombia, the war on drugs, or the war on terrorism, whatever they call it, the U.S. funds and organizes this war against the poor, the massive displacement of millions, and the unjust establishment of its multinational corporations. Whether through the sale of its weapons, the seizure of Colombia’s natural resources, or the pay-offs from drug dealers, the mafia or the politicians, it reaps a fortune.
Still, parts of Bogotá were like another enchanted world. This morning Cecilia led me on a tour of the historic old town Bogotá. We walked through Bolivar Square, saw the Presidential Palace, the Supreme Court, and the Congress Building, and toured the Cathedral. We visited St. Ignatius church, built by the Jesuits around 1700, and walked passed the old Jesuit house, which looked much like the presidential palace. These were some of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, more beautiful than the cathedrals of Europe, relics of Spanish colonialism, its rampage for gold and its forced conversion of the native peoples. Despite it all, the Christian artwork in the churches and the museums was astonishingly beautiful.
Later this afternoon, we met the rest of our delegation and boarded a flight over the Andes to Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, where we spent the night in a hotel along the Rio Cali.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
This morning, over breakfast, Cecilia told some of us about the connection between the Catholic church and the Colombian military. The Church remains a very powerful force, and ally of the Colombian government and military, she said. In spite of this alliance, dozens of priests have been killed. Some bishops and cardinals used to reassign their outspoken priests deliberately to military areas, where they would shortly afterwards be assassinated. The worst was the notorious Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, who shipped his most disruptive priests off to their deaths, and also built a shopping mall on the side, which made him rich Instead of being kicked out, he was promoted to Rome. He works in the Vatican, next to the Pope, running the Office on Family Life.
Just then, Bishop Leonardo Gomez, a Dominican Bishop, joined us. He was attending a meeting in the hotel. He is one of only two progressive Catholic bishops in the entire country. The government has labeled him a guerilla, because of his work for peace, and recently exiled one of his priests. He has consistently met with all sides of the war in pursuit of peace, and just returned yesterday from Cuba where he helped mediate a dialogue between the Colombian government and the ELN. He lamented the silence of the Colombian bishops in the face of so many assassinations and the ongoing repression, but he thinks that overtime they will change. I liked him, but don’t feel optimistic about the Church in Colombia–or the United States.
Later this morning, Cecilia explained our upcoming journey into the region of Cauca, to the town of Santander de Quilichao, one of the centers of the drug trade, controlled by the paramilitaries. The surrounding countryside is controlled by the FARC. She reviewed our mission, and the four principles of the Colombia Support Network–“peace with justice in Colombia; a negotiated solution to the conflict; strengthening of civil society; and non-alignment with armed actors.” CSN works to achieve these goals through its delegations, educational outreach, using the media and influencing the U.S. Congress.
Most of our delegation is from the CSN chapter in New York City, led by Patricia Dahl who has started a sister community with the remote mountaintop village of Alto Naya, on the remote border of the southwestern departments of Cauca and the Valle de Cauca, where the government massacred scores of villagers during Holy Week, April 9-11, 2001. The government claimed that 23 people were killed; the villagers say as many as 140 people were killed and some 6,000 displaced. After the massacre, the village split. Some remained, others fled and eventually settled on a large farm near the town of Popayan where we will go on Monday. Some of the villagers are traveling down on mule from the mountain to meet us, a twelve hour journey. We will meet with the survivors, learn their story, and try to advocate on their behalf to government and military officials.
So this afternoon we drove to Santander de Quilichao, a beautiful town with over 8,000 people, half of them of African descendant. The parish here celebrated the first indigenous priest in the country. He started speaking out in defense of the suffering people, and was shortly thereafter assassinated on the steps of the church.
