“A human rights defender is someone who consciously acts on their profound sensitivity for life, and who does it in act of love and commitment for the lives of others.”
Since 2014, FORPP has accompanied Human Rights activist Enrique Chimonja Coy, member of the Intereclesial Commission of Justice and Peace. We accompany him to the city of Buenaventura and in the rivers of San Juan, Calima, and Naya, home to indigenous and afro-descendent communities who are survivors of the armed conflict.
As a member of the FORPP staff, the majority of my time is spent ‘tras bambolinas’ – behind the scenes. However, over the last couple of months, circumstances offered an opportunity to attend a hearing at the Colombian Inspector General’s Bogotá HQ, about the situation pertaining to campesinos (small farmers) of the Nilo municipality, followed up a few weeks later by a day trip to their lands.
A little bit of background. Nilo municipality lies a few hours south-west of Bogotá. One boards the bus in the chilly capital, and alights in the scorching heat of the Cundinamarca region. The neighbouring town – Melgar – is known locally as ‘swimming-pool-city’ for its plethora of hotels, accommodating others escaping the hustle and bustle for a few days. However, these two municipalities, Nilo and Melgar, are also heavily dependent on the Colombian armed forces for their way of life. Melgar is home to a significant air force base, while Tolemaida, an army training school with strong links to the US military, lies within Nilo’s borders.
Originally published in ZNet. Article written by Tom Power, FORPP accompanier.
Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest port-side cities, generates US$2 billion in revenue for the Colombian State, yet over half the city doesn’t have access to drinking water. Furthermore, unemployment is above 60%, it lacks a major hospital to serve its 400,000 residents, and illegal armed groups have been inflicting heinous violence on the civilian population for more than 20 years. In the face of total state abandonment, on March 16th the people of Buenaventura, 89% of who are black, declared a general strike.
Gale Virginia Stafford
Escribo desde lejos con corazón lleno de amor en este aniversario. No puedo contarles todo lo que me han enseñado y lo que aprendí de mi tiempo trabajando con ustedes en Colombia!
Acompañar es un trabajo duro, pero siempre la parte más fuerte era de escuchar las historias de nuestrxs acompañadxs, y la parte más inspiradora era el pensamiento y la fuerza de sus respuestas y la lucha pacífica.
Hoy en día soy una profesora de español de secundario. Hablo en español y pienso en ustedes todos los días – traigo conmigo todas las experiencias que tuve durante mi tiempo en Colombia, y enseño a mis estudiantes sobre ellas.
También les cuento de mi tiempo allá y lo más que pueda de las personas increíbles que conocí allá, y de su resistencia tenaz contra varios partidos conocidos y a veces no tan conocidos. Al momento en Estados Unidos tenemos unas dificultades propias, con un presidente y un gobierno también que está poniendo unas policías y leyes cada vez más racistas y temorosas, y con violencia aumentando. Hablo con muchxs de mis mis estudiantes, quienes tienen miedo, y les cuento de otros lugares donde se ha sufrido mucho, pero se pone aún más fuerte por eso, y tienen más esperanza.
Les extraño muchísimo a todxs, y espero visitarles cuando la plata me alcanze. Hasta allí, que me guarden una arepa y bailen una por mi parte.
Abrazotes a todo el mundo, con cariño y en solidaridad,
I am writing you from afar with my heart full of love during this anniversary. I cannot tell you everything that you have taught me, and that I have learned during my time with you in Colombia!
Accompaniment is a difficult job, but the hardest part was always to hear the stories of our accompanied partners, and the most inspirational part was the thoughts and the strength of the responses, and the pacifist struggle.
Today, I am a secondary school Spanish teacher. I speak in Spanish and think of all of you every day – I have taken all these experiences with me that I had during my time in Colombia, and I teach my students about them. I tell them about my time there and, as much as I can, tell them about the incredible people that I met there, and of their fierce resistance against groups who were sometimes known, and other times unknown. Right now in the United States, we have our own difficulties, with a president and government that are putting policy and laws into place that are becoming more and more racist and scary, and violence is increasing. I speak with many of my students, who also are afraid, and I tell them about places that have suffered a lot, but that have become stronger because of it, and remain hopeful.
I miss all of you so much, and I hope to visit when I have enough money. Until then, save an arepa and dance for me,
A big hug for everyone, with love and in solidarity.
Felidades a la CDP y a FORPP. Les quiero y les aprecio muchísimo. Pienso en mis amigos y amigas allá siempre y les llevo siempre en mi corazón. Con mucho cariño y amor — gracias por todo que han dado al mundo y que me han dado a mí.
Congratulations to the CdP and to FORPP. I love you and am grateful for all of you. I always think of my friends there, and I carry you with me in my heart. With much fondness and love – thank you for everything that you have given to this world, and have given to me.