When BusinessWeek gets the irony, you know it is rich. Check this headline: News Corp. Picks Board Member With Ties to Colombia Wiretaps The coverage of Uribe in the article is actually quite timid. The wiretaps in question covered not only political opponents and human rights workers, but also Supreme Court Justices and embassies of foreign governments. And in my book, it doesn't rank near Uribe's worst crimes. I'm thinking of other headlines... Scandal Plagued News Conglomerate Seeks Scandal Plagued Ex-Pol? Star Crossed Lovers Meet While Overhearing Others? What are your suggestions?
So I'm preaching this week, which means I'm doing the usual hunting and pecking around the internet... I have a very atypical request for a short sermon (no hour long biblical excursion!) but I have found an abundance of poignant materials for this upcoming week. This weeks' Gospel texts speak very much to the suffering we all face, and God's grace in it. In the Old Testament, underneath a touching lament of the loss of friendship is a bald display of the costs of war. I'll be preaching the NT, but I believe the OT speaks to our country very much in this next week. In Dan Clendenin's I'm Already Against the Next War, he reflects on the inevitable cost of war - whether in the Samuel narrative against the Philistines or in today's wars around the globe. Far more than discussing if war is ever right,he presses for our realization that war always brings a price we can scarcely imagine. Origen of Alexandria (185–254 AD), perhaps Christianity's greatest early scholar,[offers a repudiation the violence of war, military service, and even the state itself.]
There's some good homework for us this Independence Day. the lectionary texts are hereAnd as we — by our prayers — vanquish all the demons that stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this service are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers, we practice self-denying disciplines and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be lead astray by them. And none fight better for the king [and his role of preserving justice] than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he demands it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army of piety by offering our prayers to God.
The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program has a nice summary up on the shared ministry for peace between the PC(USA) and the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia. Read the article here:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) established its first permanent mission in Latin America in Bogota. This culminated in the first Presbyterian Church, founded in Bogotá in 1856. We continue to share in ministry with our Colombian brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus Christ. Here are ways to learn more about our partners in Colombia, the PC(USA) response and the situation in the country: [Read more]
So you might have seen that something went on in Colombia recently, although it was not likely to have been very focused on the actual goings-on of the major hemispheric meeting that took place in one of the most charming spots in the country. Perhaps it is not surprising that an international diplomatic summit can be overtaken by an all-too familiar sex scandal - but what does that show us about ourselves? There has been a lot of ink spilled over this scandal, but Juliana Jiménez at Slate's XX Factor hit it best. Read the whole thing, but here are some tidbits to get you interested...
That this happened, I believe, is a result of, and will add to, the image of overly sexualized Latin American women. The reputation Colombia has for “its women” is notorious and stereotypically sexist. Lonely Planet, for example, says of the city of Cali, Colombia: “While the city itself isn’t breathtaking, Cali famously claims to produce the most beautiful women in Colombia.” Produce. Like sugar cane or mangoes...
Distraction or not, a beautiful moment of transnational bonding took place in this scandal: both sides of the Caribbean did their part to reduce women to their sexuality and perpetuate the stereotype of the over-sexualized Colombian woman. Observers may not have been able to come to terms on Cuba or the war on drugs, but many were able to agree that the sanctity and preservation of the age-old transaction of women’s bodies and dignity deserves the utmost attention. I guess we do share some common values after all.Mamie will have some more reflections from the Cumbre de los Pueblos up soon, once the mountain of translations have been scaled...
