Greetings and Happy 2015!
At FOR Peace Presence, team changes framed December when Julia left Bogotá in the beginning of the month for the permanent accompaniment team in the rural mountain village of La Unión, part of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Isa wrapped up her time on the FOR Peace Presence team after a wonderful year of work, but before she did, in December the team made two physically-demanding 6-hour trips by foot to the hamlet of Mulatos, accompanying community leaders and members in order to heighten community security and visibility in the area, as there have been increased military and guerrilla activity and combats as of late. The second accompaniment to Mulatos was for the annual Christmas celebration – a time to dance, eat good food, and reflect. Peace Community members also used the gathering to have an assembly. What a way to welcome Julia and say goodbye to Isa – ringing in the new year dancing to Antioquia’s favorite, vallenato.
Back in Bogotá, our Director Candice and Program Coordinator Michaela were active in political meetings and advocacy work. They met with the US, British, and German embassies about various Colombian partners, and also attended a ceremony at the French Residence, where the German and French embassies recognized the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó for their pacifist resistance in the armed conflict. While Peace Community leaders were in town, FOR Peace Presence accompanied them to additional embassy meetings to discuss a particular matter of concern – defamatory and accusatory statements made against the Community over the past few months, including claims made that they are “terrorists”. In November, FOR Peace Presence and FOR Austria had invited San José Peace Community leader Arley Tuberquia to Austria. The connections from that visit carried over into December, when Austrian members of parliament, some of whom met with Arley, also sent a letter to Colombian President Manual Santos, expressing their deep concern and dismay at such statements and calling particular attention to those of Coronel Rojas of the Military’s 17th Brigade in Urabá.
The Bogotá team’s first accompaniment in December brought them waist-deep into a river undergoing drastic changes as it continues to be mined for sands and gravel. Kaya and Gale made another monitory visit to a community in Nilo, Cundinamarca. The Sumapaz River, as we documented a few months ago, has since experienced further degradation as entire islands and sections of the river which harness animal and plant life in the area have been completely removed. The community additionally suffers from ecological damage to its drinking water sources, caused by trash deposited up-stream by the nearby Tolemaida military training base, one of the biggest military training bases in Colombia. We are planning to accompany a pending visit to the community from the environmental department of Colombia’s Ministry of Defense.
Our Bogotá team also went to the department of Atlántico to accompany ASOTRACAMPO in the Temporary Humanitarian Space El Mirador. In the nearest city of Barranquilla, they accompanied community leader Juan Martínez to meetings with various entities involved in the many steps it will take to reach a dignified resettlement from their territory. Our team met independently with the Second Brigade of the Colombian Army’s Police Military unit in Barranquilla to discuss our concerns about ongoing threats to community members in Tamarindo, paramilitary presence in the area, and the role the military takes on when violent evictions take place.
Kaya and Gale went on to meet with coronels of Santa Marta’s Departmental and Metropolitan Police, as well as the Santa Marta Mayor’s Office Secretary of Government. They shared with these entities our work with lawyers collective Tierra Digna and the communities of Don Jaca and Boquerón, notifying them about Tierra Digna’s upcoming documentary launch. “Quien Gana, Quien Pierde? (Who Wins, Who Loses?)” highlights these communities’ plight due to coal mining operations. FOR Peace Presence remains concerned about threats that have made their way to individuals involved in the video’s making, and anticipatory about what will happen once this very important information is released. Toward the end of the month, Kaya and Gale made their way to Buenaventura to wrap up the year accompanying the Inter-Church Commission of Justice and Peace in the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero.
In numbers, that’s 30 days of permanent accompaniment in the Peace Community, including 2 accompaniments to neighboring hamlets, 6 nights of physical and political accompaniment by our Bogotá team in the departments of Valle de Cauca and Atlántico, and 6 independent political meetings with police, government, and international authorities, as well as various other meetings with these entities and our partners.
It was a good end to a very full year, and it also gave us the opportunity to look back on 2014. In the past year, FOR Peace Presence has made many changes – we have built a new website and social media mediums, moved forward in our transition towards independency from FOR USA, and taken on various new partners which we now accompany from Bogotá. As we do this we try to make a constant and conscious effort to reflect on how and why we do our work, and how it will continue to need to change in Colombia’s shifting political climate. We are a team of individuals striving to support human rights work already being done in Colombia by Colombians who know their situations better than anybody else. We walk with, meet with, and are present with people who have committed their lives to defending their land, rights, and dignity, because we believe in their struggle – a struggle that is not our own, but is surely connected to our own.
We thank you all for supporting us this year, and going on into 2015. We could not do it without you. To donate to FOR Peace Presence and our work in Colombia, click here.
Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!
FOR Peace Presence team
Candice, Gale, Julia, Isabel, Michaela, Nikki, and Kaya