16 May 2011
COLOMBIA: Building bridges across borders
by Wilson Tan
[Note: Tan is a member of the CPT and was a recent participant
in CPT Colombia’s “Learning Experience” which included members of
CPT’s Race Relations Council and Steering Committee.]
During our Learning Experience in Colombia at the end of April, we visited the
community of Garzal in the Simiti municipality of the southern Bolivar
province. CPT Colombia has
accompanied Garzal and the neighboring community of Nueva Esperanza since 2007.
Jenny Rodriguez and Stewart
Vriesinga of the CPT Colombia team hosted Brian Young, Sarah Thompson, Chris
Sabas, Merwyn De Mello, Rey Lopez, Eric Olfert and me for the visit to Garzal.
The Magdalena Media region is rich with natural resources
such as fertile land, minerals, and potentially oil. Many different actors, including paramilitaries, guerrillas,
state forces and multinational corporations, are not hesitant to use lethal
violence, economic coercion, institutional pressure, and unjust political or
illegal means to possess and extract these natural resources. Consequently, civilians who, by law or
tenure, have land rights are reduced to mere collateral in a high-stakes game
of control and exploitation of valuable resources.
|On the canoe to Garza|
Fast forward to the afternoon of our arrival to the Garzal
community. Pastor Salvador, a
leader in the community, started sharing his experiences after lunch. His story arc was of drug lords who
favored coca (the unrefined source of cocaine) over cacao (the source for
chocolate) politicized the land in the early days. The campesinos were caught in the middle of armed groups,
drug lords, and corrupt government officials attempting to wield control and
power over the land in order to enrich themselves. Most striking was Pastor Salvador’s sharing of how the Holy
Spirit spoke through his wife. God
offered affirmation and encouragement for him to continue the politicization of
his pastoral works and to actively push back on violence as the spiritual
leader of the community. Furthermore,
according to Pastor Salvador, God would send guardian angels— CPT being one— to
see him through difficult times.
The next day, we joined a Garzal community meeting under the
shade of trees near an open soccer field. There, I witnessed for myself Pastor Salvador’s earnest,
charismatic leadership and heartfelt words of encouragement for community
members to stay united and strong against actors attempting to divide and
coerce them into giving up their land.
There was a real sense of community in a place where lives and
livelihoods are at stake. To
experience this gathering and Pastor Salvador’s generous hospitality was an
immense blessing for everyone present.
Back in the Colombia team’s house in Barrancabermeja, during
a debrief on the last day of the trip, Jenny shared a reflection that seeing me
walk with the team helped her debunk her stereotype of Asians coming to
Colombia as “takers.” Her sharing was
a warm and humbling end to my Learning Experience, which made the trip worthwhile.
For more on the community of Garzal, click here.