Colombia: Planting seeds of hope amid conflict and COVID-19

30 November marked the fourth anniversary of the approval of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC-EP) by the Colombian Congress. Four years later the country still has a long way to go, as violence continues in several departments and those working in peacebuilding find themselves increasingly targeted by armed actors. Add to this the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the picture is one of serious concern.

CSW spoke to Pablo Moreno, Rector of the Unibautista Baptist Seminary in Cali and Director of the Colombian Council of Evangelical Churches Peace Commission (CEDECOL).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Colombia much like the rest of the world. There have been months of upheaval in the worlds of academia, work and religion. Periods of lockdown have shifted many areas of human life into the virtual realm, altering the physical meetings and face-to-face encounters we had become accustomed to.

In the midst of this, violence has increased in Colombia. Illegal armed groups occupying territories abandoned by the FARC-EP are fighting among themselves for control over drug trafficking routes. At the same time these groups are used to frighten the population to make them leave their homes so that they can build illegal mines, expropriate land, and expand their social dominance in a way that benefits them.

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Waiting for action: An interview with a victim of forced displacement in Mexico

On 28 July 2019 four Protestant Christians were forcibly displaced from the village of Cuamontax Huazalingo in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. Community leaders told the victims that the expulsion was the consequence of their failure to sign an agreement that bans Protestants from entering the village.

Over a year after they were forced to leave their homes, CSW spoke with Uriel Badillo, who was among those displaced:

‚ÄúMy name is Uriel Badillo Lara. I am originally from the Cuamontax community, in the Municipality of Huazalingo, Hidalgo State, Mexico, but I am currently living in my sister‚Äôs house in Atlaltipa Tecolotitla, in the Municipality of Atlapexco, along with my parents, my wife and our new-born. I make a living doing odd jobs like helping with electrics and maintenance.‚ÄĚ

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Voices from Cuba: Alain Toledano Valiente

Apostle Alain Toledano Valiente is a prominent leader in the Apostolic Movement in Cuba. He also leads Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba along with his wife, Marilín Alayo Correa. Pastor Toledano and his wife have experienced intense harassment at the hands of the Cuban authorities for over two decades.

In February 2016, over 200 church leaders in Pastor Toledano’s denomination were detained as the authorities demolished the Emanuel Church building. Pastor Toledano was out of the country at the time. Since then he has been prevented from leaving Cuba, subjected to repeated police summons, and threatened with imprisonment on multiple occasions.

In recent months, Pastor Toledano and his family have continued to experience severe harassment, even in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures.

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Voices from Cuba: Ricardo Fern√°ndez Izaguirre

Ricardo Fern√°ndez Izaguirre is a journalist, documenter and religious freedom defender in Cuba. Mr Fern√°ndez Izaguirre is married with an infant daughter and another child on the way. He was a member of the Apostolic Movement, an independent network of charismatic protestant churches which the government has refused to register. He currently attends an independent Methodist church.

In July 2019 he was detained and held without charge for ten days, the first four of which he was completely incommunicado. He was detained once again for over 24 hours in November 2019, and has faced regular harassment and intimidation at the hands of the Cuban authorities since then.

Mr Fern√°ndez Izaguirre has expressed fears to CSW that the Cuban government will attempt to fabricate a criminal case against him as an act of reprisal for his work defending religious freedom.

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Voices from Cuba: Yoel Su√°rez

On 5 February 2020 Yoel Su√°rez was summoned to Siboney Police Station in Havana where he was interrogated for three hours by a state security agent who informed him that he had been declared ‚Äėregulado.‚Äô The declaration effectively subjects Mr Su√°rez to an indefinite ban on international travel, and is a common tactic used by the Cuban authorities to target individuals who they deem ‚Äėpolitically sensitive‚Äô.

As an independent journalist, Mr Su√°rez has worked with non-state media outlets in Cuba since 2014 and has written extensively about human rights and freedom of religion or belief issues. As a result of his work, he and his family have been subjected to regular harassment at the hands of the Cuban authorities.

Today, over six months later, Mr Su√°rez remains unable to travel, and he and members of his family have received multiple visits from Cuban state security agents.

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