We held a long session with the leadership of the rural peace communities who together make up “the Association of City Councils” in northern Cauca. They told us about their years of organizing, and how they have formed their own political party. Because of their efforts, they’ve been persecuted, displaced, kidnapped, disappeared, and massacred. In particular, we heard horror stories about how the paramilitaries no longer just kill with guns; they use chain saws. They gather the community, pick the key people, and chop them up in front of everyone, completely terrorizing everybody. Sometimes, they make the villagers perform demonic acts with the bodies parts of their loved ones.
“The land is sacred,” one of them said. “It makes us human, so we have decided not to leave the land. We will live in permanent assemblies in permanent nonviolent resistance to the war. We try to promote life, accompaniment, sharing with one another and solidarity with other communities. Our projects help us to live. We seek self-determination. Neither the extreme right–the government and its militaries–or the extreme left–the guerillas–accept us. We are an obstacle to their plans. So our people are threatened and killed by both extreme sides. We need the international community to witness what is happening and tell the world what the Colombian government is doing to its own people. In effect, the United States government as well has declared that indigenous people are a threat to their power”
“Daily life for the struggling people means being harassed, questioned, and perhaps kidnapped or killed by the army, the paramilitaries or the guerillas,” he continued. “Our people try to grow crops, but they can’t transport them down the mountain, so they have to use mules, which takes days and costs a fortune. We can’t organize big protests because we are working full-time just to survive–to get water, food and medicine. Meanwhile, the multinationals are moving in and taking our land.”
Listening to these suffering people made it clear to me what this awful war is about. The Colombian government tells the world that the war is about the guerillas. The U.S. government tells the world that the war is about drugs. But the innocent suffering people tell us that in reality, the war is about land. It’s all about “the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.” As someone said, Colombia is ground zero for globalization. This land is incredibly rich in natural resources, including oil and gold. Colombia is the entrance to the Andes and the Amazon and has access to both ocean fronts. It has the second largest biodiversity in the world.
So the government and its armed forces move in, get rid of the people, steal their land, give it to the multinational corporations, allow them to destroy the land for whatever reason, and cover up this widespread injustice under the myth of a war on drugs. The U.S. government, weapons manufacturers, and wealthy elite profit immeasurably from this. Meanwhile, the indigenous peoples and the peasants throughout Colombia suffer and die.
The U.S. is also fumigating the countryside and the rain forests, even if that means dropping toxic chemicals on helpless villagers. Their goal is to terrorize the people so that they will flee their homes and be displaced. They have no respect for the earth as well, because the fumigation actually poisons the land and water This war is about FTAA, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. As the prophets of old said, it is about the two great sins of idolatry–greed and violence. Only it is now on a scale the world has never seen. From Iraq to Haiti to Colombia, the U.S. empire now pursues total greed and total violence.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
One of the most difficult, memorable days of my life, like days I’ve experienced in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Philippines, Palestine and Iraq. At 8 a.m., we boarded a “Chiva,” one of those brightly colored old buses with the side walls removed so people can hop on easily. We set off for an all day drive through the countryside on narrow dirt roads up the mountain to see various remote villages. We were following the path which the paramilitaries took during Holy Week, 2001, when it massacred the indigenous peoples of the Alto Naya. We would stop along the way to hear the stories of the various killings and massacres. We could have stopped every ten yards given the numbers of killings that happened that week alone. Unfortunately, this tour, their stories, are all too common. We could have made this trip in every region, every mountainside of Colombia.
We were setting off on a whole new kind of Stations of the Cross, stopping to hear about the kidnapping, torture and killing of Christ in the poor by the U.S.-backed Colombian army. The paramilitaries do the dirty work for the Colombian army. A trail of blood, torture, massacres and dead bodies–and hovering around like vultures of death, the soldiers, U.S. corporations, and U.S. military advisors. Several villagers made the trip down the mountain on mule to accompany us, to tell us their story, including several mothers with their children. One beautiful twelve year old girl, Alena Mabel, caught our attention. We all spoke with her and her little brothers and sisters, but only after several hours were we told that she was the sole witness of one particular massacre. She saw many friends and relatives chopped to pieces with chain saws. Her mother said she has never been the same.
