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.

Continue reading “Colombia: Planting seeds of hope amid conflict and COVID-19”

FoRB on the Frontlines: “We left the city and did not return”

In several Latin American countries, religious leaders often take on the roles of community leader and human rights defender. As a result, these leaders often face harassment, intimidation and even violence at the hands of state and non-state actors. Over the next few weeks CSW will be presenting interviews with religious leaders working in the region to highlight their experiences on the frontlines of freedom of religion or belief.

Otto is a Protestant pastor working in Tuluá, Colombia.

“If you say anything you will end up like those two…

It was a Sunday morning, everything was normal, but it was a day in which our lives would change.

Continue reading “FoRB on the Frontlines: “We left the city and did not return””

The cost of backtracking: delays in Colombia’s peace process risk a return to violence

In November 2016 a revised peace agreement was signed between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–Army of the People (FARC-EP). The deal was considered a big win by many, bringing an end to a conflict which spanned over five decades and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

This celebration has been considered both “justified and premature.” In the following years parts of Colombia have enjoyed a somewhat fragile peace, but recent developments have raised concerns that this peace could shatter altogether.

Government foot-dragging

Particularly concerning is the current government’s approach to the 2016 agreement. Since his election in June 2018, the President Iván Duque Márquez-led administration has consistently slowed down the process of implementation.

Continue reading “The cost of backtracking: delays in Colombia’s peace process risk a return to violence”

Shared experiences in the context of extreme violence: what is the Church’s role?

Over the past decades, both Peru and Colombia have experienced internal conflicts which involved extreme levels of violence in many regions and high loss of life. While the conflicts were political (pitting far left groups against the government and/or far right paramilitary groups) they directly impacted ordinary civilians and civil society, including churches.

In many cases, Christians, especially church leaders, were targeted for different reasons by the various armed actors. This directly affected freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in those areas.

In both countries, the larger Church (composed of many different denominations) found itself looking for ways to respond to the conflict and especially how to support the churches, Christians and others living in conflict zones.

Continue reading “Shared experiences in the context of extreme violence: what is the Church’s role?”

For Some, Yellow Butterflies Symbolise Hope in the Midst of Colombia’s Uncertainty

Yellow butterflies covered every wall in the office of one of our partner organisations in Colombia.

The first butterfly was cut out and hung on a wall immediately following the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on 26 September 2016 in Cartagena on the northern coast of the country.

In their speeches on this momentous occasion, both President Juan Manuel Santos and Timochenco, the commander and Chief of the FARC, referred to the yellow butterflies from celebrated Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ famous novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is remembered for his love of yellow butterflies and flowers, which signify that nothing bad will happen.

“The war is over, we are starting to build peace” – Timochenko, Commander and Chief of the FARC

During his speech, Timochenko, stated, “war is over, we are starting to build peace’’ followed by a reference to a character in the novel, Mauricio Babilonia, who is constantly followed by yellow butterflies wherever he goes, as a symbol of infinite love and hope. Ivan Marquez, the FARC’s lead negotiator stated at a national FARC conference, “Tell Mauricio Babilonia he can release the yellow butterflies,” as a direct quote from the novel.

An Unexpected Outcome

These butterflies were a clear example of the hopeful expectancy that surrounded me in Bogota. Everyone was discussing what the peace agreement would mean for the country, especially for the regions most affected by the 52 year long conflict, especially the more rural areas of Colombia.

During the 53 years of internal conflict, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. All actors during the conflict have been responsible for major human rights violations; armed actors have also been responsible for a wide range of violations of religious freedom as hundreds of religious leaders have been the victims of targeted assassinations since 2000 and many have received threats, including death threats, by neo-paramilitary groups and guerrillas. Many churches have faced extortion from armed groups or have been forcibly closed.

However, at this point in time, the national plebiscite which was due to be held on 2 October 2016 had not yet taken place and was the final step required to bring the peace agreement into force.

Continue reading “For Some, Yellow Butterflies Symbolise Hope in the Midst of Colombia’s Uncertainty”