Colombia's "People of the Land" Call Out for Justice ... And Some of Us Are Listening
The campesinos of Colombia are coming together and they are calling out.
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These "people of the land" — peasants, farmers and artisanal miners, the indigenous — are calling out for an end to the exploitation and environmental destruction of their lifelong territories and homes.
They call out for a restoration of their livelihoods. Greed and violence punishing their land is also visited upon the campesinos themselves, leaving them dead, disappeared or disenfranchised as one of the world's largest internally displaced people groups.
All of this takes place in a country that the United States has showered with billions in military and foreign aid in the past 20 years.
It can be easy and understandable to feel overwhelmed, morally compromised or just plain numb when confronted with the reality of violence and assaults on human dignity that pervade our world, let alone a close ally and beneficiary. Indeed, it is shocking to hear this reality named so bluntly, and our temptation can be to shut down and despair.
However, as the campesinos of Colombia call out, some of us are listening. Some of us are advocating. Some of us are accompanying.
Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT, or ECAP: Equipos Cristianos de Accion por la Paz) have maintained a presence in Colombia for nearly a decade, primarily in the Northeast Antioquia region that continues to experience a high rate of tension, violence and environmental abuse. Northeast Antioquia is the historical regional home to millions of campesinos, and where many of them are displaced.
One of ECAP's primary partners in Colombia is CAHUCOPANA (Corporación Acción Humanitaria por la Convivencia y la Paz del Nordeste Antioqueño). This summer, under CAHUCOPANA's guidance, ECAP expanded on its connection with campesinos and Northeast Antioquian communities. Joining ECAP's permanent Colombia team was an international delegation comprised of church and community leaders from the United States, Canada, Ethiopia and India.
In the volatile town of Remedios, an afternoon-long public event in July showcased the partnership of CAHUCOPANA and ECAP, and the resources and hope they offer campesinos in need. Dynamic speakers and performance artists took the "stage" on the church steps in Remedios town square. Anchoring the proceedings were the campesinos themselves, who risked their safety to travel to Remedios and prophetically announce — and denounce — what is being done to them.
And prophesy they did. Campesino leaders passionately held forth about their need for justice and peace.
They called out for partnership and support. They called out for Colombia. Hundreds were there and heard their calls.
ECAP closed out the event with a public action of solidarity for all involved. A liturgy was held to open up space for all witnesses to nail their grievances to a wooden cross on the stage. It was a powerful sight.
Many were not sure if attendees would feel comfortable or courageous enough to publicly risk their safety in such a move. Instead, people could not come to the cross fast enough. As the liturgy progressed, ECAP led songs of lament for the indignities and abuses perpetrated upon the campesinos of Colombia.
Then, the singing turned into an anthem of protest, prayer and promise:
Las manos retiramos, de cosas que destruyen, los sistemas que oprimen, de la avaricia /
Andaremos por la tierra sin la violencia, en la fuerza de la paz y la imaginación /
Levantando tu amor, transformándo nuestras vidas /
Caminamos en los sueños de Dios
As the chanting and singing swelled, people were invited to the cross once again, this time to transform it — removing the words of injustice and replacing them with words of promise, hope and restorative needs. The cross was draped in the colors of the Colombian flag and the singing kept going.
Members of CAHUCOPANA joined the members of ECAP on the steps, proclaiming our promise to "withdraw our hands from systems that oppress" and to "walk the earth in nonviolence…transforming our lives." Campesinos raised their arms up in song while people in the square also joined in.
The campesinos of Colombia have come together and called out.
Will we listen?
Will we locate our own story in theirs?
Will we find that our connections necessitate new narratives and new front-page articles?
Will justice be done? Are we willing to work for it?
There are no simple solutions, but one thing is certain: People of the Americas and the world can unite with the people of Colombia who are told they matter less than the literal ground beneath their feet.
We can announce and denounce their predicament, our complicity in it, and our determination to see lives transformed.
Organizations such as CPT exist to do this challenging, educational and deeply rewarding work.
Join and seek out the alternative narrative and the life-giving story.
Seth Wispelwey is a lead organizer/consultant of Fair Trade Boston for the Boston Faith & Justice Network and Protestant Chaplain at Babson College. Last summer, Seth traveled to Colombia with a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation.