by Stewart Vriesinga
…For the millions in a prison,
That wealth has set apart –
For the Christ who has not risen,
From the caverns of the heart –
For the innermost decision
That we cannot but obey
For what’s left of our religion
I lift my voice and pray:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.
– Leonard Cohen
CPTers Scott Nicholson and I, along with our Colombian partner organization CAHUCOPANA*, spent Holy Week hosting a national delegation that came to learn about the reality of oppressed rural communities in the northeastern part of the department of Antioquia. It was a profound and moving experience for all of us.
The trip began and ended in Puerto Berrío – a port on the Magdalena River that is home to the 14th Brigade, the notorious Calibío Battalion, and numerous paramilitaries. A week earlier, two CPTers had accompanied a teachers’ march in Puerto Berrío after paramilitaries assassinated a teacher and his spouse. Our friends from CAHUCOPANA will not go there without international accompaniment.
Early on Palm Sunday, we began the long and bumpy 8-hour bus ride from Puerto Berrío up to the hamlet of Santa Marta. There we learned of multinational mining corporations and other mega-projects that threaten to displace campesino farmers and artisanal miners. Paramilitary and military forces use extrajudicial killings, extortion and economic blockades to displace and dispossess thousands of people who make their homes and livelihoods on these lands – lands that have been designated a Campesino Reserve which should protect the rights of the local residents from economic and violent displacement.
In addition to paramilitary violence, troops from the 14th Brigade’s Calibío Battalion have been assassinating campesinos and then presenting them as guerrilla soldiers killed in combat. CAHUCOPANA and local residents have repeatedly denounced these atrocities, but the crimes remain unpunished. Those who courageously testified against the state security forces live in constant fear of retaliation.
Despite the risks, local residents continue organizing under CAHUCOPANA to resist the violence. They decided to travel with the CPT delegation back to Puerto Berrío to publicly denounce the extrajudicial killings of their community members in front of the headquarters of the 14th Brigade.
Back in Puerto Berrío, the CPT delegation participated in a Good Friday service where they were asked to present the 5th Word spoken by Jesus during his crucifixion – “I thirst.” Using theatre, song and spoken word, the delegates described the thirst for justice of the campesinos of northeast Antioquia, and how Jesus, himself a campesino, continues to be crucified today.
Easter Saturday, the CPT delegation joined CAHUCOPANA in front of the 14th Brigade. They referred to their public action as a “Gallery of Historical Memory.” We listened to the prophetic voices of our sisters and brothers speaking truth to power, and watched and prayed with them for an hour.
After the public action, delegation members accompanied CAHUCOPANA members out of Puerto Berrío – some to Bogotá, some to Barrancabermeja, and the rest back to their home territory in northeast Antioquia where so many have already been crucified. There they will remain, determined not give up their land.
*a local grassroots human rights organization.