by Seth Wispelwey
The campesinos of Colombia are are calling out. 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 leaves them dead, disappeared or disenfranchised as one of the world’s largest number of internally displaced people. All of this takes place in a country that the United States has showered with billions of dollars in military and foreign aid in the past ten years.
It can be easy 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 of the U.S. 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 are listening. Some are advocating. Some are accompanying.
The Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has accompanied CAHUCOPANA (Corporation for Coexistence and Peace in Northeast Antioquia), a human rights organization based in Northeast Antioquia, which continues to witness a high rate of tension, violence and environmental abuse. The region is the home to millions of campesinos, many of them displaced from around the country.
This summer, an international CPT delegation comprised of church and community leaders from Ethiopia, India, the United States and Canada joined CAHUCOPANA in a public action in the volatile town of Remedios. Taking the “stage” on the church steps in the town square were dynamic speakers and performance artists. Anchoring everything were the campesinos themselves, who risked their safety to travel to Remedios and prophetically denounce what is being done to them. And prophesy they did. Campesino leaders spoke passionately about their need for justice and peace. They called out for partnership and support. They called out for Colombia.
CPT closed 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 enough to publicly risk their safety in such a move. Instead, people could not come to the cross fast enough. As the liturgy progressed, CPT 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:
Retiramos las manos de les 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
We take our hands away from things that destroy, the systems that oppress, from greed /
We will walk the earth without violence, in the strength of peace and imagination /
Raising your love, transforming our lives /
We walk in the dreams of God
As the chanting and singing grew, 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 CPT 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 called out. Will we listen? Will we take our hands away from systems of oppression? Will justice be done? Will we join?
There are no simple solutions, but one thing is certain, the people of the Americas and the world can unite with the people of Colombia. We can denounce their predicament, our complicity in it, and our determination to see lives transformed. Will you be a part of this transformation?