Accompanying small farming and mining communities caught in the crossfire of decades of war and, more recently, hyper-development. Partnering with local human rights organizations. Highlighting the effects of a conflict that has permeated urban social structures through organized crime, trafficking, and displacement from rural areas.
History of CPT in Colombia
In 2001, Community Peacemaker Teams accepted an invitation from the Mennonite Church of Colombia to learn about the context of the Magdalena Medio region, the peaceubuilding processes, and the struggle and work of the peasant farming communities and organizations that defend human rights.
Once the program was established in the city of Barrancabermeja, CPT began to accompany the communities of Ciénaga del Opón and Micoahumado, two strategic places controlled by illegal armed groups whose presence affected the communities, ultimately caught in the cross-fire of domination and confrontation between other armed groups.
During the first years, we accompanied the Peasant Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC), the Peace and Development Program of Magdalena Medio (PDPMM), and the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP), organizations who facilitated nonviolent processes to resist the exacerbated violence of armed groups against the civilian population, as well as to denounce all military actions in the urban area.
We have also participated in the Human Rights Workers Coalition (ETTDDHH) platform that was born as an organizational initiative seeking to bring together diverse human rights organizations to carry out advocacy and joint actions in order to demand that legal and illegal armed actors cease their violent actions against the civilian population and governments respect and guarantee human rights.
In Colombia, the presence of international organizations like CPT has facilitated basic security guarantees so that communities and organizations can carry out their exercises in the defense of human rights.
The physical presence of CPT in the territories and processes has served to highlight the voices of the organizations we accompany as well as to draw the attention of the national government to the violence experienced by communities and organizations.
The presence of an international organization shields the processes of communities and organizations, giving them spaces of security.
Psychological and Spiritual Accompaniment
We journey with our partners, listening to the people of the communities and sharing with them about their pain and their hopes. We provide spaces of trust for victims of violence to process their experiences.
We take action and advocate with our partners to advance their processes for justice. In CPT, political advocacy ranges from directly dialoguing with state institutions and demanding that they be real guarantors of human rights, to mobilizing the solidarity of our donors and support network to carry out actions so that the government fulfills its duty as guarantors.
Issues we address
Undoing oppressions Land issues Violence against social leaders (threats, criminalization and prosecution, and assassinations) Environmental justice Psychosocial support
Colombian context in the Magdalena Medio region
The Magdalena Medio region corresponds to the central valley of the Magdalena River and is located in a strategic area of Colombia, at the junction of East and West of the country, and between the interior and the Caribbean coast. Its predominant thermal floor is warm.
Geographically, it is made up of mostly plains of fertile soils and some moderately sloping hills. Oil and gold exploitation in the territory have given the region great economic importance, adding to a very dynamic agricultural and commercial sector and traditional fish production.
The region’s land is unequally distributed, where very few landowners control vast territories and result in a constant struggle over property. On average, 70% of the population lives in poverty, a figure that is well above the national average (Programa de Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio, 2001, p. 6).
The 1920s were characterized by the social struggles of two significant movements: the workers’ struggles in Barrancabermeja and the village insurrections including the ‘Bolshevik Insurrection’ of 1929, centralized in San Vicente de Chucurí and La Gómez, which opened the door for social actors to intersect and influence each other. Stemming from these movements, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla groups made their appearance in the 1960s. Two decades later, the illegal drug trade came into play, stubbornly spreading its tentacles in the southern part of the region and spreading its corrosive economic power, accompanied by an enormous interest by large landowners in the region.
In connection with these events, the paramilitary phenomenon radically spiked, holding significant influence over the jurisdiction of La Dorada and Puerto Boyacá and later spreading to other areas of the region, maintaining fierce military confrontations with the guerrilla groups (Pico, 2016). By the 1980s, the region found itself immersed in the dynamics of a multidirectional conflict that involved—each with their own political agendas—the cattle ranchers, peasant communities, the army, the paramilitaries, the agro-industrial sectors, agricultural laborers and drug traffickers. During this period, the dynamics of conflict over land were highlighted, and therefore, saw a rise of peasant mobilization, expressed mainly through civic strikes, the occupying of public places, and farmers’ marches.
Municipality of Barrancabermeja
The municipality of Barrancabermeja serves as the main port on the Magdalena River and is the largest populated center in the Colombian Magdalena Medio region, located in the Mares province in the western part of the Department of Santander. It has an area of 1,154 km² and is made up of seven neighbourhoods and six townships (La Fortuna, El Llanito, El Centro, Ciénaga del Opón, San Rafael de Chucurí and Meseta San Rafael). Barrancabermeja is an important economic center for the cattle trade and gold, coal and oil production. The city houses the largest oil refinery in the country, therefore is known as the “oil capital of Colombia.” It is a strategic river port and an obligatory stop on the Ruta del Sol, a highway artery connecting the capital and northern Caribbean coast of the country.
The municipality has received a large number of families displaced by violence since the 1940s. In addition, the union movements have had an undeniable social and historical importance and dealt with a complex social context due to the presence of illegal armed groups (guerrillas and paramilitaries) who—interested in the evident wealth and potential of the municipality—turned it into a disputed battlefield.
In the 1990s, the guerrilla armed struggle present in the municipality of Barrancabermeja began to deteriorate and by the second part of the decade paramilitary groups had entered and subsequently settled in the city, carrying out systematic extrajudicial executions, individual and collective displacements, massacres, and forced disappearances.The population rejected these types of actions, resulting in press records documenting organizational processes on the topic of peacebuilding, like the Magdalena Medio Peace and Development Program, the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS), the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP), as well as the implementation of the Peace Laboratory by the European Union, in the Magdalena Medio region (“Peace, Territory and Armed Conflict in Magdalena Medio”, Ana Maria Dussan Gutierrez).
Prayers from Colombia
Communities and social leaders are facing a spike in violence in the last year, both in rural and urban areas. There is no safe place anymore.
The CPT Colombia team uses the Colombian Christmas tradition of Day of the Candles to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people
CPT joined partner organizations in Geneva Switzerland for a conference of Community Practice for Unarmed Civilian Protection/Accompaniment in October.