Our first stop was at the bridge over the Rio Cauca, where over six hundred people were brutally killed in groups of twenty to thirty. The paramilitaries would line them up at the edge of the bridge where there is a little concrete platform. One at a time, the paramilitaries chopped off their heads with chain saws. Their bodies were then thrown into the river. We got out and walked down to the river’s edge. I looked up and saw the green mountains in the distance, several men fishing, and children running around and playing. The stories are too gruesome to imagine, but they are all too true. They symbolize the reality of Colombia.
After we passed the village of Timba, we stopped along the dirt road to meet the mayor of the village of Buenos Aires. He was a big man of African descent who told us how the paramilitaries and army soldiers killed hundreds of people in his area, and how the U.S. corporations have now moved in to take over the region. He pointed up to the hills where the companies are currently digging for samples in search of gold. Between the Colombian government and the U.S. government, all the local communities will be displaced, killed and eliminated, he said. The Free Trade Agreement is a great success for the United States.
We drove on, now well up into the mountains, on our one lane dirt road dug from out along the mountainside. The cliff to our left side dropped thousands of feet below us, and it was a dangerous ride, but the view was spectacular. We looked out over hundreds of miles of green hills, deep valleys, and the distant mountains of the Andes. It reminded me the mountains of Austria. Every fifteen minutes or so we would stop to hear a story: how the paramilitaries killed two or three people here; how they set up a check point there where they killed three or four people; how they chopped up five or six people in that house; how they killed seventeen people and threw them into the river over there.
In the distance through the valleys and mountains, we could see the massive new hydroelectric plant and dam which the United States is building to take over the river and the valley This particular project is the reason why these particular people were killed. There is big money involved here. Not far away, on the top of one small mountain, we saw an army barracks, with their guns pointing out in every direction.
We were well up into the mountains by now, driving along the cliff, looking out at the stunning surroundings, sobered by the horrific stories we were hearing, when we came around a bend and saw up ahead an entire mountainside where all the green trees had been chopped down and the remaining area burned black Along the roadside we saw thousands of little pine tree seedling samples in boxes, soon be planted by some U.S. and Canadian firms who had taken over the land to plant pine trees for their paper business. It was a scene right out of Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, where the evil forces of Mordor destroyed all the forests. Here before my very eyes was globalization in action. The FTAA working to bring new products to the United States. What they don’t tell is that along with this new product, we support the death of the poor, the massacre of people by chain saws, and the destruction of the earth itself
On and on we drove up the mountain and along the mountainside, stopping here and there to hear more horror stories. Once again, we came around the corner to find, this time, dozens of Colombian soldiers searching a crowded bus they had stopped. Two other buses also waited to be searched. I saw the soldiers frisking the peasants, pushing them against the bus, and searching their sacks. We stopped, and the soldiers boarded our Chiva. They were serious, solemn, holding their machine guns. They wanted to know what we were doing. Cecilia introduced herself and the group and said we had come to see the hydroelectric dam.
“Do you have permission to be here?” the commander asked. “Yes,” Cecilia answered, “from Colonel Bonilla,” (the head of the local military whom we will see on Wednesday.) She produced letters from several U.S. senators. When they saw our letters, they let us go. “God bless you and have a good day,” he said with a smile. He looked us over, walked away, then let all the other people and buses go too. They quickly boarded their chivas and moved on. Later we learned that the military thought we were investors for a multinational corporation; that’s why we were allowed to pass. They didn’t want us to see their harassment of the local people. Perhaps our presence prevented the soldiers from hurting or kidnapping the people on those buses.
