Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I do see many of those values embodied here. In preparation for the 24th (Christmas Eve is the big day of celebration in Colombia, as opposed to the 25th in the U.S.), community members collaborated to prepare huge vats of the traditional Christmas food for the entire community – sancocho de res (a traditional stew made with a community-owned cow), natilla and buñuelos. And of course organizing the requisite baile (dance). I am proud to report I danced until 5am, though I was still bested by the strong few who danced until 7:30am! (I have earned a reputation as one of the top 2 or 3 dancers among FOR volunteers, which I find hilarious since at home I didn’t do much dancing, and when I did it was certainly not until dawn!)
Talking with the priest before the mass, he mentioned how he comes to the community several times a year to perform baptisms. “I have to,” he said, “because this community produces so many babies. That’s how we know this community won’t be defeated, won’t be killed off: they keep reproducing!” he joked. And it's true: this morning the newest baby girl was born, just a few days ago my next-door neighbor gave birth to a little girl, and possible twins are expected in a couple of weeks – not to mention my goddaughter and the four other baby girls born in the last few months. A veritable baby boom!
The priest’s comments became especially poignant when, early Saturday morning, an older – though not elderly by any means – member of the community had a stroke and died. As I understand it, Perucho had been sick and in a lot of pain for a while, so some consolation can be taken in the fact that he’s no longer in pain. His body was lain out in the kiosko and community members took turns staying with his body night and day – drinking coffee and playing dominoes to stay awake – until his funeral yesterday morning.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Happy Holidays from Colombia!
My Christmas this year will be quite a change from the christmas-cookie-eating, presents-under-a-decorated-
And some New Year news for you: not only will I be transitioning to FOR's office in Bogota in the late spring, but I have agreed to extend my contract with FOR through the end of November 2009 – and perhaps longer. It's crazy to think about not returning home until nearly 2010, but I'm excited to take on new and additional responsibilities and challenges, like training new accompaniers, leading delegations, meeting with embassy officials, etc. Also, I will be back in the States for a visit in June or July, so keep your calendars open!
Last but not least, during this season of giving, I ask you to consider supporting me and the work I am doing in Colombia by donating to the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Your tax-deductible contribution would help pay for travel, insurance, living expenses, communication, and office support for me and my teammates, as well as supporting our work to provide support and visibility for the Peace Community.
I send abrazos grandes (big hugs) all the way from Colombia, and wish you a very Happy Holidays.
With love and peace,
Below is the text of an action alert issued today by FOR. As described, we have learned that our email accounts have been under surveillance. This is another example of the way the Uribe administration has created a climate of suspicion around the human rights community in Colombia, putting us and our work in danger. Please take action!
"Speak Truth to Power" takes on a new dimension when you realize you are under surveillance! That is exactly the position we at FOR find ourselves in once again. In 2005, we informed FOR supporters that more than 10,000 pages of FBI files had been released to us, documenting decades of surveillance of the organization. Now, we have just learned that for two full years - since December 2006 - our Latin America program has been targeted and monitored by state agents. Specifically, the e-mail messages intercepted include FOR communication in the US and with Colombia!
This covert action is a direct violation of our right to privacy as a humanitarian activist organization. FOR's e-mail account was among more than 150 e-mail accounts of human rights organizations, journalists, academics, and labor organizations that were targeted. We've also learned that the Colombian military paid for computer hard drives "of interest to intelligence" agencies. The June 2007 break-in and stealing of FOR's Bogotá office computers containing sensitive files on our work with members of Colombian peace communities may have been a direct result of this state-sanctioned surveillance.
FOR is meeting this attack on civil rights by calling on U.S. and Colombian officials for a full investigation, sanctioning of officials responsible, and the erasure of intercepts. Join us in exposing this militaristic intervention. Click here to write to the State Department's chief for human rights concerns.
