Illinois Member of Congress Responds to Urgent Appeal on Threats in Colombia!

 

A few weeks ago, CRLN Members & Friends received an Urgent Appeal regarding recent death threats to CRLN partners in Colombia, including community leaders, priests and local organizations in the Magdalena Medio region.  We are happy to report that following the circulation of a similar appeal to Illinois Members of Congress, Illinois Representative Bobby Rush promptly responded by writing a "Dear Colleague" letter with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), expressing serious concerns about the continued threats against human rights defenders in Colombia. The letter urges Members of Congress to take into account the voices of those threatened and the responses of the Colombian government to such human rights violations, as Congress will make several decisions in the coming year regarding economic, military and trade relations with Colombia.

 

Catholic Bishops, Priests and Human Rights Groups

Face Death Threats in Colombia

April 23, 2008

Dear Colleague,

            We would like to bring to your attention the attached appeal from the Catholic Dioceses of Barrancabermeja and Magangué and from the Development and Peace Program of Magdalena Medio (PDPMM).  As Members who have been intimately involved in monitoring developments in the Barrancabermeja, Magdalena Medio and Sur de Bolivar region of Colombia, we are particularly concerned for the safety and welfare of these religious, human rights, labor and community leaders who have recently received death threats.

            In a letter issued on April 15th and signed by Bishop Leonardo Gómez Serna (Bishop of Magangué), Bishop Jaime Prieto Amaya (Bishop of Barrancabermeja), and Fr. Francisco de Roux Rengifo, S.J. (Director of PDPMM), the bishops call for a reflection on living in peace and harmony in the face of recent death threats issued against them, their priests, and human rights and trade union groups in their dioceses.  In their appeal, they call upon the Colombian government to provide special protection for people working for development and social justice.  They also ask that these crimes and threats be investigated, the perpetrators identified, and those responsible punished.

            Throughout this year, Congress will make several decisions regarding economic, military and trade relations with Colombia.  As we deliberate, we urge you to consider the voices of these bishops and priests, as well as the responses and strategies for action by the Colombian government that they propose to address these issues.  Our close relationship with Colombia requires that we hold the government accountable for the protection and promotion of human rights.  With U.S. support and friendship, Colombia has the opportunity to comply with international standards in its treatment of human rights, and provide for the safety and security of all its citizens.  As our closest ally in the region, it is imperative that we encourage and help them achieve this goal.

Sincerely,

                                    /s/                                                                                            /s/

      ___________________________                                                      ___________________________

                   Bobby L. Rush                                                                                  James P. McGovern

               Member of Congress                                                                            Member of Congress

 

 

PRESS RELEASE

AN APPEAL FOR REFLECTION ON LIVING IN HARMONY AND PEACE

A message to the public from the Diocese of Barrancabermeja and Magangué and the Development and Peace Program of Magdalena Medio.

Barrancabermeja, April 15, 2008

 

On April 10 a death threat appeared on the Internet targeting individuals and organizations we work with in Magdalena Medio on issues such as integral human development and lasting peace. The threat was signed by Comandante Camilo of the northern bloc of the Águilas Negras [Black Eagles], "long-time combatants of the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia."

The message describes the parish priest of Regidor municipality (southern Bolívar) as "an obstacle to the municipal government," the parishioners of Tiquisio and Arenal as "war workers," and members of the Development and Peace Program of Magdalena Medio as "perpetrators of criminal acts against democratic security," in those population centers as well as in the municipalities of  Morales and Aguachica. It also mentions the Federación de Agricultores y Mineros [Miners and Farmers Federation] of southern Bolívar, and the human rights group SEMBRAR. All of these will be "military targets" in an "annihilation plan" in which "they will be exterminated one by one as they appear on the list."

