Thursday, October 6, 2016

WFP Fact Sheet: The Armed Conflict and the Peace Process in Colombia

 Developed by the Witness for Peace Colombia team, October 2016.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Witness for Peace Statement on the Plebiscite Vote in Colombia

On October 2nd, in a very close vote, a majority of Colombians who participated in a plebiscite on the recently signed peace accords voted “NO”.  The plebiscite would have made the accords between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Colombian state legally binding. At a moment of doubt about the future of this internationally-supported peace initiative, Witness for Peace applauds the tremendous work of our partners on the ground, human rights defenders and social movements, who have often spent their entire lives building peace in their communities and advocating for a new Colombia. An analysis of the vote makes it clear that most of the areas hit hardest by the armed conflict voted decisively for the peace accords, areas where our partners live and work.
While the outcome of the plebiscite creates some uncertainty about Colombia’s peace process, there is no doubt that this is a crucial time for the international community to stand with Colombians yearning for a definitive end to internal armed conflict. We need to support their efforts to build true peace with social and environmental justice.
Since Witness for Peace opened our Colombia office in 2000, supporting our partners on the ground through the darkest days of U.S.-sponsored military aid under Plan Colombia, we have accompanied and stood with human rights defenders and social movements. These advocates have constantly pushed for a negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed conflict, even as they bravely confronted long odds, tremendous stigmatization, threats, and violence. They did this even when it was not popular either in Colombia or in the United States. We find a tremendous amount of hope in human rights defenders’ and social movements’ efforts to develop real, grassroots level community peace initiatives in Colombia.
Recently, our team interviewed Enrique Chimonja, a human rights defender with the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace, an organization that Witness for Peace accompanies in various regions of the country. As someone whose father was disappeared and who was himself forcibly displaced, Enrique has a unique perspective on the role of international monitoring and accompaniment. He argues for the continued importance of international support “because there is uncertainty about what is going to happen or what the real guarantees are for those who have made the decision to lay down their weapons.”
Witness for Peace remains committed to accompanying human rights defenders such as Enrique and monitoring the peace process moving forward. We believe that continued international accompaniment is vital, as violence against movement leaders and human rights advocates has continued throughout the peace negotiations and is likely to increase in this period of uncertainty.
Although the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC has been an important step forward, other armed groups including the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group and a number of paramilitary groups remain active and a threat to real, sustainable peace in Colombia.  Although the Colombian government officially denies the existence of paramilitaries, choosing to call them “criminal bands” or delinquent groups, these paramilitary groups continue to attack communities--especially in strategic economic development zones such as Buenaventura--and have even paralyzed regions in the country for several days with armed strikes. The real dismantling of paramilitary groups will be key for the safety of human rights defenders and their peacebuilding efforts.
We also express our grave concern about the projected increase in international investment in Colombia. While we support inclusive development initiatives proposed and led by communities, we have seen that international companies, including some based in the U.S., as well as “development” megaprojects throughout Colombian territory, consistently violate the rights of communities on the ground. They have been accused of working with right-wing paramilitary groups, and consistently violate labor rights in a country with some of the highest levels of violence against trade unionists. As Enrique says, “While this neoliberal, privatizing, extractive model is maintained - which translates into forced displacement, land eviction, environmental and social damage to indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino communities - while this model is maintained, peace will take a lot longer.”
Supporting the analysis of our partners from the labor movement, we believe that the Labor Action Plan (passed in 2011 as a precursor to the 2012 U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement) has completely failed to generate acceptable working conditions or effectively protect trade unionists and must be re-examined by the U.S. Congress and executive branch.
We are also committed to monitoring Plan “Peace Colombia”, a $450 million dollar aid package that President Obama has requested from Congress for 2017.  We are disturbed by the significant amount of military aid that is projected to be included in this aid package at a time when Colombia needs money for the implementation of its peace accords.  We believe that now is the time to completely end military aid to the Colombian government and rather send aid to Colombian civil society to be used for social and economic purposes. We believe that aid should be principally directed to the aspects of the peace accords that defend victims’ rights and ethnic communities. The US government also needs to be actively encouraging the Colombian government to engage in talks with the ELN and dismantle remaining paramilitary groups active in various regions of the country.