We also hope you will take this opportunity to show the Colombian and U.S. regimes that you support democracy, privacy, and self-determination by making a donation reaffirming your commitment to FOR. We need your help. Whatever your gift, it is a sign of your commitment to justice. We say again: we will not be silenced!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Upcoming Delegations to Colombia
- March 27-April 6, 2009: Youth Arts and Action Delegation. Builds on the dynamic experience of the first youth arts and action delegation in 2008 and the groups of conscientious objectors in Medellín and Bogotá. This delegation will be the focus of a documentary film produced by two participants. $1000 from Bogotá. For information and an application, contact Liza Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
- August 15-29, 2009: Delegation to San José Peace Community, Medellín and Eastern Antioquia. Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1500 from Bogotá. For information and application, contact John Lindsay-Poland, email@example.com
Training for New Field Team ApplicantsMarch 17-22, San Francisco: Apply to be part of the FOR teams in Bogotá and San José de Apartadó in Colombia. Team members serve for 12 months or longer, must be 23 and fluent in Spanish. More information is at http://www.forcolombia.org/
you could be here
Thursday, December 4, 2008
- how to hike through a mud pit without getting stuck - and when stuck, how to dig out one's boot
- how to live and work with someone without driving myself or the other person entirely crazy
- how to differentiate the sounds of combat fire from random shots
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Manos de Resistencia: Women Peacemakers in Colombia
Sunday, December 7, 7 pm.
3543 18th St. San Francisco
A Benefit Featuring:
Amanda Romero is a leading Colombian human rights activist, co-author of the collection of Colombian women’s testimonies, “We Will Never Be Silenced.” She will speak about Colombian women, human rights and the need for international presence.
Aluna is a Bay Area multicultural ethnic and Colombian folkloric band that features traditional Colombian music styles such as Cumbia, Puya, Bullerengue, Curruláo and Mapalé, as well as original music.
Food, Poetry by Maria Mercedes Carranza, raffle drawing, and honoring Bay Peace.
$12-20 donation. No one turned away.
This event is raising funds for the human rights accompaniment work of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Colombia. FOR’s teams live with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and other grassroots initiatives, in order to dissuade political violence and ensure their rights to stay on their lands and continue their nonviolent work. See http://www.forcolombia.org for more information.
Co-sponsors: Global Fund for Women, American Friends Service Committee Pacific Mountain Region, Fund for Nonviolence, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom San Francisco Chapter, Peacemakers. Information: 720-296-6429
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Paramilitary forces are making increasingly violent threats against members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and other peasant families in the area, with no apparent action by the Colombian government. Immediate action is needed by US Ambassador William Brownfield to leverage Washington's enormous influence and prevent further violence against the community and area's civilian population.
On the morning of November 7, in the Playa Larga vereda (settlement) of San José, some 50 rifle-wielding paramilitaries in camouflage gear and identifying armbands detained resident Jairo Berrio Arango, according to a community statement. He was forced to undress as the gunmen held a rifle to his head and threatened to kill him on the spot. When his father arrived on the scene and pleaded with them, they said they wouldn't kill him now-but that they had six San José community members targeted for death, and that they should flee immediately to avoid being killed. They said the army was cooperating with them. On November 7, five families fled the vereda of La Esperanza, where Berrio Arango's family is from, and local sources reported to FOR that between nine and 30 families had displaced from La Esperanza and Playa Larga as of November 10.
On November 1, the Peace Community's legal representative, Jesús Emilio Tuberquia, was threatened at gunpoint at an Internet café in the town of Apartadó, the local municipal seat,the community reported. Two known paramilitaries surrounded him at the café, while one held a pistol to his head and said, "I'm going to kill you." He pushed the man's arm away, fled into the café and was able to flee unharmed, though the gunmen grabbed his bag, which had fallen in the scuffle.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
In any case, the next day as we traveled through Apartadó on our way back to the Community, we could hardly tell that anything had happened; shops all seemed open, people seemed to be running their usual errands. Most of the graffiti, even, had been painted over already, apparently by police who had gone out with paint and brushes the very afternoon of the paro.
Plenty of fear was still lingering, of course, and lots of questions. For us and the Community, the main questions were (and still are) how to analyze the situation and how to respond. Our analysis has had to recognize that this wasn’t just an isolated incident. In the last several months there has been an alarmingly large increase in paramilitary forces in the rural areas of the region, moving in numbers not seen in years. Unlike the AGC’s who staged the paro and whose statement of purpose in the distributed leaflets was quite general, these paramilitaries in the rural areas, who refer to themselves under the old and fear-inducing moniker AUC, have directly threatened the Peace Community.
