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
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
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.