Later, we stopped by a group of five houses and heard how the paramilitaries killed six people there as they made their way to the mountaintop of Alto Naya, that Holy Week in 2001. An elderly woman appeared with her teenage son, asking for a ride. Along the way, she told how the paramilitaries stormed her house and beat her two teenage boys senseless. This one boy has gone completely insane, she said, and is in total agony, suffering headaches and hallucinations. She wanted to get him to the hospital. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
By late that afternoon, we came down the mountain to the town of Suarez where we stopped for rice and beans, then made our way back at nightfall to Santander de Quilichao. After a day like today, I understand now why Cecilia says there are two Colombias–Bogota, and the rest of the country, with its mountains, fields, countryside’s, death squads, poverty, dead bodies and rivers of blood.
Monday, February 20, 2006
We drove from the beautiful town of Popayan out into the countryside to visit the farm, called “La Laguna,” where half of the Alto Naya community eventually settled after the Holy Week massacre of 2001. They found lawyers, sued the government, and somehow won the right to a new plot of land, which they eventually claimed. Over 250 survivors now live together in a communal cooperative. They walked us through the glorious fields, surrounded by mountains in the distance, showed us their crops and animals, served us a delicious lunch and then gave us a long presentation about their life and work–and what happened to them. They spoke about their needs for school supplies, healthcare, clean water, housing and agriculture. They also told us about preparations for the upcoming fifth anniversary of the massacre.
“We have been together here for several years now,” one of the leaders said. “Back on the mountain, they have no schools or teachers, but here we have three teachers. For the first three years, we lived in a bull fighting ring in Santandar. When the government finally relented to give us land after the lawsuit, they said only twenty families could come, but we all came and immediately started building our community. Now we grow organic coffee, corn, beans, vegetables and fruit, plus we raise cattle.”
“We are trying to teach our young people not to give in to feelings of revenge or join the guerillas. We want to provide new horizons for them, so we started a radio station where they could host their own radio programs.”
After lunch we were crowded into a large classroom for our meeting. Everyone was present, including the children. Many of them had witnessed horrific atrocities, including most of the children.
“Our story is long and sad,” another leader said as he related the details of the Holy Week massacre of 2001. “In 2000, the paramilitaries came and started killing people near our village. Then, they left and returned a few weeks later. They stole food from people coming down the mountain, set up check points, took over several villages, and killed more people, throwing the bodies in the river. Some people were brought to the river, chopped into pieces, and thrown into the river. Within six months, over 350 people were killed. Then the guerillas killed fourteen paramilitaries, so the paramilitaries started roaming through the countryside and mountainsides. The army was clearly involved in supporting the paramilitaries. They certainly did nothing to stop their killings.”
“On April 9, 2001, over 300 paramilitaries entered our area. They robbed people coming down from Alto Naya, and killed a lady named Gladys by cutting her to pieces in front of everyone. On April 10, they killed five more people, as they started up the mountain. They killed peasants and indigenous people who were coming down the mountain. Many were cut to pieces and never found.”
“On April 11, the paramilitaries arrived on the mountaintop of Alto Naya. They walked into the few little shops and destroyed everything. They took all our food, and ordered everyone to leave or be killed. Many ran away. The commander told a boy to round everyone up, to tell them there was a community meeting. As they waited in the village, they asked an Afro-Colombian man for his I.D card. He didn’t have one, so they cut him to death with machetes. He screamed out as he died, ‘I’m a poor man with children. Help me!'”
“When the remaining villagers arrived, the paramilitaries announced they all had five hours to leave their village or be killed. One man said, ‘Let me go and get my things.’ They said, No, you have to go now. So they took him and killed him in front of everyone. The children saw him cut to pieces. Everyone fled immediately. Some had to run over the dead bodies. As they came down the mountains, they told everyone they met to run away quickly toward the ocean. The paramilitaries ran down the mountain after them, all the way to the sea, destroying homes and killing more people as they went. By now they were drunk, and when they got to the sea, to chase after the people, some of them drowned. Twenty days later, the army finally went up the mountain to help claim the bodies. Forty bodies were found, but over a hundred people were disappeared. Some of the paramilitaries were arrested, but they will soon be released from prison. [They are being released by a horrific new law, called the “Law of Justice and Peace,” enacted by Uribe and passed in Congress that sets all paramilitary type criminals free.] We are deeply disturbed about this, especially the children. This war is based on terror, systematic assassination, and the displacement of peoples so that the government can take all the land and give it to the companies.”
