Monday, September 29, 2008

Urgent Action: Pastor William Reyes Disappeared

Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace and Justapaz

Urgent Action

Pastor disappeared, action requested.

We are very concerned for the safety of Pastor William Reyes and other members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao - FRAME). Last Thursday, September 25, at 10 AM Pastor Reyes left Valledupar, Cesar, for his home in Maicao, La Guajira in northern Colombia; he never arrived. Reyes ministers in the Light and Truth Church (Interamerican denomination) of Maicao and is a member of the Pastors’ association (FRAME) – which has received repeated threats from the paramilitary, the FARC and other illegal armed groups since March of this year. Pastor Reyes’ wife, Idia Miranda, is the FRAME secretary. Pastor William Reyes and Idia have three children, William Reyes Miranda, 19, Luz Mery Reyes Miranda, 16, and Estefania Reyes Miranda, 9.

Human rights violations of church people, and of the civilian population at large, are ongoing in Colombia. Last year the Justapaz, Peace Commission Documentation and Advocacy program registered the murder of four pastors.

We ask you to send letters to:

  • Express your concern;
  • Request government action to locate Pastor Reyes and
  • Solicit protection for Pastor Reyes’s family and the members of FRAME.

See model letter below.

Action Requests: Political Advocacy and Prayer

Communicate with Colombian governmental representatives (see sample letter). Ask that the Colombian government:

  • Provide all necessary safety measures for Pastor Reyes’ family and for the members of FRAME. (See my comment/question.)
  • Carry out a timely investigation and take the necessary steps to bring to justice both the material and intellectual authors of William’s disappearance.
  • Carry out a timely investigation and take the necessary steps to bring to justice those responsible for the threats against FRAME.

Pray for:

  • Well-being of Pastor William Reyes and his family.
  • Safety of the members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao.
  • Wisdom in discerning next steps in the midst of violence and a politically adverse climate.
  • Recognition of the error of their ways, repentance and reparations of damage committed on the part of the responsible parties.


Model Letter:

Dear :

I am writing to express my deep concern for the safety of Pastor William Reyes, his family and the members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Ministers of Maicao (FRAME). Pastor Reyes pastors the Truth and Light Church (of the Interamerican denomination) of Maicao and is a member of FRAME – which has received repeated threats from illegal armed groups since March of this year.

Pastor Reyes departed Valledupar, Cesar for Maicao, La Guajira at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 25, and has not arrived or been heard from since.

We ask that you take all steps necessary to locate Pastor Reyes and to protect his family and the members of FRAME. We also ask that you ensure swift and thorough investigations of the threats against FRAME. Those responsible should be held accountable for their crimes.



Send letter(s) to:

Fiscal General (Attorney General)

Mario Iguaran

Fax: 011-571-570-2000 ext. 2017


Gobernador de La Guajira (Governor of La Guajira)

Jorge Perez Bernier

Fax: 011-575-727-5007 (ask for fax)

Emails can be sent directly from here.

Comandante del Ejercito Nacional (Commander of the Army)

General Mario Montoya Uribe

Fax: 011-571-297-3107

Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad - DAS (Administrative Security Department)

Maria del Pilar Hurtado Afanador

Fax: 011-571-408-8400


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yuby Oyola: I Only Worry about What God Thinks of Me

Just over a year ago, on July 9, 2007, I wrote about the tragic murder of pastors Joel Cruz and José Humberto Mendez. In the days following the murders, six families (all related to pastor Cruz) fled to the city of Ibagué. I recently visited Ibagué and had the chance to meet with some of them, including Yuby Oyola, Joel’s widow and their young daughter Lilly (pictured here).

Pastor Daniel Vargas of the Protestant Peace Commission took me to visit with them. He had coordinated efforts to support these newly-displaced families, finding emergency, and then long-term housing for the families. Of the six families that initially displaced, three have decided to move to a town closer to the farm where they all used to live. “It’s still too dangerous for us to go back to our farm because the army has come in and are building a base near our farm, and the FARC are saying that we asked for the army’s presence... they could kill any of us for this,” stated Rosember, Joel’s brother.
Those that have returned nearby have done so in the hopes of renting out the farmland to others and avoid losing the farm. They are afraid that it could be taken over by others, or expropriated by the state if it lies fallow for too long. Returning to the area with these tensions in the air is risky-business, but adapting to city life has been very hard on those who have stayed in Ibagué.

