Pubdate: Tue, 27 Aug 2002
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2002, New Haven Register
Author: Frederick J. Streets
Note: The Rev. Frederick J. Streets is chaplain of Yale University, 66
Wall St., New Haven 06511.


It matters to the people of Colombia who are living in an environment 
dominated by poverty and extreme acts of violence to know that people are 
interested enough to learn about the conditions under which they live and 
are willing to help them deal with their situation. This is what we were 
told by the people there many times during our visit this summer.

It was my second trip to Colombia. I went as a member of the Witness for 
Peace/Justapaz delegation and on the behalf of the Connecticut Conference 
of the United Church of Christ.

There are at least 2 million people - men, women, children, and the elderly 
- - who have been separated from their families and displaced from land and 
homes they own by various heavily armed, organized, violent actors 
throughout the country. They live in government shelters, refugee camps, on 
urban streets and in city dumps surrounded by high rise garbage piles.

There were 20 people in one man's family. He is the only one in the family 
who has survived and is now living as a "displaced person." His is not an 
uncommon story in Colombia. But it is not Colombia's only story.

Colombia is a land of beauty with a rich history and an abundance of 
natural resources - control over which is a dimension of the long civil war 
there. The decency, beauty and extraordinary gifts of the Colombian people 
are overshadowed by the struggle for who will control Colombia's resources 
and the negotiations of its geo-political relationship with the United 
States and other foreign governments whose agendas are not in the best 
interests of Colombia.

We were told many times by people throughout the country that Plan Colombia 
is only flooding the country with more weapons, and the fumigation of 
farmlands and forests is destroying Colombia's natural resources while 
causing people to become ill and babies to be born with various kinds of 
defects and illnesses.

Half of our delegation visited the Choice region of Colombia, which is 
north of Bogota near the Panama border. The majority of the people there 
are Afro-Colombians, many of whom are farmers who have been displaced from 
their mineral- and oil-rich land.

In addition to this struggle, they have been fighting the affects of racism 
and sexism since Colombia gained independence from the domination of Spain 
in 1849.

Colombia's history and current problems make it clear that unemployment 
(half of Colombia's population of 40 million people is unemployed), 
poverty, and the power struggle for control of the country combine to 
create a formidable culture of violence that affects everyone. In this 
context, the Mennonite Church of Colombia, the United Church of Christ, the 
evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches of Colombia, along with other 
organizations like Witness for Peace face violence and the threat of death 

We encourage each other through our partnership to resist the seductiveness 
of power and the temptation to view evil and injustice as normal, so that 
the will to be unjust is preferred over justice. This produces an industry 
based on violence. Trying to create cultures of peace and justice is one of 
the major challenges facing religious people around the world.

In a conversation with Ricardo Esquivia of Justapaz in Colombia, I was 
reminded of something very important. Social justice and peacemaking are 
bridges by which those involved develop basic trust in one another - even 
with their enemies. Ricardo has often risked his life talking with various 
armed actors. He said: "I will talk with the devil if doing so has the 
potential of saving a life."

No trust, no justice. No justice, no peace. We have an opportunity, as 
people of God wherever we are, to be ambassadors for contributing to the 
building of cultures of trust, justice and peace.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens