Colombia: Celebrate, Advocate, Collaborate

by Pierre Shantz, CPT Colombia

Pastor Salvador Alcántara – who in this April 2013 photo holds one of Garzal’s long-awaited land titles – fled under threat in JColombians have a seasoned ability to celebrate victories, knowing they may be short-lived – an important skill for communities in solidarity.

Victories are for celebrating.  They are moments that give satisfaction for a job well done, even when they’re not the end of the story. The communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza enjoyed one such moment this summer after years of determined struggle.

Former drug trafficker Manuel Enrique Barreto, pursued by authorities in the 1980s, abandoned his ill-gotten land near the Magdalena River. In 2003 he came back for it all again as if nothing had changed. Farmers who needed this land to feed their families had moved on to it and begun to produce. By the grace of God and a good legal team, the 300 plus families of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza were able to hold off numerous threats of eviction by courts and forced displacement by armed paramilitaries.

In April 2013, INCODER, the government’s rural land authority, returned sixty-four titles to Garzal families who had been defrauded of them by an INCODER agent suspected of being in Barreto’s pocket. CPT rightly celebrated and announced the news.

In May, people were saying things were calm in Garzal; it appeared Barreto had accepted defeat and decided to give up pursuing ownership of the land. But in June paramilitaries allied with him were reported to be organizing an attempt to clear families from the land to facilitate corporate exploitation. Pastor Salvador Alcántara, Garzal’s most visible and vocal leader, fled with his family under renewed threats to his life.

A land restitution law and related policy changes under President Juan Manuel Santos have advanced the legal standing of farming families in places like Garzal. Negotiations with Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the FARC, could even lead to the end of Colombia’s more than sixty-year-old civil war.

While these and other advancement are worthy of celebrating, it would be our mistake if we gave the impression that all is well in Colombia, in Garzal, or any of the communities we accompany. They, and we, count on CPT’s extended family of support. They and we count on you to stay attentive, to question corporate news perspectives, to take action when we enlist your response to threats or violent acts against the communities.

So, yes, celebrate with us each victory that comes. And write letters; pray; hold public actions in front of Colombian consulates or the headquarters of companies that are exploiting Colombian land; demand justice for Colombian farmers; send CPT a donation to allow us to continue our work of solidarity; join a peacemaker delegation, make lasting personal connections and invest of yourself in CPT’s vision: “a world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation.”

Pierre Shantz, a full-time CPTer since 1997, has served on the Colombia team since 2001.