The three families lived in a cramped space in a peripheral neighborhood in Ibagué, the type of place where everyone is struggling just to get by. The women tried making and selling tamales for a while, but couldn’t sell enough most days to cover their costs. The men work sporadically as day laborers, usually in construction, sometimes they bring enough home to buy some groceries and pay a few bills, most days they don’t. Yuby’s sister in law is taking an industrial machinery technician course, and hopes to land a job in that area soon, if she can scrape together the 15 dollars she needs to buy the safety glasses that are required to finish the course. Yuby traveled to
Cali in the hopes of finding work there, but returned a few months later. When I asked her about her plans she said, “I’d like to rebuild my life in the country. The city is very hard for me.” The families are now running a small store selling school supplies such as notebooks and pens out of their living room. I was there all afternoon, and no one showed up to purchase any goods. Times are tough, and they are afraid that despite their best efforts the store may also fail.

It was clear that the family had rallied around Yuby and Lilly. Yuby’s brother spoke of their father's decision to leave the family farm he had lived on his whole life to make sure his daughter was safe. As he spoke, the father quietly wept in the corner. Yuby’s strength and determination, despite what she has lived through over the past year, was impressive. When I asked her about her desire to return to the countryside where her husband was killed she responded, “I don’t harbor any anger towards the men who killed Joel. I’d like to talk to them. I’m not afraid of them, because I haven’t done anything to them and I don’t owe them anything... Nor am I worried about people’s comments; I only worry about what God thinks of me.”

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Computers

"It seems to me outrageous that the computers of the guerrilla Raul Reyes can survive a Colombian military bombardment in a foreign country in the middle of the night while the computers of the paramilitaries can't survive an inspection by INPEC (prison authorities) in a maximum-security prison."
Claudia Lopez, Colombian political analyst
[Full story]

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Colombian Churches Document Their Suffering and Their Hope

A few months ago the Peace Commission of the Protestant and Evangelical Council of Churches and Justapaz released the second edition of A Prophetic Call [pdf] which documents human rights abuses suffered by the protestant and evangelical churches in Colombia in 2006. Below is a short video presentation of the report.

For far too long, protestant and evangelical Colombians, roughly 10% of the Colombian population, have been a nearly invisible minority. Courageously, they have begun to document their suffering as well as their hope-filled response to the violence in Colombia.

Monday, February 18, 2008

...Bono Too

While we're on the pop-culture watch: El Tiempo reported earlier this week that Bono stated he "is aware of the poverty in Colombia" and intends to visit (along with his band U2).

West Matters...

OK, this has nothing to do with Colombia, but it's not everyday that your favorite public intellectual, former professor at your alma mater, son of a Baptist minister, is named MTV's Artist of the Week.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Circus Sincelejanus

Last week I attended the last day of the Corralejas here in Sincelejo. Corralejas are a wacky, wild and dangerous free-for-all mixture of the running of the bulls, a traditional bullfight and a western rodeo... or something like that. They are popular all over Colombia's Caribbean coast with Sincelejo's considered the biggest and best. The nine days of Corralejas, coinciding with the parades, parties and beauty pageants associated with the "Sweet Name of Jesus" festival makes for Sincelejo's largest cultural event each year. The Corralejas have been going on for some 150 years and though undoubtedly cruel, Corralejas bulls are not killed.

The circuses of the Roman Empire must have been something like this. The "haves" up in the stands, the "have nots" doing what they can to impress the crowd and make a buck. The amateur bullfighters who do something impressive (like get gored) are allowed to go up into the stands to ask for money.

Here's a little video footage I shot...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

John Lee Anderson on Chavez, Che and Colombia

Cambio Magazine published a short interview today with US author John Lee Anderson. He is a regular columnist for The New Yorker and has covered wars all over the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq. He is perhaps best known for his acclaimed biography of Che Guevara, though I also recommend Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World.

His thoughts are timely with a controversial "march against the FARC" coming up next week. Below, a translation of the interview:

CAMBIO: You are writing about Chavez. Do you see him as similar to Che [Guevara]?

JON LEE ANDERSON: Since his death, Che has become a sort of martyr, a universal icon and a symbol of revolution. He represents mythological values. Chavez on the other hand, considers himself a modern revolutionary with syncretistic politics combining socialism with [Simon] Bolivar’s thoughts. He sees Fidel Castro, Che’s revolutionary companion, as his spiritual father. Following this logic, Chavez presents himself as Fidel’s revolutionary successor.

But Chavez wasn’t a guerrilla.

It’s true that he didn’t participate in a revolution to overthrow a dictator, but he did start an attempted coup d’etat to overthrow a president, which makes him less romantic.

What do you think of Chavez’s statements that the Farc are not terrorists and that their project is respectable?

Chavez himself has recognized his affinity with the FARC for their Bolivarian spirit, but we all know that president Chavez doesn’t choose his words very carefully. But his position can be interpreted in two ways: the way they have been interpreted in Colombia, that he revealed his true feelings and support for the FARC, or another way is to say that what he is saying is that even if they are terrorists, if the FARC wants to speak about peace, the state will have to reach agreements with them.

