Incertidumbre en El Tamarindo

To read in English: Uncertainty for El Tamarindo

Vimos los carros de la policía al llegar. Rodearon el Caterpillar, todo listo para la diligencia de desalojo de las humildes casas y campos sembrados del predio Natacha en El Tamarindo. Continue reading

Posted in Advocacy, Colombia, Prayer | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncertainty for El Tamarindo

Leer en español: Incertidumbre en El Tamarindo

We saw the police cars as we arrived. They were gathered around the bulldozer, preparing to enforce the eviction of humble farmers in the Natacha sector of El Tamarindo.

El Tamarindo is a collection of small farms just outside the city of Barranquilla. Members of this community have spent the past five to twelve years on the land, which was vacant and unclaimed when they began to cultivate it. A few years ago, however, owners appeared with title to the property. El Tamarindo is situated in a duty-free zone, established near the port city to facilitate the swift and steady increase in international commerce projected to accompany implementation of Colombia’s free trade agreements with the United States and Europe. Property values have increased enormously in the area, suddenly attractive and strategic for business use. Vast warehouses are cropping up to store commercial goods and construction materials, in some cases obliterating food production and the small farm lifestyle.

The ASOTRACAMPO community organization in El Tamarindo states that approximately 80% of its member farmers are victims of forced internal displacement. They have eked out a new life here after being forced to flee their homes in other parts of the country. Life in El Tamarindo has been simple yet livable—at least it was until the land was sold out from under them. They seek the security and confidence of land to call their own. The Colombian government’s rural development office is working with them on purchasing land in a more rural area, but the steps involved in that bureaucratic process involve significant delays, and the outcome is uncertain.

A community member shows us the land where she lived until she was evicted last year

A community member shows us the land where she lived until she was evicted last year

El Tamarindo’s 900 acres are divided into five separate lots, and residents find themselves slowly squeezed out, with evictions every few months razing crops and houses on one of the lots. Initially they resisted the evictions, confronting the demolition crew while police stood by to ensure that the action—perfectly legal on paper—could take place without incident. Resistance, however, has resulted in several severe injuries. Others report frequent nightmares and psychological trauma. All that pain and injury added to the homes and crops that were destroyed anyway.

On Wednesday, February 26, I arrived with three representatives of the North Coast Presbytery to accompany the community and witness the eviction. The community had decided not to resist and risk greater harm. One of the leaders told us, “I think we’re no longer in a position to keep putting people forward to be abused. If we were to resist, and three or four were injured, but we kept the land, I would be the first to leap and shout, ‘We’ve won! Victory!’ But if we are abused, our people are injured, and we lose the land, is that a victory? No, sir, that is not a victory. . . . We don’t want to shed any more of our blood along the way.”

This home will be bulldozed once the eviction is carried out.

This home will be bulldozed once the eviction is carried out.

On that bright, dusty Wednesday morning residents in the area subject to eviction proceedings were emptying their homes of anything of value they could remove, relocating them to neighbors’ houses. Shortly after our arrival, community leaders received word that the proceedings were suspended for the day, the result of a legal action by some of the victims. The tension in the air eased, but did not dissipate. Within a few weeks the order will be carried out, and humble homes and life-sustaining crops will once more be destroyed. The word I heard over and over again was uncertainty. The struggle is uncertain, the future is uncertain. The commitment to justice of those in power is uncertain.

For the farmers in El Tamarindo, hope lies in the promise of relocation to land they can legally call their own. They are organized and active in seeking support from allies in the senate and government ministries, and count on local encouragement from the Presbyterian Church and organizations that defend and promote victims’ rights. “We ask for solidarity,” said one ASOTRACAMPO member, “with the campesinos. Not only with El Tamarindo but all the campesinos of Colombia, who face the same chaos and the same sadness that we do.”

The wheels of progress roll on, driven by powerful people and interests willing to trample the life and livelihood of small farmers.  Standing with the members of ASOTRACAMPO, the costs of globalization have a very human face. One woman, a member of ASOTRACAMPO, put it this way: “We work the land because we’re children of the land. And the government, the Colombian authorities, don’t let us work, they don’t allow us to live. Because who can live without eating? Nobody. They have us cornered here, coming and going with weapons pointed at us—we aren’t the ones with guns in our hands. I don’t understand how we poor people are supposed to live here in Colombia.”

