COLOMBIA UPDATE: November 2002

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CPTnet

December 6, 2002

COLOMBIA UPDATE: November 2002

Sunday, November 3

Keith Young accompanied a commission of church workers, human rights

workers, and family members to retrieve the body of Gabriela Velez, a

community leader who had been kidnapped and then killed by members of the

AUC (Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the largest paramilitary group in

Colombia) in the Cimitarra Valley.

The police and other official government investigative bodies refused to

send representatives or even provide a body bag. When Young and others on

the commission found the body, they saw signs of torture on it. They

transported the body back to Barranca for burial.

Lisa Martens and Charles Spring learned from community leaders in the Opón

River area that they want more official government agencies to make visits

there to learn about the situation. The leaders also requested visits by

the church because of the sagging spirits of the Opon residents.

Wednesday, November 6

Charles Spring visited with leaders at a shelter for the displaced in

Barrancabermeja. They requested more frequent visits by CPT because often

members of the AUC (the

paramilitary group responsible for most of the human rights abuses in

Colombia) enter the shelter. The shelter also has many leaks and other

physical problems which the leaders say the mayor’s office shows no interest

in resolving.

Thursday, November 7

Young and Lena Siegers encountered thirty-five members of the AUC on the

Opón River. The CPTers followed them as they went house to house,

questioning community members and even looking at one man’s hands for

calluses to see if he really was a farmer (see Nov. 25 release, “Sheep in

the Midst of Wolves.”)

Saturday, November 16

The team hung a banner saying “Peace begins here” across the river at the

entrance to the zone where they accompany threatened communities. They then

commissioned the banner with a time of prayer and song.

Afterwards, they held times of prayer at other locations where CPTers have

encountered members of armed groups recently. At one location the CPTers

encountered the AUC and delivered “Child of God” letters (October 26

release, “‘Child of God’ letters invite Colombian armed actors to live

peacefully”) after reading them aloud. Some paramilitary members listened

attentively. The CPTers then led a time of song and prayer and engaged the

paramilitary members in open discussion about peace and human rights.

Monday, November 18

Martens and Carol Spring visited farmers from several communities in the

Cimitarra River Valley, enjoying fresh homemade cheese and buffalo meat

from a community buffalo project. Because the Colombian government has not

granted visas to CPTers since March, the team has had insufficient personnel

to respond to accompaniment requests and crises in this area.

Tuesday, November 19

During Martens and Carol Spring’s return trip from the Cimitarra River

Valley, their public transport boat was stopped at four checkpoints: by the

FARC guerrilla, by the AUC paramilitary, by the Navy, and, as they arrived

at the Barranca port, by the police. At the FARC checkpoint, the guerrillas

asked for IDs, searched most bags and behaved more aggressively than the

paramilitaries did at the AUC checkpoint, where CPTers usually witness more

negative behavior.

Young and Siegers encountered paramilitary members sitting with weapons on

their laps or slung on their shoulders, watching farmers working on a

housing project in the Ciénaga del Opón. This was the second time

CPTers have witnessed arms pointed at the farmers while they worked.

Saturday, November 23

In the Opón, Carol Spring visited with a man who said he used to be part

of the paramilitary and killed innocent people. He now wants to go back to

school and get a career but is threatened by the guerrillas for his past

activities.

Sunday, November 24

Siegers and Carol Spring accompanied the communities of La Florida and Los

Ñeques to the neighboring community of Puente Opón, upriver from Los

Ñeques, to participate in a mini-tejo (a game resembling horse shoes)

tournament. Without accompaniment, some would not have traveled to

Puente Opón, because of the constant presence of the paramilitary there.

With

CPT’s presence, more inter-community events like this tournament take place.

Monday, November 25

In Barranca, Young and Charles Spring accompanied a march commemorating the

International Day against the exploitation of women. Despite recent gun

battles happening around Barranca between different paramilitary factions,

busloads of women and men poured in from all neighborhoods and nearby

towns, filling the streets of downtown Barranca. The throngs, mostly

women, banged on pans, hoisted signs with a red slash over a picture of a

gun, and chanted, “We will not birth or raise children for war” and “Not

one man, not one woman, not one peso more for war.”

Thursday, November 28

Young and Siegers hung another “La Paz Empieza Aqui” (Peace Begins Here)

banner because someone stole the last banner after it had been up for a

a day. They hung this one just on the side of the river instead of across

the river, since the amount of rope used in the last one might have been a

temptation for whoever took it down. They also painted and hung new peace

banners in the location where paramilitaries have been living.

(See the “cpt’ album on the clubphoto.com website for pictures of some of

these banners and other activities.)

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