Monday, October 27, 2008
One thing that those of us without amores get to participate in is Amigos Secretos (Secret Friends), a game kind of like Secret Santa in the States: all the women who are playing pick out of a hat the name of a man who is playing, and that man is then the woman’s amigo secreto. The men do the same in order to pick their amiga secreta. Throughout the month (or more, in our case), one is supposed to gift one’s amigo secreto with little packages of dulces (sweets). The game culminates in the descubrimiento (discovery) in which everyone gathers and tries to guess who their amigo secreto is, and then the no-longer-secret amigo gives the final, big gift, which is often clothing, like a nice shirt or a pair of jeans. Each person gets a couple of chances to guess, but for those who don’t guess correctly, there is a penetencia (penance) to pay – literally. Penetencias range from singing a silly song, dancing with a cup of water balanced in each hand, tying a pencil with string to your back belt loop and trying to place it into a bottle, and other silly and embarrassing craziness in front of everyone. Often (or at least here in the Community), there’s a party/dance afterwards, which of course lasts until all hours of the night.
Monday, October 13, 2008
The Peace Community and Tamera organized this pilgrimage, as it was called, in order to visit and honor different sites pertaining to the Peace Community that are significant both historically and currently, as well as to demonstrate the strong presence and support of internationals for the Community. Over the six days my teammate Julia and I accompanied the participants as they prayed and sang near the headquarters of the 17th Brigade (the army unit that operates in this area and that has participated in many of the deaths of Community members); hiked eleven hours to Mulatos, the site of the 2005 massacre I described in a recent post (normally, the hike takes 4-5 hours, but with that many people, many of whom are unaccustomed to walking in these conditions, it took waaay longer); hiked to La Esperanza, another area where many community members used to live and are just now returning to after having been displaced for several years; swam in the rapids of a river that traverses the region; and hiked back to La Union (where FOR has our house) to dance the night away.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
In my last post I described US funding of the Colombian military, and expressed frustration that the State Department had certified the next round of funding. It seems some in Congress may have a bit of sense, because it is considering withholding $72 million of the $180 million certified by the State Department, because of cases like the one below. Continue reading for more info, and take action!
A witness testified that Colombian Army commander General Mario Montoya delivered weapons to a paramilitary death squad when he was a commander in Medellín, and the Colombian attorney general has opened an investigation into the charges, the Washington Post revealed on September 17.
"Gen. Mario Montoya has for years been a trusted caretaker of the sizable aid package Washington provides Colombia's army," the Post noted. Yet US officials have brushed off this and previous reports of the general's collaboration with death squads, saying, "Our experience with Montoya is a good one. He is a great field commander." When similar reports, based on a CIA document, surfaced last year, the State Department simply said it couldn't verify them. But Colombian prosecutors said the witness in this case has "a high degree of credibility."
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Leahy Amendment, as the law is known, is a 1997 law that makes foreign military aid contingent on human rights conditions; if performance on the various human rights conditions is deemed satisfactory, the funds are certified for release. Sounds great, right? But the certification process leaves much to be desired, including the fact that the State Department does the certifying. Particularly with an administration in the White House like the one we have, the stamp of approval for aid to Colombia gets handed out way too easily.
On July 29th, the Bush administration certified the release of more that $180 million in military funding for the Colombia armed forces, money to be used for everything from helicopters to training. To those of us living, be it temporarily or permanently, in this country renowned for the impunity of human rights violations committed by the military, that's a whole lot of cash that just might mean the death of a neighbor or family member. In this case, the 130-page certification document highlights improvements, for example reductions in impunity via prosecutions of military personnel for human rights abuses (like the ongoing prosecutions I described in a recent post).
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
It meant a lot to be able to share my life here with someone from my life before I came to Colombia: to show him just how muddy the trail to our village is, how sweet the coffee is, how gorgeous the sunsets over the mountains are. We then spent a week traveling on Colombia's gorgeous Caribbean coast, lying on white sand beaches, eating arepas de queso (the best street food ever, I think), exploring the beautiful walled Spanish-colonial city of Cartagena...
So, for your viewing pleasure, are some photos of my recent travels; perhaps they will serve to entice you to visit as well!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
My first time in Colombia – and the start of my work with FOR – was on a delegation like this one exactly two years ago. Sitting in a meeting the other night with the delegation and some of the Community leaders, I realized how far I’ve come since the similar meeting I attended while on my delegation. Two years ago I was struggling to understand how the Community worked, what FOR’s role was, etc. Now I am here living it. I have relationships with the community members, I eat meals and joke with them, I know the intimate details of the Community-FOR relationship.