Promises of peace arising from negotiations between the government and guerrilla forces also ring hollow here. One community member asked, “What sort of peace is the government promising? We want a peace worth living, so we can sow and cultivate. But if they don’t let us, how will we raise our children?”

Let us pray and work for a peace worth living.IMG_0495 (1)

Updated 14 March, 2014

 

Posted in Advocacy, Colombia, Prayer | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Carta pastoral de Venezuela

This letter is available here in English translation. 

Esta carta me fue enviada por la secretaria ejecutiva del Presbiterio Central de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Venezuela, pidiendo el favor de hacerla circular entre mis contactos. Un resumen y reflexión personal (en inglés) sobre los hechos está disponible. 

Caracas, 20 de Febrero de 2014

Presbiterio Central

de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Venezuela

C A R T A   P A S T O R A L

A NUESTRAS HERMANAS, A NUESTROS HERMANOS DE LA TIERRA DE GRACIA

Venezuela ha sido conocida, es conocida y aspiramos que siga siendo conocida como Tierra de Gracia. La mano del Creador bendijo esta porción del planeta con todo lo que una nación pudiera desear. Es por ello que sus mujeres, sus hombres y sus niñas y niños, como administradores de la patria, estamos en la obligación de velar por la integridad de sus suelos, de sus cielos, de sus aguas, de sus verdes, de sus animales y de cada uno de los seres humanos que conviven en ella, es decir, de nuestras hermanas y hermanos.

Por esta causa, el Presbiterio Central de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Venezuela, reunida en su XXXIV Consejo, los días 14,15 y 16 de febrero pasado, en los Valles del Tuy, y en consideración a los preocupantes hechos acaecidos desde el 12 de febrero, nos dirigimos a nuestras hermanas y hermanos de la patria de Bolívar. Lo que nos anima es hacer nuestro modesto aporte por la paz y el entendimiento entre los que vivimos en Venezuela, y lo primero que queremos decir con todas nuestras fuerzas es –citando las palabras de Jesús en el Evangelio- que “todo reino dividido contra sí mismo quedará asolado; y una casa dividida contra sí misma se derrumbará” (Lc.11:17b). Todos quienes habitamos en la Tierra de Gracia somos viajeros de la misma embarcación. Si el barco se hunde naufragaremos todos con ella.

¡Hasta cuándo tanto insulto e infamia! ¡Hasta cuándo tanta mezquindad! ¡Hasta cuándo tanto cálculo político! ¡Hasta cuándo tanta maniobra!

No se podrá construir una nación de hermanas y hermanos con la mentira, la descalificación, y mucho menos con la violencia y la muerte. La violencia y la muerte solo acarrea más violencia y más muerte. En ninguna manera debemos llegar a convencernos de que los muertos constituyen el mal necesario y el daño colateral irremediable para llegar al país que pensamos. Neguémonos rotundamente a claudicar ante la cuestionable lógica de que “el fin justifica los medios”, ya que, como muy bien lo expresara el profeta de los derechos civiles norteamericano Martin Luther King Jr. “Los medios destructivos no pueden conducir a un fin constructivo, porque los medios representan el ideal en acción y ya llevan el fin en embrión. Los medios inmorales no pueden conducir a fines morales, pues los fines preexisten en los medios”. Nunca se logrará paz verdadera partiendo de la aniquilación moral de quien adversa nuestra percepción del deber ser. Solo sería una especie de “pax romana”. Una paz de vencedores y vencidos. Una falsa paz, en cuyo interior se esconderá la podredumbre de una gangrena que no cesará de carcomer a la sociedad toda. Como Iglesia hacemos votos por una paz verdadera y duradera. La paz en la que todos ganamos. La paz que es fruto de la justicia, de la reflexión, del consenso honesto y sin armas ocultas. Por lo tanto, amonestamos a nuestros connacionales a que nos cuidemos de hundirnos en una absurda confrontación fratricida que a nadie beneficia.

Continue reading

Posted in Prayer, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A pastoral letter from Venezuela

The following is my translation of an open letter to the people of Venezuela issued by Central Presbytery, Presbyterian Church of Venezuela. They asked me to share it with my contacts. My personal summary of current events in Venezuela is available here.  La carta está disponible en su idioma original.