Such as the case of the IRA…

Yes, all states negotiate with terrorists and one such case is Ireland who negotiated with the men who were detonating bombs and later released them from jail. The Colombian state will have to admit to things it has done in this war that isn’t clean, but very dirty.

Are you referring to the extermination of the UP [Patriotic Union party] and the ties between state agents and the paramilitaries?

Yes, the state annihilated their own citizens and those responsible are not in jail. The paramilitaries are criminals in cahoots with the state, but hidden in the shadows. Only when the state can properly guarantee the rule of law can those in the jungle give up their weapons.

Are you justifying the guerrilla’s distrust of negotiating?

As long as there is not a completely legitimate state, there will be people who don’t feel represented by that state. The does not legitimize the FARC, but you can’t reduce this conflict to good guys and bad guys because the guerrilla live a parallel reality. In the jungle people do what they have to do to survive. You could be a totally pure Maoist if you have someone funding your lifestyle. But when that money runs out you do whatever it takes to eat. The challenge of the state is to recognize that reality and create space for those in arms to see beyond the jungle, even if they are just seen as drug-traffickers at this point.

All guerrilla movements need popular support to survive and the FARC have lost it. But they are still there. What do think about that?

The notion of popular support is relative. I remember a Nicaraguan guerrilla who told me that they made the youngest soldiers, 14 and 15 years old, kill the enemy, because they still weren’t fully aware of what they were doing and they were easier to control. He also said that there were two ways of fighting a war, the good way or the bad way, but they both work. It’s a fallacy that a guerrilla movement can only survive with popular support, it can also do it through a regime of terror. I don’t see Colombia differently than Afghanistan; over there the Taliban recruits young fighters, the same as here.

Are public marches, such as the one planned for Macrh 4th, any use?

I can’t speak about something that hasn’t happened, but in Spain the massive marches against ETA, even though they signed temporary cease-fires, have not caused them to respond as the people wanted.

What do you think about the process with the paramilitaries?

I don’t know a lot about that process and I don’t know if they will draw a line to keep it from touching the deepest fibers of society such as they did in Spain following their civil war. They are just now digging up their dead and reconstructing their historical memory.

No matter how painful it is, do you believe that truth is imperative?

Yes. For example, countries that lived through wars such as Guatemala and El Salvador did not face the truth and are today the most violent on the continent. The strong link between impunity and corruption leaves wounds that are hard to close. In Argentina they passed a statute of limitations law, yet still today they are trying 80 year old men who committed crimes during the military dictatorship.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paramilitaries "Vacationing" in Sucre

Sucre's newly-elected Governor, Jorge "Tuto" Barraza, convened his first security council meeting yesterday, apparently in response to citizen complaints about the emergence of new paramilitary groups in San Onofre. Today's El Meridiano de Sucre reports that after meeting for a few hours the security council determined that the citizens of San Onofre were "just confused." Governor Barraza went on to explain that several demobilized paramilitaries returned to San Onofre to spend their year-end holidays on the beaches near San Onofre, alarming citizens who recognized them. Governor Barraza concluded by claiming there were no emergent paramilitary groups in all of Sucre.

Here are three reports Governor Barraza should read:

1. The latest report from the Organization of American States - Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OEA)
{english, spanish} . In this report from October they list Sucre as one of the departments with a high incidence of violence related to emergent paramilitary groups, including murders of mid-level commanders vying for power in the "new" structures.

2. The November INDEPAZ Report on New Paramilitary Groups
{spanish}, which documents 200 new paramilitaries in Sucre (listing the police as a source).

3. Colombia's New Armed Groups by the International Crisis Group {english, spanish}, which indicates Sucre (in the green loop on the map to the right) as a department with new illegal armed groups.

Governor Barraza's claim that there are no new paramilitaries in Sucre is absurd. But his insensitive dismissal of his citizen's concerns about the presence of paramilitaries in San Onofre is down-right cruel and alarming.

San Onofre has emerged as a symbol of the victims (of paramilitary/state crimes) movement, due to the bravery of its citizens who were among the first to come forward with information about mass graves filled with hundreds of the paramilitaries' victims in and around San Onofre (to date some 1300 bodies have been exhumed).

Just days prior to the Governor's security council, the nearby community of Chengue mourned the 7th anniversary of one of Colombia's most gruesome paramilitary massacres. To date just one paramilitary has been punished for this crime (following a nightmare induced confession).

I wish I could believe Governor Barraza's claim that this is all just a misunderstanding, but the experts and victims seem to agree... the paramilitaries in Sucre are up to more than just enjoying their retirement.

A little article about my appointment from the October edition of the Alliance of Baptists Newsletter. (One tiny correction to the headline... I´m still a proud member of Metro Baptist Church.) Click on the image to enlarge it.