Greetings and Happy Holidays, friends!
#CoalConnection was the FOR Peace Presence focus for the month of November. In Bogotá we spread information about the connection between the coal industry and human rights as our team member Kaya toured the US with Johanna Rocha from Tierra Digna, engaging with and speaking to university, NGO and public audiences about the effects of extractive industries on Colombian Communities. Meanwhile, Gale and Julia from the Bogotá team were also accompanying Tierra Digna in the departments of Cesar and Magdalena, Colombia’s coal mining and exporting regions. In fact, on the 25th of November, we were with the community of Boquerón in Cesar when the Ministry for Foreign Commerce of the Netherlands, one of the biggest sellers of Colombian coal, visited to assess the adverse effects of coal mining in the region. A report by PAX Christi had denounced these effects in a report earlier this year.
In November we also ran our first grass roots fundraising campaign, “Support Colombia Communities, Stop Corporate Coal” and exceeded our goal of $10,000 needed to fund our physical and political accompaniment of Tierra Digna for the upcoming calendar year. That is thanks to you all! We couldn’t have done it without your support.
Apart from drawing attention to the global #CoalConnection, some urgent situations with other partner organizations required time-sensitive action. In the beginning of the month, we served as international observers during a humanitarian commission of national and international organizations collecting quantitative and qualitative information about the humanitarian situation in the Temporary Humanitarian Space El Mirador. The Commission’s aim was to avoid further evictions before a dignified resettlement of residents has taken place. El Mirador is a space that was created by Colombians displaced by violence from various regions in the country, who found shelter on what was abandoned land. After several evictions over the past few years cleared the land with the eventual aim of constructing free trade zone storage areas, residents organized as ASOTRACAMPO. FOR Peace Presence accompanies ASOTRACAMPO, and in this event more than 120 families took part in the extended census. While you can read about some qualitative observations here, quantitative results are still in process.
In the Peace Community, our accompaniers Isabel and Nikki started the month off with an emergency accompaniment. On the 3rd of November they headed with a group of San José Peace Community members from our home in the hamlet La Unión to the neighboring area of Las Arenas, where close-by armed groups threatened a family. In Solidarity, the San José Peace Community members from different settlements came together to accompany the threatened peasant family.
Later in the month, on the other side of the globe, a member of the San José Peace Community visited the FOR branch in Austria to share with audiences “The Stony Path to Peace”: experiences of the Peace Community in the Colombian war zones during the peace talks in Havana. This stony path has most recently been paved with accusatory comments by military brigades in the zone – insinuations that the Peace Community is tied to illegal armed groups – not even one year after the Colombian president apologized publically for false and illegal accusations made against the San José Peace Community by the former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
FOR Peace Presence also accompanies the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero in Buenaventura, a space created in April 2014. For this community which was developed as a method for ‘arm-free auto protection,’ keeping their guard up against paramilitary groups is a constant task. Julia and Gale accompanied the Inter-church Commission of Justice and Peace in the Humanitarian Space, when confronting people with presumable paramilitary connections try to enter.
With great concern, we observed two initiatives presented to Colombian congress, which would expand the jurisdiction of military courts, allowing them to judge human rights crimes. Alongside sixteen other international organizations, FOR Peace Presence released a letter of concern regarding those initiatives, which could deny justice for serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
We also had the opportunity to support our partner ACOOC’s (Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors) campaign #LibreSinLibreta, with the goal of ending the requirement of a military service card, the “Libreta Militar,” in order to graduate from university or be contracted for public jobs.
Aside from all this, our FOR Peace Presence Board Members met for the first time in person. The FOR accompaniment project is still in it’s beginning stages as an independent organization, separate from FOR-USA, but supported by non-violent grass root movements all over the world, and this was a positive step forward institutionally. Taking advantage of having Kaya on the Tierra Digna Speaking Tour in the West Coast of the US, she and our executive director Candice met with board members for three days in Oakland, California.
So in numbers, we had 16 days of accompaniment in Magdalena, Cesar, Atlántico and Valle de Cauca, a full month of permanent accompaniment within the Peace Community, with several overnight trips to other settlements. We had two meetings with regional public forces, a meeting with the Human Rights Section of the Ministry of Defense and two meetings with the Human Rights Section of the Ministry of Interior. Additionally, we had an embassy meeting with one of our accompanied organizations. Abroad, the Colombian Support group of FOR Austria coordinated three speaking events and two advocacy meetings with the San José Peace community and our accompanier Kaya spent three weeks on a US Speaking Tour with Tierra Digna prior to a three-day board meeting.
All this made November another crazy-busy, but productive month!