by Marv Funk, participant of the May-June delegation to Colombia
As you walk in 44 C degree (111 C Fahrenheit) heat and 100% humidity, there’s a lot of time to think about where you came from and where you’re going. In this case our Christian Peacemaker Team delegation was heading to Garzal, a small community of hard working Colombian farmers living in the shadow of multinationals and paramilitaries. In Canada we are part of the conversation around how the 1% affects the 99% and how our laws often favour the wealthiest at the expense of the poorest. Colombia has some great laws protecting the community we were visiting, yet as we trudged through the mud, it was apparent that a neutered enforcement maintains the status quo – the rich stay rich and the poor get displaced. In a country of around four or five million displaced people, will a few more be noticed?
Once in Garzal, its hard to miss shining examples of leadership and solidarity. Don Salvador has lead this community through death threats, multinational coercion and the dangerous residue of a paramilitary drug trade. Atypical of most leadership is the way he’s raising other leaders from within his community to take on key responsibilities. A wise strategy in a place where campesinos are seen as obstacles needing to disappear to make way for greater profits.
Sitting under a mango tree, we listen to farmers who gathered to encourage us to stand with them. Why? Because this is what friends do when facing forces that try to make people to give up, shut down and disappear. I am truly thankful that I’m in the presence of a different type of people. The place I come from assumes everyone can move to another city to avoid unpleasantries. These people understand that who we are originates with how we face challenges. They know that this harsh climate produces life from a land that will sustain hopes for their children and their community. The beauty of this land and the strength of its people are far too visible, even to our North American eyes who have been socialized to see opportunities for immediate gratification. They teach me what a privilege it is to be in the presence of the ‘least of these’ – they are my brothers and sisters.
The concept of the 1 versus 99 ends up taking on new dimensions in this community. The lawyer for the community tells us that the Colombian government has given multinationals concessions to 99% of the region – in other words the 1% owns 99% of the land and resources. Yet, one of the lessons we’re learning about this uneven ratio is that even when the 1% own 99%, they aren’t happy… they lust after 100%. Sharing is not part of their vocabulary, but domination is. Maybe it’s time to envision a new destination, one where values people over profit. A place where percentages matter less than the people they represent.