Friday, January 9, 2009

Second post for my first day in Quibdo

Human rights training is another important step in helping the displaced. Some do not have an interest in returning they want to make a new start. But for many that is the center of their lives rejoining their community on the land to which they feel tied.

For these people, Padre Albeiro answered that a variety of strategies are used, educating communities to strengthen their knowledge of human rights, and work to empower women and young people.

I was curious to know what these people were walking into when they were able to return to their former home regions. Padre explained that a commission looks at the region before a group returns. The community itself makes the decision to return and it’s not a matter of a single family returning but a community.

The goal is to have any instance of return follow three conditions:
  • it should be a voluntary decision,
  • the living conditions should be dignified and
  • there must be security.

These are conditions set forth in a much quoted Colombian Law #387 (1997).This was a law passed after much pressure from the Pastoral Social. Unfortunately, Padre Albeiro said that he didn’t think there had been one instance of a community returning home in keeping with these principles.

We were told that Colombia was a country where many laws were passed in defense of the rights of citizens but few are enforced. For instance, there is Law 70, passed in 1993 which gives special status to lands in Choco designated for Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples. It assures that certain parcels of land are protected.

In other parts of Colombia where extensive displacement has occurred, the land cleared of its inhabitants is now held by the well-connected, powerful and rich. Choco has land rich in gold, copper, silver and coal and the companies interested in access to these resources now must negotiate with the communities under the stipulations of this law.

The fact of the matter is, he told us, if you overlay a map of the areas of conflict with a map of natural riches ripe for development, you would find they are in identical locations and that really this really shouldn’t surprise us.

The Church has been able to work with armed groups to negotiate the release of hostages, they are well respected and are able to break through stalemates and negotiate. Pastoral Social is one of the dioceses’ partners but it is all viewed as the work of the Church.

The dilemma of the desplazados is not simple, even when they can return to their land. They face the defense of their land against a variety of outsiders, multi-national corporations, paramilitary groups and guerilla groups—the same entities that forced them out to begin with. Ironically, employment options are often limited to these same groups.

A Full Agenda is Planned Tomorrow, My Spanish is Faltering

We have a busy day tomorrow and true to any CRS visit, it will start early and go on at breakneck speed until evening. We thank everyone for their time, and I am thankful that I can return to the hotel before my grasp of the Spanish language leaves me totally. Instead of saying “when I return” in Spanish I used the word revueltos. One orders eggs scrambled—huevos revueltos, so I said something the equivalent of I would see them scrambled.

“Buenos noches,” I said, as we left the air-conditioned room and entered the dense humidity of a June night in Quidbo. The town buzzed with the sound of motor bikes and motorcycle cab vehicles that zoom people everywhere around town.

Dinner Back at the Hotel

We walk back to the hotel and settle in for the night after a bit of dinner in the dining room. Fried fish and macaroni and cheese, like my family in Florida might fix but served with fried plantains and a tall glass of fresh orange juice “sin hielo” (without ice). Matthew Bristow, our Brit Spanish translator, offers his Amazon sauce to spice up my food, it’s bright yellow and hotter and tangier than any hot sauce I’ve ever used.

Matthew is a translator journalist who is an expert on narco-political topics, giving us insight into much that we hear, its roots and origins. ahe has an easy rapport with everyone we meet and is a font of information about what is advisable during our day to day routine.

The hotel is filled with a mix of guests, I idly try to figure out each group’s relationship and why they might be in a town like Quibdo. There are fellows dressed in polos, khakis and work boots who might be engineers, they speak English, without an accent and seamlessly switch to Spanish when the need arises.

Then there is a family, with their children. The kids are rambunctiously running around the tiled dining room. They’d rather be outside, but the street is very busy. It’s getting dark and a steady stream of armed men visiting the police barracks across the alley would give any parent pause for thought.

Quiet and a Chance to Write up My Notes

I retire to my room, hoping that the air-conditioner might provide a cool sanctuary from the thick muggy air. I know that we have a full day tomorrow so I am trying to unwind, I need to rest, but my thoughts are racing. The political atmosphere in Colombia is electric and I am unsettled by the narrative details detailed for us earlier this evening. It is astounding, the epic proportion of displacement in Soache, Quibdo, and across Colombia.

The politics of greed and disregard of human is played out as the powerful exploit Colombia’s natural riches. The people are merely pawns, their rights, while often acknowledged in grandly worded legislation, are casually ignored. Sleep won’t come easily tonight, I am angry and feel powerless.

Tomorrow we meet again at the Bishop’s Residence with more partners of CRS and then will set off for a day of visiting programs, all very different but all aimed at the huge problem of desplazado resettlement and housing.

© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved


Anonymous said...

powerfull stuff there Guy, I'm not the least bit surprised - go figure...

jim gullickson

Guy Arceneaux said...
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Anonymous said...
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