GLOBAL POSITIONS S H A R O N G R A M B Y- S O B U K W E
Seeking Justice in Colombia
poppy (used to produce cocaine and heroine) as compared to 157,200 in 2007. Meanwhile these illicit crops are now found in 23 of 32 administrative regions in Colombia as compared to 12 in 1999. On the other hand, Plan Colombia has significant environmental, health, ecoLearn to do right! Seek justice, encourage nomic development, and human rights consequences. Herbicidal spraying to kill the oppressed. Defend the cause of the poppy crops destroys the environment fatherless, plead the case of the widow. and undermines health in rural and poor Isaiah 1:17 communities. Children develop respiraColombia, the fourth largest country in tory problems, rashes, diarrhea, migraine South America, has been embroiled in headaches, and conjunctivitis. Fumigation violence and crime for at least the last also puts in danger legitimate food crops decade. Strangely we hear little of this growing near illicit crops. Such problems disproportionately tragedy in the daily news, yet as Christians we are called to look beneath the surface impact Afro-Colombians. According to to identify with and assist those in need. the UN Chronicle, “Colombia has the With a population of over 40 million, second largest African descendant popColombia is composed of an ethnically ulation in the region. Afro-Colombians diverse combination of indigenous Indians make up about 26 percent of the as well as African and Spanish descen- entire population, but represent well dants. Colombia currently boasts the over 75 percent of the poor and earn highest murder rate in Latin America and 34 percent less than their non-black the highest number of kidnappings in the counterparts.” Historically Afro-Colombians and world; Colombia reportedly produces 90 indigenous people have been forcibly percent of the world’s cocaine. In 1999 President Andrés Pastrana displaced by large farming interests. initiated his “Plan for Peace, Prosperity However, after intense popular pressure, and the Strengthening of the State” (a.k.a. territorial rights were granted under Plan Colombia). Plan Colombia is an Law 70 of 1993. Afro-Colombians are integrated strategy to address Colombia’s located on the Pacific Coast, considered, myriad interconnecting problems, includ- along with the Amazon, the greatest ing illicit drugs, civil war, economic decline, reserve of biodiversity in Latin America and poor governance. From inception and one of the greatest in the world. the US government has supported this However, continued armed conflicts have strategy, providing $1.4 billion in aid to forced tens of thousands to flee, clearing reduce by 50 percent the area used to the way for oil palm plantations, logging cultivate drugs and to diminish cocaine operations, and mining projects.As a result, distribution and consumption in the United States. Eighty percent of US aid was earmarked for the Colombian military to eradicate the illegal drug crops in Colombia. Plan Colombia has been highly controversial, however. On one hand, it has done little to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the US. In 1999 there were 163,289 hectares planted with coca and PRISM 2008
Colombia has more than 3 million internally displaced people, second only to Sudan.Sixty percent areAfro-Colombians. This forced displacement is centered among port communities and other regions targeted for development in the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Today the US and Canada have been forging ahead to finalize Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia.These FTAs are justified as means to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, yet the United Nations considers Colombia a humanitarian disaster because of targeted killings of civilians by that country’s security forces. How can we help seek justice in Colombia? First, pray for Colombia. Second, offer support. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Colombian Jesuits lead struggles for the rights of the poor through their think tank CINEP (cinep.org.co) and Program for Peace; the Afro-Columbian organization PCN advocates for the land and cultural rights of Afro-Colombians.We can also support or join any of the US-based organizations and ministries, including the Colombia Support Network (colombiasupport.net), the Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians USA (afrodes.org), Colombia Vive (colombiavivewa.org), Chicagoans for a Peaceful Colombia (chicagoans.net), Fellowship of Reconciliation-USA (forcolombia.org),Witness for Peace (witnessforpeace.org), and Christian Peacemaker Teams (cpt.org). Further, we can pressure our legislators to end—instead of just diminish—military aid to Colombia, and we can voice opposition to the US-Colombia FTA. (More valuable information/petitions/ resources can be found at Mingas.info, Bilaterals.org, PeaceInColombia.org, and AfroColombia.org.). ■ Dr. Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe is department chair of the School of Leadership and Development at Eastern University, where she studies and teaches leadership and church politics.