COLOMBIA UPDATE: NOVEMBER 18-December 2, 2001

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CPTnet

December 15, 2001

COLOMBIA UPDATE: NOVEMBER 18-December 2, 2001

Sunday, November 18, 2001 Jonathan Horst, Erin Kindy, Matt Schaaf, and

William Payne participated in a retreat in Cachipay, west of Bogotá, with

two members of Witness for Peace. Witness for Peace accompanies communities

in the department of Putmayo in southern Colombia and raises awareness in

the US about Colombia related foreign policy.

Paul Stucky, a Colombian Mennonite pastor, led sessions on renewing

strength from God.

Tuesday, November 20 Kindy, Schaaf and Payne flew to Bucaramanga early in

the morning. Schaaf and Kindy took a bus to Barrancabermeja and then went by

motor canoe to the area of the Río Opón which the team accompanies.

Payne visited displaced people in the city of Bucaramanga, some of whom were

from an area that CPTers had previously worked.

Wednesday, November 21 The team’s motor canoe had transmission problems in

the Río Opón which required borrowing other motor canoes and extra

travel up and down the river.

Schaaf and Kindy met with over twenty members of the Colombian army in the

town of the Cienega del Opón to explain the work of CPT in the area and

make them aware of the team’s presence there. The army said they had been

invited by the people displaced from the area to search the area for mines

and secure it so displaced families could return.

Thursday, November 22

Kindy and Schaaf sent the motor canoe into town with the ³line”– the

community-owned canoe used to transport people and goods up and down the

river. The motor was repaired in town and damage was not as great as the

team had thought it was going to be.

Kindy and Schaaf learned that two boatloads of paramilitaries went up the

Río Opón and the Río Colorada from Barrancabermeja on the previous

day. They stole chairs and tables, two cylinders of cooking gas and two

goats from the community of La Colorada, which CPT accompanies. The whole

community expressed concern that these robberies would be the beginning of

more paramilitary presence in the area.

Friday, November 23

Kindy and Schaaf spent the morning visiting and relaxing with a family in

the village of La Florida. They helped thresh corn and gather firewood.

In the early afternoon Schaaf and Kindy returned to the Ciénaga del Opón

hoping to speak further and pray with the army there, but the soldiers had

already left the area.

Saturday, November 24

Payne and Schaaf went to the campo. They called the team house at 5:35pm to

say they had been stopped at an AUC paramilitary checkpoint. The AUC,

Autodefensas Unidos de Colombia, is a self-proclaimed police force that

fights the guerillas and controls numerous communities throughout Colombia.

Payne and Schaaf were briefly questioned about their destination and their

belongings were searched. They gave CPT flyers to the paramilitaries and

explained that CPT reduces violence by maintaining a continual presence in

the area and that the team publicly denounce violations of human rights by

any armed group. The paramilitaries allowed the CPTers to continue upriver

after about 10 minutes of discussion.

Shortly after, Payne and Schaaf learned that just before their arrival the

AUC had fired at four fisherman on their way home from fixing the

community’s electricity lines. The men were missing. Payne and Schaaf,

accompanied by community members, searched the banks of the river in the

dark until they found the men in their homes — they had fled through the

jungle to safety.

Before they left, the AUC threatened community members, saying they would

return in the morning. People expressed fears of looting, stealing and

casualties.

Sunday, November 25

Jacobus Vroon and Kindy went with a friend of the team’s to La Rampla, a

port area, to pray. La Rampla is used by people from communities throughout

the whole area, but has been a place from which paramilitaries kidnap people

who are later shot. In addition, the unofficial, economic embargo of

communities in areas controlled by guerillas is enforced by paramilitaries

in the port.

Vroon and Kindy began a personal accompaniment of two women who, because of

threats they have received, don’t feel safe traveling alone in this area.

Monday, November 26

Kindy and Vroon continued the accompaniment of the women begun the previous

day. Payne and Schaaf then went with the women to a safer place upriver.

Kindy learned that the national officials accepting denunciations here in

the city are only accepting denunciations related to deaths in the city and

surrounding area. Members of the communities CPT works with had some

interest in making a trip to the city to bring denunciations related to

things that have been happening in their communities.

Thursday, November 29

Payne spearheaded writing an open letter to AUC regarding the events of

November 24 ( See November 30 CPTnet releases, ³CPT’s letter to AUC

paramilitaries” and ³ Paramilitaries create fear in the Opón River

region.”) The whole team went to Barrio Arenal, known as a place

paramilitaries are present, for a time of prayer and to leave copies of the

open letter.

Friday, November 30

Kindy and Schaaf sent the team motor canoe to the city on public

transportation and borrowed another motor canoe.

Vroon met with the team’s advisor from the organization Peace and

Development Program of the Magdelena Medio. They discussed the small team

size and the denunciation. Vroon shared copies of the denunciation with

local nongovernmental organizations.

Saturday, December 1

Vroon got the motor canoe on public river transportation and then remained

in the port as an accompanying presence until the boat left.

In the late afternoon the two CPTers continued downriver to La Colorada,

where they learned that the Navy had been in the area on the day before and

had not talked to any civilians.

Kindy and Schaaf were on the river with the community transportation when

two canoes of paramilitaries come down the river. Community members told the

five AUC members that they did not want problems. Schaaf and Kindy shared

the open letter to the AUC with the AUC members present. The encounter was

brief, and the AUC canoe left to join its companion canoe waiting slightly

downriver. Community members said they were happy with how the encounter

went. The CPTers thought it was a good example of how the presence of

internationals opened space so local people had the opportunity to speak.

Sunday, December 2

Kindy and Schaaf were able to deliver the open letter to more members of the

AUC and shared the team’s concerns about the fear created by the presence of

paramilitaries in the river. They also explained the team’s work said that

neither the team nor the people it pays to transport them up the river have

links with armed groups. The team ended this encounter with prayer.

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