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Columbia


for control. Unemployment is 75 percent, making poverty more severe. Many city residents see drug traffi cking as a means to a living, especially in instances where there are large families, not uncommon in Buenaventura. The BWA team met with a group of Baptist pastors in Buenaventura. Pastor Benedito said his congregants are suffering. One woman lost six members of her family in one day. Fourteen other members of her extended family have been killed. Benedito had had to fl ee for his life. At the time of the killing of the two pastors, he was chased by the killers and he had to go into hiding in Cali until it was safe to return. Another pastor, Ermin, said violence in the town has increased


over the past fi ve years and that it was becoming more diffi cult to challenge gang members. In certain neighborhoods no outsider is allowed in. A third pastor, Alexander, claimed that he knew of three gang members who had become Christians through the ministry of his church. Among the needs identifi ed by the group of Baptist pastors


were hunger and poverty relief, employment, income generation alternatives to the drug trade, places of refuge, education, therapy


BACKGROUND ON


Conflict in Colombia M


ore than 10 percent of Colombia’s population is displaced due to the ongoing civil war in the country, some 5.8 million people. The current confl ict started in 1948 following the assassination of the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala. The assassination of the populist presidential candidate was followed by massive riots, known as El Bogotazo, giving birth to La Violencia, a 10-year (1948–58) period of civil war in Colombia between the Colombian Conservative Party and the Colombian Liberal Party, which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. The confl ict also had religious overtones, since the conservatives, responsible for the massacre of Gaitan’s liberal followers, and generally associated with the Catholic Church, also persecuted Protestant minorities, less than fi ve percent of the population. Protestants were largely aligned with liberals, and were, among other things, accused by the conservatives of anticlericalism.


As a consequence of this confl ict, many liberals escaped to rural zones. Militias were formed to fi ght the military. In the 1960s two groups were formed, FARC (originally Liberals who became Marxist Leninist) and ELN (also Marxist Leninist), created by academics and Catholic priests. Both groups grew in the 1960s-1980s. By the late 1990s FARC had 20,000 soldiers and ELN 12,000. Both were heavily funded by the


for trauma and the empowerment of city residents. Pastor Ermin described a soccer competition in which gang members participated. It was described as a success in reaching out to gang members. In Cali, the BWA team met with a group of mostly young


people. The discussion revolved around the current peace process between the Colombian government and FARC, the main rebel group in Colombia. The group enumerated six areas of concern that the peace process need to address, agrarian and land reform, where some progress has already been made, broad based political


participation, disarmament, drugs, victim rights and implementation.


Sessions were also held with leaders of the Colombian Baptist Denomination, who told the BWA team about a planned camp for children of pastors whose parents were killed in La Violencia. Members of the BWA delegation were Raimundo Barreto,


BWA director of Freedom and Justice; Alan Marr, chair of the BWA Commission on Peace; and William Mathis, a BWA peace commission member.


Soviet bloc. This funding ran dry after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Drugs, extortion and kidnapping became alternative sources of funding. Wealthy landowners were the primary victims of extortion. In response, these elites formed their own private armies. By the late 1990s, AUC (United Self Defense Forces of Colombia), formed by the elites, had 15,000 soldiers. They began to attack villagers because of the villages’ perceived association with FARC and ELN. The Colombian military later joined forces with right wing paramilitary groups.


The Patriotic Union (UP) was founded by the FARC and the Colombian Communist Party in 1985, as part of the peace negotiations that the guerrillas held with the Belisario Betancur Conservative government. UP was allegedly subject to political violence from drug lords, paramilitaries and rogue military agents during the mid-1980s, leading to its eventual decline and virtual disappearance. More than 4,000 supporters were murdered including two presidential candidates. FARC went back to fi ghting and engaging in the drug trade. From 1999-2002 another peace


process was attempted between FARC and Colombia President Andrés Pastrana Arango. A demilitarized zone was developed but it was unsuccessful. From 2002-2010, President Álvaro Uribe, whose father was killed by FARC, and who ran for election promising all out war against FARC, suspended all peace talks, taking a tough line against the guerrillas.


Uribe’s handpicked successor, Juan Manuel Santos, the incumbent president, surprised everyone and earned the ire of Uribe by negotiating with FARC, including agreeing to land reforms.


Since 1990, there have been 10,413 victims of the civil war, 60 percent military (6,420) and 40 percent civilians (3,993). Up to June this year, 118 military and 63 civilians were killed in 2013. Thirty one of 32 departments in Colombia are contaminated with landmines. Drug cartels use landmines to protect their territories. Guerrillas and paramilitary groups plant mines to protect cocaine plantations. In inner cities there are ammunitions such as grenades and missiles. Some are hidden in toys, cigarette boxes, etc. Colombia is also one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. Sixty-seven percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Twenty million Colombians live on less than US$5 a day. Bonaventura, visited by the BWA delegation, is the most important port on the Pacifi c Coast. Seventy fi ve percent of the 1.2 million people living on the Pacifi c Coast live below the poverty line. Colombia has the third highest African-descended population in the Americas, after the United States and Brazil. A signifi cant majority of the ColombianAfrican population is in the Pacifi c region and is mostly poor. In the nine civil wars between Liberals and Conservatives, the poor have been caught in the crossfi re.


OCTOBER/DECEMBER 2013 25

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