Mandela and the Struggle for Justice for Afro-Colombians

As we remember and celebrate Nelson Mandela around the world, I thought you might like to see this wonderful op-ed by my friend Gustavo Emilio Balanta Castilla, a journalist and crusader for justice for Afro-Colombian communities in Cartagena, Colombia. 

Gustavo takes Nelson Mandela’s words, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones,” and notes that it is impossible to praise Mandela while maintaining a state policy that reaffirms the inequity and systemic discrimination of the poor, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people of Cartagena and the rest of Colombia. 

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Join Colombia's Outcry for Peace

Today on International Human Rights Day, thousands of Colombians will take to the streets in support of the ongoing peace process. Bringing together the voices of victims of violence, women, trade unionists, artists, campesinos, students, intellectuals, indigenous and Afro-descendants, this mobilization aims to promote a peace process that includes a social and human rights agenda.

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Yes to Peace in Colombia

As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met this week with President Barack Obama, it’s time to say, Yes to peace.

In November 2013, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group signed an agreement, the second of five agreements which together will make up a final peace accord.  With this second agreement, two of the most difficult topics, land and political participation, have been negotiated, showing that this peace process has a real chance to end a fifty-year war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, kidnapped and disappeared, and some 6 million people have been forcibly displaced.  

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Congress: Stop Bankrolling Militaries!

Would you be fine with Congress funding rape, torture, and violence? Didn’t think so. In this time of budget constraints, you would think and hope that Congress would be drawing lines in the sand so that our foreign aid to Latin America does not fund abuses.  Some representatives in the House, however, beg to differ. 

Sign our petition and demand Congress to stand for human rights!

Some members of Congress who oversee foreign aid want to outright eliminate human rights conditions tied to military and police assistance for Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. These conditions are one of the ways we can try to ensure the United States does not do business with human rights violators.  Congress has a short memory if it is willing to bankroll militaries and police forces with long histories of abuse with no strings attached.

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Building Peace on the Ground, Not Just in Havana: The Colombian Peace Process according to Ricardo Esquivia

Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, a human rights lawyer and leader working with the Mennonite Church of Colombia and the Colombian Council of Evangelical Churches, came to the United States last month to give a lecture at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame titled “Building a Just Peace in Colombia.”  Ricardo Esquivia is a visionary leader for peace building efforts in rural communities devastated by conflict on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.  He and other leaders are currently facing threats of detention by the Colombian authorities and have also received numerous threats from paramilitary groups. 

On September 30, 2013, Mr. Esquivia gave a talk at the United Methodist Building in Washington DC about Colombia’s peace process and the challenges that leaders and peaceful social movements face in Colombia.  This is what he had to say:

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The Colombian Conflict and Peace: Perspectives from Catholic Afro-Descendants

Three Catholic leaders from Colombia participated in a discussion at the Washington Office on Latin America about the ongoing-armed conflict in Colombia and the current peace talks in Havana. The panel consisted of Sister Zoila Cueto of the Diocese of Buenaventura, Father Sterlin Londoño of the Diocese of Quibdó, and Sister Lucero Machado of the La Playa Educacional Institute in Nariño.

Paying particular attention to Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities, they contributed to the general discussion about the armed conflict by focusing on the most vulnerable and affected populations. Below are some of the points they raised. To watch the full discussion, click here.   

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Colombia´s National Human Rights Prize: A Celebration of Determination and Spirit

"I am happy to have this honor,¨ said one of the finalists for Colombia´s second annual National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia. "But I am torn, because while I am here, I am thinking about my community, which is still at risk." Despite peace talks, despite the Colombian government´s optimistic picture of an improved Colombia, the war grinds on, and the threats continue from paramilitary groups, army, guerrillas, mining companies, lumber, and palm plantations.

But the prize offers a moment of celebration of the creative, indomitable and collective spirit of Colombia's human rights community.

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