Caracas, February 20, 2014

Central Presbytery

Presbyterian Church of Venezuela

Pastoral Letter

TO OUR SISTERS AND BROTHERS IN THE LAND OF GRACE

Venezuela has been known, is known, and we aspire that it continue to be known as the Land of Grace. The hand of the Creator blessed this portion of the planet with everything that a nation could want. Therefor its women, men, girls, and boys, as stewards of the homeland, find ourselves charged with ensuring the integrity of its soils, skies, waters, green spaces, animals, and of each one of the human beings who live in it, that is, our sisters and brothers.

For this reason, the Central Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela, gathered in its 34th assembly this past February 14-16, in Valles del Tuy, and in consideration of the troubling events that have taken place since February 12, addresses our sisters and brothers from the homeland of Bolívar. Our hope is to make a modest contribution toward peace and understanding among those who live in Venezuela, and the first thing we want to say with all our strength is – in the words of Jesus in the Gospel – that “every Kingdom divided against itself will be devastated; and a house divided against itself will collapse” (Luke 11:17b). All those who live in the Land of Grace are travelers on a single vessel. If the ship sinks we all will be lost with her.

How long will there be such insult and shame? How long such pettiness? How long such political calculus? How long such maneuvering?

We cannot build a nation of brothers and sisters with lies, with lawlessness, much less with violence and death. Violence and death only breed more violence and more death. In no way should we convince ourselves that deaths are a necessary evil and inevitable collateral damage on the road to the country we envision. Let us categorically refuse to give in to the questionable logic that “the ends justify the means,” since, as North American civil rights prophet Martin Luther King, Jr., put it: “Destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal in the making. Immoral means cannot lead to moral ends, because the ends preexist in the means.” True peace will never be achieved by the moral annihilation of anyone who defies our perception of what ought to be. This would only be a kind of “pax romana.” A peace of victors and vanquished. A false peace, within which will hide a rotting gangrene, eating away at society as a whole. As a church we seek a true and lasting peace. A peace in which we all win.  Peace which is the fruit of justice, of reflection, of honest consensus and without concealed weapons. Therefore, we call on our fellow citizens to avoid sinking into an absurd fratricidal confrontation that benefits no one.

Continue reading

Posted in Prayer, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Praying with Venezuela

“We call on our fellow citizens to avoid sinking into an absurd fratricidal confrontation that benefits no one.”

Central Presbytery (of the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela) issued these stark words this week in a letter to their compatriots. Venezuela has made the news even in the United States, and it isn’t pretty.

February 12 is Youth Day in Venezuela, commemorating the role of young people in the battle for independence from Spain at La Victoria in 1814. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of that patriotic date, students gathered to march in several cities across the country. Peaceful marches were held by groups both in favor and in protest of the current government. In Mérida, where small violent protests have become common in recent weeks, the initially peaceful events gave way to violent clashes with riot police and protesters set up garbage fires to blockade intersections. In Caracas, several government buildings were attacked. Other cities also saw violent confrontations.

Venezuela’s opposition movement has become increasingly vocal in decrying inflation and limited access to certain consumer goods. Concern over crime and security issues grows. These protests, however, are more a generalized explosion of anger and frustration with the ruling party than an effort to have any particular demands met. The opposition coalition has blamed the government for the outbreak in violence, citing repression by the police and national guard. Government supporters have voiced their conviction that the violence was planned by the opposition, citing activists stockpiling rocks and rubble and preparing Molotov cocktails in advance of the demonstrations.

In the intervening days, demonstrations, violence, and unrest have continued in several cities. As of February 21, ten people had died and 137 been wounded, including 100 civilians and 37 security officers. Those killed include both pro- and anti-government protesters, and several arrests have been made in connection with the killings. Peaceful marches on February 22 once again devolved into confrontations in at least one city.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has strongly criticized Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for his handling of the protests. Neighboring nations including Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay have denounced the opposition movement for seeking to destabilize democratic order in Venezuela.

Maduro has called repeatedly for dialogue, inviting student groups to meet with his office in the capital. He said in an address on February 19 that he is open to “constructive dialogue to define key issues.” Opposition leader Leopoldo López (imprisoned on charges of orchestrating the current unrest, who started a movement called La Salida to unseat Maduro through protests following his party’s electoral losses two months ago) encouraged demonstrators to continue, “to stay firm against violence, and to stay organised and disciplined. This is everyone’s struggle.” One protester wore a handmade sign that read: “Venezuela, either we fight for you, or we lose you. Whoever grows tired loses.”