After the community leader spoke, we heard testimony from some of the women. “My name is Maria Isnaida,” one woman said. “My life has been filled with suffering since the day I became a widow with three children. We were so afraid. Only now do we feel the support of the community. I have joined the women’s project.”
“My name is Lisinia,” another woman said. “I’m the victim of the massacre, a widow also with three children. We had to leave our home and suffer displacement. I have been here on the farm for two years now. One of the things I am learning from life is that I should not complain. With the help of the community, I’ve become the leader of the women’s project. Our women have been in training for two years now. We have begun to make woolen hand bags, to sell them in town, and to raise money for chickens.”
“Since we were born, we have been working for peace,” she continued. “We did not even know what war was. But other people do not want peace. They saw us in peace and so they what they did.”
Lisinia had just returned from speaking at an international conference on human rights for victims of massacres in Madrid, Spain. Every participant said they could never forgive their killers. She was the last to speak, but they ran out of time. She was asked to introduce herself, so she said simply, “We forgive the people who did this to us, but we want justice, truth and reparation.” The place exploded with applause, and they asked her to speak for another forty minutes. She explained that the war in Colombia is a class war, a war for power, which is what every war is about.
She finished her testimony by looking at us and saying, “While I live, I will keep on talking.” Then she sat done I was stunned. What a courageous woman! She represents for me the best of Colombia. She models for me what it means to be a human being in such a terrible time. She has become for me a teacher of peace. I too want to forgive everyone involved in the killings, but I too want justice, truth and reparation. I too commit myself to keep on talking.
We returned to Popayan for dinner. Popayan is magical. Every building is painted white. Brown tiles cover the roofs and green mountains surrounded the city. In the center, a beautiful park sets off the Cathedral and the government buildings. Our hotel is around the corner from the park. People seem busy, coming and going. Children laugh. It is another world, but it too has a history of violence.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
I was up early for a walk around Popayan. I sat in the Cathedral and the park for a half hour to re-center myself in the spirit of peace after these difficult days. We spent the day in meetings, first with the grassroots progressive political party. They told us about their work to promote justice, including their campaign against a nearby university which is trying to take over large sections of land in the countryside.
This afternoon, we met with the secretary to the Governor of the Cauca, a kind of lieutenant governor for the state, along with his staff. Six indigenous leaders joined us. We took turns asking him questions. Senora Jimena, director of the state bureau for the displaced, answered us first. We are doing everything we can, she said; great progress is being made, but we don’t have any money, and the federal government should be doing more, etc. etc. Total baloney. Colombia is notorious for its bureaucracy, and this polite politician embodied it. We launched into a series of specific requests on behalf of the Alto Naya people, both on the farm and up the mountain. The farm community needs a new road, food for their animals, school accreditation, police protection and a water filter and pump. No way, we were told.
“Thank you, but with all due respect,” I finally said, “we are very dissatisfied with your answers, and will report to our Senators who are following our delegation about what is going on and what is not happening. We want to make sure that no harm ever comes to these good people again, and that they get action now, beginning with a new water filter and pump this week.”
“Okay,” she said, looking me in the eye.
The assistant governor was worse. “We have great plans, programs and actions,” he said, sounding very much like George W. Bush. “Those people on the mountain did not have clean water before, and now they do, so their lives are better.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “You cannot say they have clean water. They do not have drinkable water. We have been there. And their lives are not better now. They’ve lost dozens of loved ones and friends and neighbors. Their lives will never be the same They should get clean water right now.”
