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25 Heads of U.S. Faith Communities Call on Candidates Bush and Kerry to Change Colombia Policy

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Dear President Bush and Senator Kerry:

As representatives of a broad range of U.S. churches and faith communities we are calling upon you as a presidential candidate to commit to a serious reassessment of current U.S. policy towards Colombia. We believe it is time to envision a new strategy to respond to the needs of both nations and to work for the peace and security of our respective peoples.

Colombia is one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a religious leader, a promoter of peace, or human rights defender. The danger is consistently brought to light as astonishing numbers of religious and civil society leaders are assassinated, threatened and detained. The suffering of the Colombian churches and their call to us for assistance and solidarity compel us to appeal to you to seriously consider recommendations for a new U.S. policy toward Colombia that are outlined below.

We believe it is of great importance for the United States to remain engaged with the government of Colombia and Colombian civil society organizations, but to do so in a manner that will support aspirations for a just and sustainable peace as well as effectively address our shared concerns about drug production and consumption.

In this light, we respectfully urge you to include the following recommendations in a new vision for U.S. policy towards Colombia:

I. A greater commitment to a negotiated, political path towards peace.

After forty years of an ever-escalating armed conflict that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands, Colombian Catholic and Protestant church representatives have been clear that a negotiated political process, though difficult and contentious, is essential to the resolution of the current conflict. Every effort should be made to achieve a politically negotiated peace process inclusive of civil society participation, and based upon verification of ‘truth, justice and the provision of reparations for the victims of war.’

We call upon both Presidential campaigns to make a greater commitment to support Colombian and international efforts towards a negotiated resolution of the conflict in Colombia.

II. Increased attention to social concerns as a preferred long-term strategy to sustainable peace.

The conflict in Colombia and involvement of peasant farmers in coca production is deeply rooted in social and economic exclusion of many of its citizens. Many of the areas most in conflict have little or no social infrastructure or viable economic options. Strategies that rely primarily on military aid or fumigation, and provide only limited social investment in local communities, will not create lasting change.

The United States can make a significant positive contribution to long-term peace and stability in Colombia by shifting the focus of its foreign aid towards a much greater emphasis on effective social development. There are an increasing number of initiatives throughout the country of local governments, churches, and civil society coming together to create lasting alternatives to overt violence and the inequality and poverty that have sustained it. These initiatives, and the communities they serve, could greatly benefit from development funding – with long-term benefit for thousands of people.

The situation of internal displacement in Colombia is a crisis of staggering proportions – and one of the most serious in the world. Almost three million people have been displaced from their homes since 1985. Churches locally and internationally are responding to the great needs of Colombia’s internally displaced, a group that most aptly represents the human face of suffering in the country. We are grateful for the attention provided to refugees and internally displaced persons through U.S. aid, and see this as a positive contribution of U.S. policy toward Colombia. Yet much more remains to be done.

We call for a greater proportion of the U.S. aid to Colombia to be dedicated to investment in sustainable development, humanitarian aid and the defense of human rights.

III. Humane drug policies that meet the needs of those most directly impacted.

We share a deep concern about the consumption and production of illicit drugs. Billions of dollars have been spent on fumigation and interdiction yet, drug consumption continues unabated in our communities, drug offenses have exploded the prison populations, and treatment programs go under funded. This approach is not working.

The churches and faith communities in the U.S. and Colombia are painfully aware of the devastation of drugs in the lives of individuals, families and our communities. We see the end results every day and minister to affected families. It is precisely because we are so well versed in the human costs of the drug crisis that we are well placed to call for effective drug policies that will have lasting impact in all of our communities.

As the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s January 2004 Pulse Check Study of drug abuse in 25 U.S. cities states: powder and crack cocaine remains readily available and there are no clear positive trends on price and purity. As church organizations, we do not claim expertise on the best demand reduction strategies, but we urge you to shift the focus of current drug policy.

We call for increased drug treatment programs and realistic, pragmatic prevention strategies as a much more sustainable and humane way to achieve the goal of reducing drug abuse in the United States.

Thank you for your attention to the great courage and great needs of our Colombian brothers and sisters. We hope to work with you as we seek durable solutions for all affected communities.

Signed,

National Heads of Communion and Faith-Based Organizations

Rev. John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO
Church World Service

Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar
General Secretary
National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

Rev. Ronald D. Witherup, S.S.
President
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Kathryn Wolford
President
Lutheran World Relief

Bruce Wilkinson
Senior Vice President
International Programs Group
World Vision

Rev. John Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

The Reverend Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

James Winkler
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick
Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Rosanne Rustemeyer, SSND
Executive Director
U.S. Catholic Mission Association

Ken Hackett
President
Catholic Relief Services

Rev. Kenneth Gavin, S.J.
National Director
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

Gail E. Mengel
National Board Minister
Church Women United

Carolyn Krebs, OP
President
Dominican Leadership

Marie Dennis
Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Jim Wallis
Editor
Sojourners Magazine

Arlene DiMarco
Vice President
National Council of Catholic Women
Harrisburg, PA

Maureen Fenlon, OP
National Coordinator
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Rev. Ron Stief
Minister and Team Leader
Washington Office
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries

J. Daryl Byler
Director
Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop,
Archdiocese of Detroit
Detroit, MI

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director
Washington Office
Presbyterian Church, (USA)

US Jesuit Conference

Richard Parkins
Director
Episcopal Migration Ministries

Executive Council, Sisters of St. Francis

Brian Terrell
Executive Director
Catholic Peace Ministry
Des Moines, IA

Krisanne Vaillencourt
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

Patricia Clark
Executive Director
Fellowship of Reconciliation USA

Jim Atwood
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Sister Mary M McGlone

Executive Director,
FUVIRESE USA

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
Denver, CO

Dr. Monika K. Hellwig
President
Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities
Washington, DC

Phil Reed, M.Afr.
Coordinator, Justice and Peace Office
North American Province
Society of Missionaries of Africa