Challenging Violence in Barrancabermeja


In what local newspaper headlines called “the most violent weekend of the year,” six people died in an ongoing string of murders in the city of Barrancabermeja, where CPT is based, in mid-July.  In the eight months of 2008, 37 people were assassinated (the same number killed in all of 2007).

While on the surface the murders appear to be unrelated, they are part of a troubling increase in violence in the city.  On July 21, local organizations received another communiqué threatening workers that support human rights in Barrancabermeja, including the OFP (a women’s organization), PDPMM (a community development group), and CREDHOS (a human rights network).  “A Barrancabermeja at peace will require fire and blood,” the message concluded.  The paramilitary group Heroes of Castaño signed the threat.

The surge in violence has affected the immediate neighborhood where CPT lives.  On June 18, two gunman shot a man in front of the CPT house.  Two days later, paramilitaries killed a young man they labeled a “thief” and “menace to the community” in what they call a “social cleansing” campaign.   

In response, community members met to express their sentiments: “We have to speak up and say no to the violence;” “We need to demand a response from the mayor, who has said nothing about what is happening;” “When we go to the local police station and complain about what is happening, they refuse to take our statements.”

The group decided to conduct a prayer vigil the following night at the site of the killing, and if possible, to vigil every time someone is killed in the neighborhood.

They also planned a march along the main avenue through the neighborhood to the bridge connecting the northern and southern parts of Barrancabermeja.  Participants blocked traffic to call attention to the violence happening in the area, then lit candles and placed them along the bridge.

In a city-wide response, a coalition of social organizations, including CPT, organized vigils at the murder sites.  Relatives, friends and neighbors united to commemorate those whose lives violence had ended abruptly.  “You are not alone,” the vigils proclaimed.  “We join in your grief.”

Participants spray-painted candles at each of the 37 murder sites with the number of that murder inscribed on it.  Organizers then lit a large candle and invited people to burn slips of paper with the things that needed to end in their community.  Violence, hatred, revenge, and fear went up in flames.  The group sang, prayed, and committed themselves to keeping the light of love burning in their hearts in the midst of this darkness.

The CPT-Colombia team asks you to join in keeping vigil over life.  “Please pray for the safety of workers in our partner organizations and for all those at risk of violence in Colombia.  Your prayers add to the light we so long to see, the light of peace and justice, where the flame of life can flourish.”

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