I am also happier here than I think I realized until the the delegates arrived. At the start of the meeting the other night, we went around the circle introducing ourselves, and many of the delegates mentioned how happy they were to be here. I was the last to speak, and with a huge grin on my face, said I was also very happy to be here – and of course the implication was different for me than for the delegates, since they were leaving the next day. One of the community leaders, sitting next to me, turned to me and said softly, “sí, se nota que está contenta, se nota” (yes, it’s obvious you are happy to be here). That was a moment of much joy for me, both because it struck me that I really am contenta here, and also because it seems that Community members are noticing my happiness – both because it really must be true if they can tell just by looking at me, and because I do want them all to know that it is a joy and an honor to be here among such incredible people.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
I have to confess that the tatabra was not the first bite of meat I’ve eaten since arriving in the Community. I have been able to (mostly) maintain my vegetarianism because we do most of our own cooking here. However, when visiting with our neighbors we are invariably offered food, and often it involves, besides the ubiquitous rice and beans, a big hunk of meat. Preceding FOR volunteers have been vegetarians, or even vegans, so a precedent has been set for refusing the meat, but sometimes, as those of you who have traveled in meat-centered countries know, declining a plate of food is not always a viable option. I admit to you all that I have succumbed a couple times.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
First, I am fine and we are not all that worried that the rescue will have negative repercussions for us and our work. Thanks for your concern!
Second, some comments on the rescue:
It is absolutely fantastic that the 15 hostages were freed and are back at home with their families, and I am so glad that their suffering at the hands of the FARC is over. However, like I did with my last post about Uribe, I'd like to mention a few related items that aren't getting as much attention.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
the recent hostage rescue, Uribe will surely appear frequently in US and world news in the coming days, and I bet that most mentions will be quite glowing. Here, therefore, I offer you some grains of salt to take with all the sweet words most media outlets are using in reference to the Colombian president.
Even without such Uribe tends to make regular appearances in US news, for several reasons: he’s the primary Bush administration ally in Latin America, a free trade agreement between Colombia and the US is pending, and Uribe is currently toying with the idea of changing the constitution for a second time to run for a second reelection (all other Colombian presidents have only been allowed to serve just one term).
Friday, June 27, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
With only a week under my belt, I continue to be confounded by all the names and familial relationships I have to learn, and amused by efforts to pronounce my own difficult name. I’ve taken to telling folks, if they have particular trouble with my name, that they can call me Mora (blackberry) or Mayra Mona (the blond Mayra, to distinguish me from the dark-haired Mayra who spent several months here in the community and is now on the FOR team in Bogotá).
Despite all the learning, life here so far is very chill (though it´s still strange to think about being here for a year). I called my mom a couple days ago (on a cell phone connected to an antenna on the roof of our house - the only way to get reception), and upon hearing my description of our calm, relaxed days here, she teased me that it sounds more like a vacation than anything else: reading, swinging in hammocks, yoga every morning, chatting with neighbors, etc. Life won´t always be like this: we´ll soon be taking, for example, mtultiple-day hikes through the muddy mountains to outlying areas of the Community. Nonethless, calm and quiet is exactly what we want, because it means the community is safe and we’re being most effective as accompaniers. With all this calm I might feel a bit useless, but the many times in just the few days I´ve been here that people have expressed their utmost gratitude for us just being here to accompany them reminds me that I am doing my job, even when for the moment I’m swinging in a hammock reading Barbara Kingsolver.
Though we don’t have reliable internet access here, I know that before I left US news was covering the extradition of 14 paramilitaries to the US to be tried for drug trafficking, so I thought I’d give a little a little perspective probably not heard there.
Colombian president Álvaro Uribe said he OK’d the extradition of these individuals because they were still running their drug trade business from jail, and the only way to stop that was to get them out of the country. US authorities had requested the extraditions as part of the United States’ War on Drugs (more on the failure of that later), which requests the extradition of traffickers to stand trial in US courts on drug-related charges.