As a U.S. citizen, that attitude is eerily familiar. Politics in my home country appear increasingly to be a fierce, zero-sum competition between the Elephants and the Donkeys, with gloating winners and sore losers licking their wounds and preparing for the rematch. This trend calls the quest for common ground anathema, and it sickens me. Something similar is at play in Venezuela, but we hear a different narrative in the United States. We hear of the Venezuelan people fighting to wrest freedom from the grip of an oppressive regime. But where does that narrative leave the millions of Venezuelans who repeatedly vote for the ruling party? All is not well in Venezuela, and our sisters and brothers there can use our prayers and support, but let us take care in framing the narrative so that all are included in our concern.

The Presbyterian Church of Venezuela’s Central Presbytery held its regularly scheduled assembly last weekend and faced an unexpected item of business. In an open letter to their compatriots, delegates drafted a letter that envisions the Venezuelan people as seafarers in a shared vessel, with a shared destiny. The letter calls on all sides to step up to their unique responsibilities and work for a constructive, peaceful outcome that serves the common good.

“We cannot build a nation of brothers and sisters with lies, with lawlessness, much less with violence and death. . . .  As a church we seek a true and lasting peace. A peace in which we all win.  Peace which is the fruit of justice, of reflection, of honest consensus and without concealed weapons.”

Amen.

The full text of the letter is available in a separate post.

Original Spanish-language text is here.

 

Sources:

CNN en español

Venezuela Analysis here and here

NY Times 

Télam

The Guardian here and here

Posted in Prayer, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s a YAV?

So far 2014 holds at least one exciting new thing for me: I’m going to be a YAV site coordinator (again)!

With "my" YAVs in Argentina, visiting one of the volunteers in her placement, December 2004

With “my” YAVs in Argentina, visiting one of the volunteers in her placement, December 2004

So, what does that mean? Well, YAV stands for Young Adult Volunteer, a program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that builds up young adults through a year of volunteer service. YAVs participate in intentional community and are immersed in a new cultural reality to learn, serve, and grow. There are sites in the U.S. and around the world, with six new ones opening for the 2014-2015 year. And one of those new sites is Colombia!

I am an alumna of the program myself–my journey in mission service started back in 2002 as a YAV in Uruguay, and I spent a year as interim site coordinator for YAVs in Argentina before seminary. Ever since my first visit to Colombia in 2006, I’ve thought this would make an incredible site for YAVs to serve and learn with our partners in the Presbyterian Church of Colombia. And now we’re ready to make it happen! But we could really use your support.

  1. Pray for just the right candidates to apply to serve and to hear a call to Colombia.
  2. Lend yourself as a voice to encourage those candidates to serve!

The Colombia site is for young adults 21-30 who have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent life experience. A foundation in Spanish is helpful, but we’re willing to make arrangements for language study here if necessary. Good candidates will be open to simple living  and have a good dose of cultural humility and a readiness to learn.

Sorry for the short notice in this forum, but applications for international service are due February 14!   Please pass this along to anyone you know who might be looking for just such an opportunity as this.

YAV program links:

YAV-related/inspired stuff on this blog:

And here’s a video from a chat with a 2010 Peru YAV, Lisa Hermann:

Posted in Colombia, Mission | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guapa!

Eres una mujer muy guapa,” she said.

I was confused.

I’ve often been called guapa, but in the context of this conversation with my friend Aracely it seemed strange. As your high school Spanish memories might lead you to believe, I was first hearing this as “You’re a very handsome woman.” Turns out, in certain parts of the Spanish-speaking world, guapo/guapa also means something more like brave, bold, strong. I hadn’t realized Antioquia, Colombia, was one of those places, but I remembered this alternate meaning just in time to understand what she wanted to say.

Aracely thought I was brave to come and live in Colombia, far from my family and friends, the community that raised me. She’s right, certainly, it has it’s challenging aspects and costs. But the benefits have also been great! I can’t imagine my life without the many communities that have nurtured and shaped me in South America.

That’s the topic of my last newsletter. If you haven’t seen it, please take a look. There are challenges, to be sure, but I continue to give thanks to God for the privilege of serving here. If you’d like to help make it possible for me to continue, I invite you to take a look at my donations page for details on a special matching gift opportunity and how to make a contribution.

Some of the women at a pastoral retreat in Medellín

Some of the women at a pastoral retreat in Medellín

Stay tuned for more on the Medellín retreat and the Dialogue of the Americas on Faith, Economy, and Migration!

Posted in Colombia, Mission, Musings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment