Displacement, Garzal and Nueva Esperanza, News & Analysis

Hold Them in the Light!

Those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light, because they do not want their evil deeds to be shown up. But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God. (John 3: 20-21)

Reverend Salvador Alcántara of Garzal:

When I posted about Reverend Salvador Alcántara having to leave the Middle Magdalena region because paramilitaries were looking to kill him, my friend Sara emailed me to say she wondered why I had not asked for prayers. Very concerned, and feeling powerless to do much else (Sara is intimately familiar with the realities of Colombia), she informed me that she was going to “hold him in the light”. I felt somewhat chagrined for not having asked for prayers. Holding someone in the light is very consistent with Quaker practice that had become such an important part of my spiritual sustenance while I was living in Canada over ten years ago.

Being held in the light is something Reverend Salvador and his family very much need right now. The paramilitaries who came to kill him were armed and dressed completely in black—the typical uniform of the Black Eagles paramilitary group operating here in Colombia. They hate it when someone is “held in the light” because it makes the evil deeds they wish to do more risky and less effective. A great part of our work is not only making the evil and the violence that goes on here in Colombia more visible; we also attempt to make the efforts of those who resist evil in obedience to God more visible. Salvador Alcántara falls very squarely into this category. His tireless work in trying to secure land tittles and security for his community, his unwavering faith and obedience to God’s calling, convinced him to return to Garzal despite the dangers and threats to his life and the lives of his loved ones. “Holding them in the light” is not only effective in terms of bringing about divine intervention; raising the profile of potential victims and their struggle for justice also makes it more difficult to deny them justice and kill them with impunity. The granting of land tittles by INCODER—the Colombian Institute for Rural Development—would also go a long way in providing state support, security and legitimacy to the communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza. So by all means, in every sense of the word, please continue to hold Salvador, his family, and the communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza, INCODER, and all those who seek to do him harm, in the light!

Abelardo Sánchez Serrano of CREDHOS:

While you’re at it there is another member of the human rights community here in Barrancabermeja that needs “holding in the light”–Abelardo Sánchez Serrano. Abelardo is a member of CREDHOS—the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Albelardo was one of the chief spokespersons at a press conference about the commemoration of a massacre in Rochela to be held the following week. The massacre remains in impunity—a fact that was underscored at the press conference. (More on the commemoration of the massacre in Rochela later.) The following morning two people on a motorbike approached him and put a gun to his head, telling him to “stop denigrating the armed forces. We already have one son-of-a-bitch guerrilla of CREDHOS in jail and if it is necessary to give it to the rest of them we will do it to shut you up”.

AbelardoIf the intent was to dissuade the organizers from going ahead with the commemoration, it was unsuccessful. It took place on the 18th of January, 2012, and was attended by close to two thousand people. Christian Peacemaker Teams spent five days accompanying bus-loads of people, many themselves threatened, to, during, and back home from the event.

But it was before the commemoration of the Rochela Massacre, the morning after the press conference, when Abelardo’s life was threatened. He was about to purchase and arrange for the transport of food, cooking utensils and other goods to Rochela for the commemoration. Because of the threats against him, Alberado was unable to continue with that work, and it was assumed by members of CAHUCOPANA (Corporation for Coexistence and Peace in Northeast Antioquía) and ASORVIM (The Magdalena Medio Victims’ Association), amongst others. Gladys Gomez and yours truly—Stewart Vriesinga—of Christian Peacemaker Teams, Colombia accompanied them as the went about making purchases and other necessary arrangements.

Like Salvador, Abelardo and CREDHOS are exposing present and past evils to the light of day. They know that those who prefer to hide under the cover of darkness, including the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the massacre in Rochela, will try to stop them. But they know what must be done, and will not allow anything or anyone to deter them. They embody the words of our Lord in their actions:

What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight, and what you have heard in private you must announce from the housetops. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. (Matthew 10: 27-28)

Holding Salvador and Abelardo in the light will inevitably also shed light on the injustices, as well as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of these injustices, past and present. It cannot be otherwise. Our concern is not with the spiritual well-being of these two friends; rather, it is their physical safety and the success of their valiant struggle for justice. So please let us do all we can to hold them and their struggle for justice, all who advocate for them and all who oppose them, in the light!

What you can do:

In addition to keeping Salvador and Abelardo and both their allies and adversaries in your prayers, there are things you can do to ensure that truth and justice are served. In justice is less likely to prevail if it is seen as plain as day. Holding injustice in the light can expose and transform it.

REVEREND SALVADOR: As already mentioned above, in the case of Reverend Salvador and the communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza, it is INCODER that is in a position to deter further violence by recognizing the community members’ legitimate claim to land they have occupied and cultivated for decades, and grant the the corresponding land tittles. According to Colombia’s Right of Possession Laws (squatter’s rights), this should be routine. It is INCODER’s decades of negligence and failure to rule on this matter that encourages unsavoury armed actors to continue to pressure the community to abandon its claim on these lands and join the millions of already internally displaced peoples in Colombia. Any correspondence you have with Colombian authorities regarding Reverend Salvador Alcántara should include a demand that INCODER grant the communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza, both part of the municipality of Simití, in south Bolívar, tittles to their lands immediately. The contact information provided by Amnesty International’s Urgent Action request regarding Abelardo of CREDHOS below will also serve to communicate your concerns for Reverend Salvador and the communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza.

ABELARDO of CREDHOS: Amnesty international suggests the following urgent action on behalf of Abelardo of CREDHOS: (For their full report click here.)

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:
* Expressing concern for the safety of Abelardo Sánchez Serrano and other members of CREDHOS, and calling on the authorities to protect them, in line with their wishes;
* Urging the Colombian authorities to order full and impartial investigations into the death threats against Abelardo Sánchez Serrano; to publish the results and bring those responsible to justice;
* Remind the Colombian authorities to fulfil their obligations regarding the protections of human rights defenders as specified in the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, to which Colombia is a state party;
* Urging the authorities to take immediate action to dismantle paramilitary groups and break their links with the security forces, in line with stated government commitments and recommendations made by the UN and other intergovernmental organizations


Señor Juan Manuel Santos
Presidente de la República,
Palacio de Nariño, Carrera 8 No.7-26, Bogotá, Colombia
Fax:                  011 57 1 596 0631
Salutation:     Dear President Santos/Excmo. Sr. Presidente Santos

Defence Minister
Señor Juan Carlos Pinzón
Ministerio de Defensa
Carrera 54, no.26-29
Bogotá Colombia
Fax:                  011 57 1 266 1003
Salutation:     Dear Minister Pinzón/Sr. Ministro Pinzón

And copies to:

Av. 52 No. 25-49
Barrancabermeja, Santander

The Honourable Diane Ablonczy
Minister of State for Consular and Foreign Affairs (Latin America)
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Fax:                  (613) 992-2537
Email:              ablonczy.d@parl.gc.ca /calgary@ablonczy.com
Her Excellency Clemencia Forero Ucros
Ambassador for Colombia
360 Albert Street, Suite 1002
Ottawa, Ontario K1R 7X7
Fax:                  (613) 230-4416
E-mail:             embajada@embajadacolombia.ca
Note: When emailing the Embassy, please consider turning on your notification device to ask for a receipt of delivery. (In my system, when I’m ready to send a message, I go to Options, then Request a Delivery Receipt.) If you do so but get an email saying your message was deleted, please let the UA office know. Thank you.


About CPT Colombia

CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) Colombia is an International organization seeking to be allies for and partner with communities who are threatened with displacement and violence. We try to support their initiatives to promote justice and peace and their resistance to attempts by those who oppress them and seek to dispossess them of their land, culture and livelihoods.


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