Urgent Action Request for Córdoba, Las Pavas and El Garzal in Colombia
– Please Circulate Widely
On behalf of communities in Córdoba, Las Pavas, and El Garzal in southern Bolívar, Colombia
“With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Isaiah 11:4a
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
May the peace-giving gospel of Jesus Christ continue to guide your lives on the paths of justice and peace.
One of the primary factors contributing to the violent armed conflict in Colombia is the forced dispossession (despojo) of land faced by peasants. Representatives from Justapaz and the CEDECOL Peace Commission have been witness to three emblematic cases of dispossession that are at a critical juncture. Illegal armed groups that are present in the areas of Córdoba, Las Pavas, and El Garzal have put residents at risk of losing their land, and even put their lives in danger; armed groups that oppose any efforts put forth by the commnities to keep their land. The level of risk in these communities is exacerbated by the ineffective response of government authorities to these threats.
We ask you to take urgent action on behalf of the following three cases:
1. Communities from Córdoba Province
Twelve communities, as well as indigenous, peasant and womens’ organizations have come together since 2010 as the Working Group for the Protection of Land and Territory in Córdoba. They represent approximately 14,151 families living on and working close to 130,000 hectares (321,000 acres) of land. Many of these families are members of Protestant and evangelical churches such as the Association of Evangelical Churches of the Caribbean (AIEC) and the Pentecostal Church.
On October 17, 2010 the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) held a public hearing on the issue of land dispossesion in Córdoba connected to the armed conflict, drug trafficking, and the territorial control of illegal armed groups in the region. This hearing resulted in the Ombudsman’s Office pubishing a Resolution (Resolución Defensorial No. 58) on December 28, 2010 calling on INCODER (state land reform agency), the Ministry of Interior and Justice, the Presidential Agency for Social Action, the National Police and several other government agencies to respond to the land dispossession in Córdoba. As of April, 2011, none of these government entities have responded to the recommendations of the Ombudsman’s Office. Meanwhile, the communities are facing extreme risk. In the first three months of 2011 there have already been three cases of threats, forced displacement and murder of leaders of these communities.
2. Las Pavas Community
Las Pavas is a peasant community in the southern Bolívar Province. Over the past several years paramilitary violence has forced the community to flee from their land. They have previously attempted to return unsuccessfully. In 2006 the community was in the midst of a legal process to reclaim their land when Daabon Organic bought the land from the previous absentee landowner, who had lost the right to the land due to abandonment. On July 14, 2009 state agents forced the community off the land. Over a year has passed since these 123 families (over 500 people) were illegaly forced off their land, known as Las Pavas. Throughout this year the community has survived a humanitarian crisis with no food security and no land.
On Monday, April 4, 2011, in the midst of threats and risks nearly 100 families decided to return to their land with national and international accompaniment. They hope the government will not call this a crime and will move forward with legally recognizing the community as the landowners. These families are members of the God is Love Alliance Church, the Foursquare Church, the Pentecostal Church and the Catholic Church.
3. El Garzal Community
El Garzal is a community of 320 peasant families in the municipality of Simití in southern Bolívar Province. Most of the families are members of the Foursquare Church and the Pentecostal Church and they farm the land for a living. Manuel Enrique Barreto, alias “Don Pedro”, once used much of this land for drug storage and trafficking. In the 1980’s he acquired titles to the land. Years later, INCODER (the state agrarian reform agency) gave land titles to the peasants who lived on the land. In the 90’s Mr. Barreto returned to the region with paramilitaries under his command and again began to threaten the peasants who possessed this land, attempting to force them to move elsewhere, leaving the land that they were using for economic support.
In 2008 the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) reported that the community faced a high risk of forced displacement as well as other human rights violations. The community members of El Garzal have survived bombing raids, combat, and a constant presence of illegal armed groups that has put them at extreme risk.
The Circuit Judge of Simití (Juez Promiscuo del Circuito de Simití) will carry out a “visual inspection” (Inspección Ocular) of El Garzal on April 14-15, 2011. It is believed the purpose of his visit is to establish the legal boundaries of Mr. Barreto’s land (currently missing from his titles – which makes them invalid). In reality, this land is public land that is in dispute and therefore the determination of ownership should be decided by INCODER not the Circuit Judge. A commission of national and international accompaniers will be present in El Garzal on April 14-15 to help provide protection for the community at this difficult time.
 Despojo is a Spanish word that can be translated as dispossession, depriving, theft, looting, or plunder. Despojo refers to any number of ways that communities have their ability to live on and/or work their land taken from them. In some cases the land is stolen, in some cases the communities are forced to sell their land at extremely low prices due to threats and intimidation, and in some cases communities are simply forced to flee their land due to the presence of illegal armed groups. They may retain a legal right to the land, but lose their possesion of it. All of the above is implied in the term “despojo”, which will be translated here as “land dispossession”. Forced displacement is almost always the result of dispossession and forced displacement can lead to dispossession in any of the ways listed above; in other words, forced displacement and disposession are two sides of the same coin.
1. Share this information with your organizations and congregations and pray for these families and communities.
2. We ask you to call on your Congresspersons to demand the Colombian government guarantee these communities right to their land through the Victims and Land Bill that is currently being discussed in Colombian congress.
