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From left: BWA team members Raimundo Barreto, Alan Marr and William Mathis with Michael Joseph of the Peace and Justice Commission in Colombia and Jenny Neme Neiva, director of JUSTA Paz of Colombia

BWA Makes Human Rights Visit to Colombia A

BWA delegation visited the cities of Bogota, Cali and Buenaventura in Colombia from June 23-30, to observe the

peace work of Protestant and evangelical churches in Colombia, and to explore ways to support this work. The visit was a follow-up to a presentation by Pablo Moreno, Rector of Baptist University Foundation (UNIBAUTISTA) during a session of the BWA Commission on Peace in Santiago, Chile, in July 2012. In that meeting, Moreno described the ongoing violence and human rights abuses in Colombia. He spoke about peace initiatives, particularly through the Peace and Justice Commission of CEDECOL (Council of Evangelical Churches in Colombia), and the programs developed by UNIBAUTISTA to mitigate violence and promote peace. He emphasized that in their efforts to work for peace and justice, Colombian Christians need international support. In Colombia, the BWA team had meetings with the Peace and Justice Commission of CEDECOL. The BWA learned of the commission’s role in human rights documentation and advocacy, where it seeks to document the impact of human rights violations on Protestant churches, communities, groups and individuals. The commission also runs a Peace Sanctuary Churches Program, where local congregations are encouraged to develop peace ministries in their communities. The Women’s Network helps women to develop networks of peace and related gender issues of conflict. The peace commission also inaugurated a training program, the Biblical Bases for Peace, a certificate program run by UNIBAUTISTA, based in Cali.


Alan Marr, Chair of the BWA Commission on Peace, said Buenaventura “was like a photo that had been decolorized. The place looked sad and depressed.” Church pastor Agapito told the BWA delegation that in 2007, two bombs exploded in front of his church, one a few minutes after the first. This is a common strategy used by guerilla groups, he explained, exploding a smaller bomb to attract onlookers before unleashing a second, bigger bomb, killing many. Explosions like these are also timed to coincide with a major movement of drugs in another part of town, distracting police with the mayhem caused by the explosions.

Agapito also said two pastors were murdered within a few weeks of each other. Other pastors received threatening phone


calls. Rocks were thrown into churches during the preaching of sermons. Churches are targets for extortion by gangs because it is believed they have money. Many pastors have had to move from place to place for security reasons. The delegation learned that more than 95 percent of murders In

Colombia are left without a person being brought to justice. Gangs who control the city are ruthless in their quest to control their turf and to take over the turf of other gangs. Many people are forced to move from the area. Agapito said that on one single day 19 bombs exploded in Buenaventura. “Every time I leave my home I would say goodbye to my family.” He showed a DVD of the chaos following a bombing in 2007. Five were killed, including two police officers. Lorenzo Bonilla, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Buenaventura, with whom the delegation was supposed to meet along with families who suffered from gang violence, informed the BWA team that the gangs told him the team was not welcome in the area. It was explained that permission must be sought from gangs for outsiders to visit their “territory.” After informing them of the BWA visit, Bonilla said he was told a resounding “no”. Attempts to organize alternatives to the gangs have been greeted with violence. One pastor who worked with the police to get a youth group going was killed. Churches that discourage children and youth from joining an armed group have been “punished” by the gang. Many people have stopped going to church. Gang members are well known as they grew up in the town. “We know their families,” the BWA was told.

Drug Gangs and Violence

The fight against the drug cartels led to the decentralization of the drug trade. It was like hitting a hornet’s nest with a hammer, the BWA delegation was told. Smaller, more nimble groups took over. These groups are more flexible and mobile and are harder to track down. Buenaventura has become a center of violence because gangs are fighting a constant territorial war over control of the port. Because of this, basic human services such as education and healthcare are at a minimal standard. The gangs do not allow “outsider” teachers and doctors to come into their “territory.” When asked why he stayed despite opportunities to leave, Bonilla said, “Because the city needs us.” The future for Buenaventura looks grim. It is the site of a strategic port for drug traffickers and armed groups are vying

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