“It’s very complicated,” he kept saying. “The government, the military, the United States, the multinationals, Plan Colombia–there’s not much we can do.”
“Yes,” I said on behalf of the group, “Of course, it’s complicated Nonetheless, we want the people of Alto Naya to have a water filter, a new road, school accreditation, better security and more support, right now.” He was silenced.
Finally, in the late afternoon, we had another tense meeting with the state Secretary of Education and Culture, demanding that the farm’s school be legalized, accredited, and financially supported. She kept saying no. Again we witnessed the legendary stifling bureaucracy that keeps the stagnation moving and the war going. Every government office has a human rights division, and they write endless reports, but nothing happens, except the continued violation of human rights. One of the group said she had abandoned the community of the Alto Naya. She denied it, but refused to do anything to support these people. And she was furious that North Americans were witnessing her hostility.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
This morning, we drove back to Cali and right into army headquarters to meet with none other than Colonel Bonilla himself, the head of the Colombian military in the department of Valle Del Cauca. He was right out of the movies–charming, friendly and slimy all at once, in his green military uniform. The military compound was everything you’d imagine–high gates surrounded by armed soldiers, and outside, a long line of tearful women and children saying goodbye to their young men who were being forced into the military. The Colonel’s stately office was filled beautiful Christian art, as well as helmets, miniature tanks, swords and guns. His desk faced a four foot tall mahogany cross. On one table stood a two foot statue of the baby Jesus with his arms outstretched. On another table there was a large opened Bible. Clearly this man is a devout Christian. He believes he is serving Jesus by running the army, waging war, and killing the enemy. He is completely blind. He does not realize that he is crucifying Christ all over again in these beautiful people.
We sat down and peppered him with questions about the Alto Naya community He realized how serious we were, took us to a larger meeting room and called in his staff, including his human rights officer, to rebuke our complaints. They must not have many international visitors. Our presence, along with letters from several U.S. Senators, put them on the defensive.
After another twenty minutes, the Colonel decided he needed to put us at ease, so he called in the people who really are in charge–two U.S. military advisors, the men who orchestrate the entire Colombian military in this region. “The U.S. knows everything we do,” he said as he introduced the U.S. soldiers, Major Dave Mellars and Colonel Valenciaz, both in U.S. army uniforms.
“We’re here to assist,” Dave said. “This war is different from Afghanistan or El Salvador. We are limited in what we can do.” I suppose he meant that he could not start massive bombing raids. He was limited to one killing at a time.
Major Dave Mellars. This guy was right out of central casting, like Rambo personified, young, big, bright, clean cut, enthusiastic, articulate, efficient, and energetic. He was so gung-ho. He had a big smile and plenty of down home talk about “eliminating the enemy,” “fulfilling our mission,” and “getting the job done.” He spoke Spanish fluently, after his experience as a Christian missionary in Uruguay years before. He was so good, and his work was pathologically demonic. He emulated Nazi efficiency, the all-American soldiers who committed atrocities in My Lai. He was like our advisors who outlined the genocide in Guatemala and El Salvador.
The army is trying to restore peace, he said, speaking now on behalf of the Colonel. We are trying to bring democracy. Pat asked him why then the soldiers were putting on masks, entering villages, and terrorizing them. He denied it, but eventually admitted it.
“We have 250,000 people in the army,” the Colonel said, offering a figure twice as large as anything we had heard “It is almost impossible to guarantee security everywhere.”
“But we are a new army,” he continued. “We are developing courses in human rights and international law. The army is now one hundred percent committed to human rights. I promise that these violations will not happen again, and if anything happens, they will be investigated.”
I left the place in a daze, shaking from the experience. We did what we could, at least, to let them know that we are watching them and the suffering people of the Alto Naya. We hope our presence will protect them.
