THE PASTORAL VISIT TO EL CATATUMBO
08-09 August 2013
20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. (Isaiah 65:20-22)
As leaders of the Movement of Churches for Peace in Colombia and representatives of international church organizations, we visited the region of El Catatumbo on the 8th and 9th of August 2013. We observed and listened widely and intently, and therefore bear witness to the conditions of poverty and violence in which the people there are living, as well as to their hopes for the future.
We travelled around within the region from Cucutá to Tibú, and also visited the international refuge which has been established on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. We saw the very marginal conditions of the people in the region which have caused them to organize their protests, and which are the product of a lack of social investment there. We talked with the children, youth, men and women in the border refuge, read the Word of God together, prayed and sang and worshipped with them. We witnessed the pain and suffering of many there who had been wounded during the protests. We saw their fear because of the persecution which they are experiencing, and we heard about the lack of effective attention to their needs on the part of the Colombian State. We heard their testimonies, especially about their struggle for their rights and for the protection of the environment. This has challenged us all as believers to strengthen our Christian commitment to these people who are suffering such violence in their lives, who are seeking justice and their right to a life with dignity.
In various places we also heard the testimonies of young men and women leaders of the Association of Campesinos of Catatumbo (ASCAMCAT). They shared with us the realities of their living conditions, their hopes, their life project for their families and communities. They also shared with us the way in which they are being persecuted: for exercising their right to peaceful protest because of the failure of government promises; for demanding that there must be effective and coordinated social investment in the region; and for demanding that an alternative form of development must be sought, through the establishment of a Campesinol Reserve Zone under Colombian Law which would insure their right to a decent living. As part of their proposal, the campesinos are also asking that the illegal coca production be replaced with other crops by means of a plan coordinated with the communities, and not by means of the Consolidation Plan which is being carried out by the Colombian military forces.
We are glad to see that the formal table for negotiations between the representatives of the Colombian government and the leaders of ASCAMCAT began meeting yesterday, 08 August. We view this development with great hope, and as a delegation we send our greetings to this table and express to them our commitment that we will continue praying that God will grant them the ability to listen to one another, to persevere in dialogue, and to unite to produce accords which will make it possible for the State to fulfill its duty to protect the lives, well-being and peace with social justice, for the people, in this region and in the whole country.
As the Delegation, and on behalf of the churches and organizations we represent, we make a firm commitment to continue to pray and to monitor the situation, to accompany and advocate for the people of this region, in the following ways:
We urge that the stigmatization of the campesinos and their leaders as “subversives” must be stopped. We also urge that all the leaders, individuals, communities and organizations that participated in the protests and now participate in the dialogues be given guarantees of protection.
We will continue to accompany the people in the international border refuge, the people who have been put in prison, and all the campesino victims of endemic poverty and this current humanitarian crisis who live in the region.
We will be monitoring the agreements which are issued and the process of implementation of their provisos. We will do this using the perspective of the principles of Non-Violence, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
We will publicize widely the undertakings of the accords, both at the national and international level. We will also publicize the efforts to apply the provisions of the accord, in particular in regard to the efforts that should be made to deal with the current humanitarian crisis. If serious efforts are made on these matters, the abundant life and just peace which God wills can become a reality for the campesinos and indeed the whole population of El Catatumbo.
09 August 2013
On behalf of the Movement of Churches for Peace in Colombia,
The Rev. Edgar Castaño, Pastor of the Baptist Church, President of CEDECOL,
the Council of Evangelical Churches of Colombia.
The Rev. Eduardo Martínez, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia,
Representative of PEAC (Program for Ecumenical Accompaniment
The Rev. Juan Alberto Cardona, Bishop of the Colombian Methodist Church, Representative of
PEAC (Program for Ecumenical Accompaniment in Colombia)
The Rev. Luis Fernando San Miguel, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia
The Rev. Jairo Suárez, Lutheran pastor, Member of CEDECOL, Member of the Colombia Forum for the global ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together).
Father Timoteo Torres, Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Representing international organizations and churches:
The Rev. Nilton Giese, General Secretary of CLAI
(The Latin American Council of Churches)
The Rev. Chris Ferguson, Representative of the United Church of Canada
Michael Joseph, Representatative of the United Church of Christ and the
Disciples of Christ, USA
Milton Mejía, Professor of Theology, Reformed University of Barranquilla,
Coordinator of the Faith, Economy, Ecology and Society Program
of CLAI (Latin American Council of Churches)