3. Write the Colombian government and demand the Colombian government protect these citizens and victims of the armed conflict according to law. We call on these Colombian agencies to guarantee to the fundamental rights and freedoms, especially the freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to land. See attached model-letter.
4. Please send a copy of your letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org This will enable us to do effective follow-up.
Brothers and sisters, your support is extremely important because the Colombian government is very sensitive to their national and international pressure. Please help us save the lives, the freedom and the livelihoods of these our sisters and brothers.
We are thankful for all of the solidarity that has already been expressed from organizations and individuals in Colombia as well as from many brothers and sisters abroad who have joined with us in prayer and concern expressed to the Colombian government. We thank you in advance for your support at this time.
Christian Peacemaker Teams – Colombia
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Colombian Mennonite Development Foundation – Mencoldes
JUSTAPAZ, Colombian Mennonite Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action
Justice and Life Office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia
Network of Grassroots Peace Initiatives and Peace Communities
Observatorio de Iglesia y Sociedad de la Universidad Reformada
Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia – CEDECOL
Regional Ecumenical Center for Advising and Services – CREAS
Address your letters to (it is fine to send emails):
Dr. Juan Manuel Santos
Presidente de la República de Colombia
Edificio Administrativo: Calle 7 No.6-54. Bogotá, Colombia
Telefax: (57 1) 562 9300
Dr. Juan Camilo Restrepo
Ministro de Agricultura
Av. Jimenez No. 7-65 Bogotá, Colombia –
Tels: (57) 1-3341199
Dr. Germán Vargas Lleras
Ministro del Interior y Justicia
Carrera 9 No. 14-10, D.C. – Bogotá – Colombia
PBX (+57)(1) 444 31 00
Dr. Volmar Perez
Defensor del Pueblo
Calle 55 Nº 10 -32 Bogotá, Colombia
PBX: [57 1] 3147300
Dr. Juan Manuel Ospina
Av. Eldorado CAN Cll 43 No. 57-41 Bogotá, Colombia –
Telefax:(57)1- 3830444 Ext 1124
SAMPLE LETTER TO SEND TO COLOMBIAN AUTHORITIES
APRIL 11, 2011
MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE
MINISTER OF INTERIOR AND JUSTICE
HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN
I write to you with warm greetings and solidarity in the hope that the God of peace guide you in your efforts on behalf of peace and social justice for the people of Colombia.
I write today to express my deep concern for the threats and risks facing the communities of the Grupo de Trabajo Regional por la Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio del Departamento de Córdoba, and the communities of Las Pavas and El Garzal in southern Bolívar Province. We are concerned that they may be disposseessed of their land and face risks in their efforts to return to work and live on their land.
In the case of the Córdoba Province, the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoria del Pueblo) issued the Resolución Defensorial No. 58 on December 28, 2010, where they call on INCODER, the Ministry of Interior and Justice, the Presidential Agency for Social Action, the Provincial Government, the National Police, the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development, the Corporación Autónoma Regional de los Valles del Sinú y San Jorge (CVS), the Procuraduría General de la Nació, the Ministry of Social Protection, and the National Commission for Reparations and Reconciliation to respond to the issue of land dispossession in Córdoba.As of April, 2011 there has been no response from any of these government entities and the communities have faced at least three cases of human rights violations including threats, forced displacement and the murder of leaders.
We are also concerned about the community of Las Pavas in southern Bolivar Province. Despite threats and no guarantee of state protection, nearly 100 families from this community decided to return to their land with the accompaniment of national and international organizations. We hope that the government will not consider this a crime and will hear and move forward with the demands of this community.
Finally, we want to express our concerns about the community of El Garzal, also in southern Bolívar Province where 320 families are fighting for their right to land, according to Colombian law. There is an active case in the civil court of the Simití Circuit where a judge is to conduct a visual inspection on April 14, 2011. We are concerned that this inspection will be done in order to define the boundaries of the land in dispute favoring persons connected to paramilitary groups who want the land.We understand that the ownership of these lands should be defined by INCODER and not the judge.
We know that the members of these communities are humble workers, many of whom are members of Protestant and evangelical churches who have acted in accordance to their Christian principles, and who simply want a life of dignity. We are concerned for their safety and their lives. We know that so far in 2011 they have already faced threats, forced displacement and murders.
For these reasons we would like to state our support of these communities and the national and international organizations that accompany them as they struggle for their rights.
We ask for:
– Compliance with the recommendations of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) contained in the Resolución Defensorial No. 58 of 2010 that demand numerous Colombian government entities to respond to the land dispossession in Córdoba.
– The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) move forward with the Audiencia Defensorial and Resolución Defensorial related to the cases of Las Pavas and El Garzal.
– The Ministry of Agriculture and INCODER to act under the directive of the Colombian government to restitute land to the communities of Córdoba and Magdalena Medio, in particular the communities of El Garzal and Las Pavas which are included in the plan de choque.
– The Ministry of the Interior and Justice to guarantee the safety of the communities that are seeking their right to land and dignity through protective measures.