As requested by our partners in Colombia, we as Witness for Peace remain committed to maintaining our presence in country and continuing protective accompaniment of human rights defenders. We are committed to changing U.S. policies that for years have only brought more war and violence to communities. We are committed to developing real solidarity efforts between the United States and Colombia, promoting the protection of human and labor rights and working for a world in which each and every person can carry out their life and community projects without being subject to violence.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Padre Guadalupe Presente!

On the approximate anniversary of the disappearance of US-born Jesuit priest James Carney in Honduras, civil society organizations sustain the memories of the disappeared.

On Saturday, September 17th, the Witness for Peace Honduras International Team attended an event in the town of El Progreso commemorating the 1983 disappearance of Father James Carney, a Jesuit priest better known locally as Padre Guadalupe. The event was co-hosted by the Equipo Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC, or the Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team in English), a Jesuit social justice organization dedicated to intensive research projects, and Radio Progreso. Speakers included Padre Ismael Moreno, director of Radio Progreso and ERIC, and Berta Oliva, the director of COFADEH (The Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras).

Padre Guadalupe and the Agrarian Struggle: Permanent Effect

The exact date of Padre Guadalupe’s death is not known, but the commemorations are held around September 16th every year to approximate the day of his murder. Thirty-three years after his death, the facts surrounding it are still shrouded in official secrecy. What we do know is that, during his time in Honduras, the Chicago-born Padre Guadalupe was increasingly radicalized and, by extension, increasingly viewed as an enemy of the state, leading to his exile without trial in 1979. He re-entered the country as an unarmed chaplain for a guerrilla unit, and was disappeared shortly thereafter, with the most likely outcome being execution by Honduran state security forces.

Padre Guadalupe’s legacy in Honduras is profound - one local community named itself after him, and his passionate dedication to social justice through faith reverberates in the Honduran left to this day. His autobiography, available for free download in English and Spanish at the link above, is a must-read for anyone interested in social justice, revolutionary movements, or the history of Honduras.

The event, while focused on Padre Guadalupe, also served as a reminder that his death, while unthinkably tragic, was not unique - COFADEH has documented the cases of more than 200 disappeared in Honduras over the course of decades, and in spite of changing governments and constitutions. In the popular imagination, disappearances are more commonly associated with the right-wing military regimes of Chile and Argentina, but as COFADEH shows, Honduras has its own tragic tradition of disappearances, beginning in the 1970s and continuing until the years following the 2009 coup.

The singular tragedy of disappearances is highlighted by the approximate anniversary that commemorates Padre Guadalupe’s. It is the lack of knowing - for the families of the disappeared, especially, and for the community and country at large - that compounds the tragedy of a presumed execution. It is families who do not have an exact date to put on headstones, who do not have remains to bury, who do not have even the cold comfort of knowing when, where, and how their loved ones died (or whether they died at all) that makes disappearances such a profoundly and deeply tragic crime. And beyond this, the lack of knowledge in the forensic sense lends itself to official deniability that only decades of deeply intensive investigations can undo. In a country where impunity for crimes committed in broad daylight reigns as the norm, the crimes buried in a shroud of darkness take on an ominousness nearly impossible to describe.

The Future Is In Our Hands

But at the event, the few hundred attendees stood in stark and moving resistance. During Berta Oliva’s speech, she started a call-and-response with, “Padre Guadalupe, presente!” Padre Guadalupe is here. She built to a crescendo, saying the names of the disappeared, with the crowd affirming their presence. “Presente! Presente! Presente!”

As long as people like Oliva and Padre Melo, and organizations like ERIC, Radio Progreso, and COFADEH, continue to speak the names of the disappeared, and to investigate the causes and dates and times of their deaths, US-trained and funded Honduran security forces can never truly disappear them. As the crowd affirmed, through their words and through the unbelievable courage of their very presence in a country where protests are increasingly criminalized, the disappeared are, through their works, their deeds, and their memories, still here. We must say their names.

Bryan & Ryan