The afternoon brought a beautiful antidote. We crossed town, from the center of war, to a place of peace run by one of South America’s leading feminist theologians, Sr. Carmina Navia. She and the staff o her women’s center on the edge of Cali work with women and young people “to build an alternative world of justice, freedom and happiness.” After touring us through their magnificent facility, which was covered by original paintings of neighborhood women, she sat down and spoke about her work.
“We use liberation theology and eco-feminism as a framework for all that we do,” she said. “We hold workshops, community meetings and classes. We side with the poor and seek economic, social and political liberation. We read the Bible from the point of view of the poor. It is a utopian project, but we are trying to reconcile men and women and create a new society.”
I asked her what gives her hope. “I have hope for Colombia because the women are strong. They struggle hard to keep their children alive. I have hope whenever small groups like ours work together to build a new society.”
I asked her what we could do to support her work. “First of all, please denounce the U.S. support of the Colombian government The president is a dictator with an international façade of democracy that does not coincide with reality. Tell people that the image of Colombia is not true. Second, tell the people of the United States that drug-trafficking is more a problem for your people in the United States than for us Colombians.”
Thursday, February 23, 2006
My brief sojourn to Colombia has come to a close. I flew this morning to Bogota, and now I’m on my back to the United States. The rest of the delegation will spend two more days meeting with various government officials to plead for the people of the Alto Naya, but I have to return to New Mexico to attend a long planned Pax Christi retreat.
Looking out the window at the magnificent land below and the towering Andes in the distance, my heart is heavy and I feel sad after all I’ve seen and heard. The land is beautiful, and so are the people, but the killing is horrific, demonic, and perfectly legal and normal and well funded, thanks to the United States. I hope and pray that the killings will end, that the people of the United States will wake up to its hidden war in Colombia, and stop paying for it, supporting it, and ignoring it. And I resolve to keep on storming heaven for an end to this war, and the war on Iraq and all our war making.
The other night I woke up in a sweat at 3 a.m. and was unable to sleep. I was fighting off my tears, feeling cut to the heart, but then I recalled the wisdom of Mother Jones, who said long ago: “Don’t mourn, organize.” So I resolved to take action, to do what I could to help stop the war on Colombia.
I take as my model, Licinia, the woman we met at the finca near Popayan. She has survived the horrific death of her husband and neighbors, the displacement of her children and community, and the ongoing poverty and war, yet she stood up in front of us all and spoke of forgiveness and justice and her mission.
I want to be like her. I too forgive all the killers–including my own government. But I too want justice, truth and reparations. And as long as I am alive, I too will speak out–against this evil war, the torture and massacres, the displacement and poverty, the U.S military aid and U.S. military advisors, the multinational corporations, the destruction of the earth, the silence and complicity of the church in the crimes against the people, the systematic genocide of the indigenous peoples, and the destruction of the rain forest.
As long as I am alive, I will speak out for peace, together with my sisters and brothers in Colombia.
A Prayer for Colombia
God of peace, God of justice, God of creation, hear the cry of the displaced, the terrorized, the tortured, the assassinated, the massacred people of Colombia. Hear the cry of the widows and orphans, the survivors, the damaged and wounded. Grant them a new day of peace with justice. Help us stop the killings now. Disarm the government, the armed forces, the paramilitaries and the rebels who kill your beloved people. Stop the U.S. military aid which makes the killing possible, and stop the U.S. from training and advising the Colombian government death squads. Stop the rape and destruction of your sacred land by U.S. corporations under the myth of ‘free trade” and lie of “the war on drugs.” Wake the church up so that it will speak out and resist the murderous government and the forces of death. Make it stand with the suffering people and demand justice and peace Heal the people and the land. Give your beloved people a new future of peace and hope, food and medicine, dignity and life. Make us all sisters and brothers who live in peace with one another, who treat one another nonviolently with respect and dignity, that we might all be your beloved children and live in your reign of love. In the name of the crucified and risen Jesus. Amen.
What We Can Do to Resist the U.S. War on Colombia
February 14, 2006, Panama City, Panama.