Colombia’s five-decade warBy Theo Sitther
On April 15-16 Anabaptist congregations along with other faith communities across the country participated in the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia. Over the past six years congregations in the United States and Colombia have set aside these days to stand in solidarity with those who have been affected by the ongoing conflict.
Colombia remains the only country in the Americas with a longstanding and seemingly intractable war. For more than five decades the Colombian government, guerrillas and paramilitary groups have engaged in violent confrontations.
The conflict is driven by many factors. One of the primary root causes is poverty and inequality. According to the World Bank, income and wealth inequality have worsened over the years. In 1984, 4 percent of landowners controlled 31 percent of the land. By 2010 the same 4 percent controlled 70 percent of the land.
Mennonite Central Committee works with churches and communities that have been affected by these inequalities and the resulting violence. They are struggling against systems of injustice and oppression.
In August I visited some of these communities. One was Mampuján, a village displaced by violence in 2000. A paramilitary group moved into their community, accused them of supporting the guerrillas and forced them to leave. Eleven farmers were massacred, and 300 families fled.
More than a decade later the residents of Mampuján are still searching for justice. They continue to live in a camp for displaced people while their old village and farmland have gone into disrepair. They are struggling to meet their everyday needs while creatively finding ways to heal their psychological wounds.
The community members I spoke with expressed their desire to return to their homes to rebuild their community and their livelihoods. Even though the government promised them reparations more than a year ago, they are still waiting. Reparations would enable the people of Mampuján to return and rebuild.
U.S. aid to Colombia has made things worse. Over the last eight years the United States has provided billions of dollars in military assistance to Colombia, far outweighing money for social and economic programs.
Communities across Colombia, like Mampuján, struggle to survive due to lack of support while the Colombian military gets plenty of funding to continue fighting.
While I was visiting Mampuján I was reminded of the psalmist’s lament of longing to go home: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).
During this year’s Days of Prayer and Action we remembered the people of Mampuján and the 5 million other Colombians who are displaced and longing to go back home. We can continue our acts of prayerful action and call on our policymakers to cut wasteful military spending in Colombia and ask them to support life-giving measures instead. Learn more at washington.mcc.org/days.
Theo Sitther is legislative associate for international affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.
Comment on the article Colombia’s five-decade war
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.