However, those extradited were not only involved in drug trafficking, but also countless assassinations and human rights abuses. By extraditing these men, the Colombian government avoids receiving testimonies regarding their crimes, many committed together with Colombian politicians and members of the armed services.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Don't think that my waiting stopped when I arrived in Bogotá, however. Immediately upon arrival at the airport I was whisked by my more seasoned coworkers to the office of DAS, which is kind of like ICE (Immigration, Customs and Enforcement) in the U.S. Because I have a visa for longer than 6 months, I have to get a cedula, which is the photo ID card that every Colombian (and aliens like me) must carry at all times. Apparently you're not allowed to smile for the ID photos - let me tell you, mine is not pretty, particularly since it was taken outside against a blue sheet hung on a wall. But whatever.
In some ways, being here in Bogotá feels rather familiar: I've been here before, even to this very apartment in which I'm staying, and I spent a week in training with the other volunteers also here, so I already know them a bit. We`ll see how that changes when I'm having to settle in San José, which will happen quite soon: Julia, the other new volunteer who arrived two days ago, and I leave Saturday! As much as I might like to spend a few days hanging out and getting familiar with Bogotá, I´m looking forward to starting the next little phase of my life there....
Thursday, May 8, 2008
What will I be doing, and what’s the point?
To begin, a definition: I'll be volunteering as an "International Human Rights Accompanier." There's a good bit of scholarly theory on the purpose of accompaniment, but, in short, international accompaniment reduces risk of attack both because of the immediate shaming and intimidating effects of the presence of a “high-status” outsider and because of the political pressure that the volunteer, connected to an international network, can bring to bear against the aggressor. Accompaniment is also an encouragement and a show of solidarity with the community.
I’ll be working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an interfaith, multi-issue, pacifist organization. Its Colombia Peace Presence project has two teams in Colombia. The first consists of three volunteers living in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó, a community actively working for peace. Volunteers are witnesses to their life in the village and through their presence deter the armed groups in Colombia’s civil war from violating the human rights of the community members. There is also a team of two volunteers in Bogota, from where FOR reports to the international community about the Peace Community, as well as works with other Colombian efforts to achieve peace, such as peasant and conscientious objection movements.
I fully acknowledge that accompaniment presents a bit of a paradox: my privilege, based on a system of racial and cultural hierarchy that I disavow, helps keep me safe, even while I am taking on a role of solidarity. I do wrestle with this contradiction, and will like write more about it as I carry out my work in Colombia. For the time being, I will say that the role of the accompanier is not to enter people’s lives with an agenda – a way to change, educate, or “help” the community. We come with humility; the community members are the ones who are doing something amazing and we are there simply to support them in their project.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
There will be three - count em, three! - going-away events for your (and my) enjoyment. A lot of partying, you might think? Perhaps, but they're all a bit different and spaced throughout the month of May, so I'm hoping you can come to more than one! If you can only make one, though, I hope it's the one on May 12th, because that will give you the best sense of what exactly it is I'll be doing in Colombia and why I'm going.
And without further ado, the details:
May 12 - Film screening and bar hangout
@ Make-Out Room
3225 22nd St. (between Mission & Valencia), SF
I'll be screening "Hasta la ultima piedra," a great film about the community where I'll be spending a good bit of my time in Colombia (don't worry, there are English subtitles), and then answering questions/talking a bit more about my work. I'll also be asking for donations to FOR and the work I'll be doing.
There'll be a bit of food, plus happy hour specials 'til 8! This is open to the public, so if you have folks you think might be interested (or just want a drink at the MakeOut room), bring 'em!
May 17 - East Bay BBQ
@ the Blue House
3208 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
The typical backyard bbq thing. Please bring items for grilling and brews for drinking. Kids, dogs, etc. welcome!
May 30 - Final Night Bash (and garage sale - see below for details)
@ my house (at least until the next day!)
1578 Treat Ave, SF
party: 8pm-?? (though you know me, I'm not great at staying up until the wee hours)
I leave the next day, so this is the final deal, folks.
About the garage sale: I have to fit all the stuff I'm not bringing to Colombia in a few boxes, so lots of things (clothing, bike stuff, etc.) have got to go! Prices will be low, with proceeds going to Fellowship of Reconciliation, the organization I'll be working with in Colombia. Come early if you want the good stuff!