The Magangué diocese led by Bishop Leonardo Gómez Serna, whose priests have been threatened with death, the Barrancabermeja diocese led by Bishop Jaime Prieto Amaya, president of the Corporación de Desarrollo y Paz para el Magdalena Medio CDPMM [Development and Peace Corporation for Magdalena Medio], Father Francisco de Roux Rengifo, S.J., Director of the Development and Peace Program of Magdalena Medio PDPMM, and their staff express their emphatic repudiation of these threats, which endanger personal integrity and undermine people's right to fully exercise their freedoms and pursue their legitimate aspirations.

We reject:

  • 1. All forms of illegal authority

        •   2.   All forms of violence regardless of the source, manifested as:

  • Forced disappearance
  • Kidnapping
  • Extrajudicial executions
  • Massacres
  • Forced displacement
  • Firing squads
  • Torture
  • Intimidation and terror
  • Antipersonnel mines

         •   3.  All forms of relations or alliances between the State and illegal groups. They (the Aguilas Negras) are the last ones in a position to claim to uphold the government and democratic security.

          •  4.   In sum, we reject the violent deaths of over 2000 people in the region since 1986. In our own particular case, we have already buried 28 men and women colleagues of the PDPMM program who were cruelly murdered.

We reaffirm our intention to:

  • 1. Collaborate in the construction of a region that respects the life and dignity of the sons and daughters of God, who is the wellspring of their fundamental and inalienable rights.

         •  2.   Recover the cultural identity of these peoples; protect their territories and their ownership of the land as peasants with deep roots in these regions; ensure their food security; and fight poverty and exclusion through new forms of development and coherent and consistent initiatives (such as peasant farms, protection of rivers, woodlands and native species, etc.).

        •  3.   Implement values-centered education based on an ethic of the common good that will permeate political and economic institutions with transparency to fight corruption in its manifold and perverse manifestations..

        •  4.  Collectively seek truth and justice by equipping communities with concrete tools for this purpose (community radios, citizen oversight committees, a stronger social fabric, etc.).

            5.  In sum, defend and promote a Social Rule of Law, the fruit of consensus among citizens, men and women alike, to ensure that all people have equal access to the conditions necessary for a life with dignity.

We request the following of the civilian, military and police authorities and the Public Ministry:

  • 1. Special protection for these peoples who are working for development with social justice and whose path towards peaceful and sovereign living is under threat.

        •   2.  The investigation of these crimes and the identification and punishment of those responsible.

We appeal to businesses and workers to join together in a process of reflection and discernment in the quest for solutions to put an end to such barbarity.

We want our colleagues, men and women, leaders and priests, and members of the organizations who have been explicitly singled out by the Águilas Negras to feel that we are with them, their families and loved ones. At one with them in risk and uncertainty, we express our fraternity with the victims of all of the perpetrators who have spilled blood and sowed terror among us.

 "The truth will set us free" and "be not afraid," our Lord Jesus Christ has told us repeatedly. We trust in God and we trust in the people of  Magdalena Medio who have already wrought changes in these lands where we were once dispersed in our uncertainty and where we now walk together despite those who wish to intimidate and stop us. We are not going to leave this region, nor will we abandon the parishes or halt the projects. We will not desist in the struggle for the land and we will not remove our support from the organizations and community groups. We will not slow down in our promotion of humanitarian spaces and peasant organizations, of cultural spaces and community radio networks, or of women and youth. We travel this path knowing that peace must be built without violence in the midst of conflict and that we would have to face risks and pay the price of building it. This is why we will go forward.

We have forged this path thanks to the solidarity of institutions of the Colombian government itself, the European Union through the Peace Laboratory, the United Nations, and countries such as Japan, Switzerland and Canada. They are familiar with our motives, our actions, and the way we invest resources. We trust that they will have the consistent and committed solidarity to remain by our side in the hard times, a solidarity exemplified by the international peace volunteers present in the region.

May Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, accompany us on this road to salvation.

+JORGE LEONARDO GÓMEZ SERNA  +JAIME PRIETO AMAYA

Bishop of Magangué                            Bishop of Barrancabermeja

                                                                                      President of CDPMM

                                               

            Fr. FRANCISCO DE ROUX RENGIFO, S.J.

Director of PDPMM