I am hoping to get a post up soon to tell you all more about the People's Summit, but until then, I wanted to share a story from one of our supporting churches, First United Church of Oak Park. They have been an amazing partner for Colombia in terms of advocacy, accompaniment, financial support, education, and more. Thanks y'all. You are indeed an inspiration. **** "You are an inspiration to me." Those words were about the last thing I expected to hear when a group of us from First United Church met with Joseph, a legislative aid to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis in Washington, DC. We were there for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, and we had 30 minutes in the Congressman's office to talk about issues related to a fair federal budget and human rights issues in Latin America. I began by saying we were there to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, who proclaimed liberation for those who are oppressed and poor. Secondly, we were there as constituents who VOTE and citizens of the republic. Thirdly, we were there as friends and companions to our partners in the Presbyterian Church of Colombia. Joseph's eyes got kind of wide when I started talking about Jesus. Maybe people in Washington aren't used to that kind of talk . . . at least when it is connected to justice and love for people in other countries. And he really paid attention when Mahala and Laurand, two of our youth delegates, began to articulate the issues. Five million people in Colombia have been displaced. Their rights to restitution are difficult to claim. Labor leaders are subject to harassment and assassination. U.S. military and police presence contributes to violence. We asked the Congressman to use his power to influence American involvement in Colombia, to support development aid rather than weapons. We asked for enforcement of labor protections prior to the implementation of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. We asked for the U.S. to monitor treatment of those who have been displaced from their homes and lands. And by the end of our visit, he turned to us and said, "You all are an inspiration to me!" Rep. Davis signed a Dear Colleague letter that we asked him to endorse. Sometimes God's work happens in surprising ways. I was glad our presence made Joseph's day. May he -- and all public servants -- be inspired to continue working for liberty and justice for all. Rev. Dr. Julie R. Harley
So right down the road from us in Cartagena this weekend, most of this hemisphere's leaders are gathering for the Cumbre de los Americas - or Summit of the Americas. Obama is there, and the Castros are not - there have been no shortages of tempests in the lead up to this event. Mamie is in Cartagena at another event - the Cumbre de los Pueblos - or Summit of the Peoples. It is an alternative voice to the meeting of heads of state, a place for people's organizations, churches, unions, and academics to lift up the true concerns of the people, over and above the political niceties and formal yet flimsy statements the official Cumbre will likely result in. Below are several good reflections on some of the most important issues to be discussed at the Summit. Take a moment to read and think about these issues - our whole hemisphere is in this together... From the Washington Office on Latin America "Obama Poised To Give Presidential Seal of Approval To Gross Labor Rights Violations in Colombia" It is now widely expected that Obama will certify that the Colombia - US Free Trade Agreement is ready to be implemented at the Cumbre. This is in spite of a clear set benchmarks that have not been met. The real news here is the same as it has always been - this free trade deal favors the powerful at the expense of those without voice. And in Colombia, those without voice are often at risk of death. Here's a positive perspective on what this hemisphere's leaders could be addressing - the spate of human rights abuses throughout the region. "What Should be on the Agenda at the Summit: Protect Human Rights Defenders." (From the Latin American Working Group) And finally, here is a poem from a Colombian, reflecting on the pain of not being believed about grave human rights abuses in your own community "They Don't Believe Us." An excerpt:
Yesterday we said that they are murdering us,
cutting us into pieces, disappearing us, displacing us, torturing us, mistreating us. And they don’t believe us. That we are victims of the state. And they don’t believe us. That the army, police and paramilitaries are the same. And they don’t believe us. That many children are sobbing, for their parents are disappeared.
And they don’t believe us.
April 13-16 :: A Place to Call HomeBe a voice for peace and justice in Colombia by joining thousands of people of faith for the 7th Annual National Days of Action for Colombia. With more than five million people forced off their land, Colombia is home to the world's greatest displacement crisis. More and more people are driven from their homes every day. Help us flood Congress with our message of peace and justice for Colombia. During the National Days of Action for Colombia we will call on our government to pursue policies that protect small-scale farmers, Colombian human rights advocates, and communities at risk for displacement. For sustainable peace in Colombia, the U.S. must stop funding the Colombian military and pushing the unfair trade and failed drug policies. Here is the organizer packet with all the information to help plan some events. We'll be praying and acting here in Colombia. Why don't you join us?
*********Here is a video of the ecumenical event held here in Barranquilla two years ago to get you excited...
We are often asked - so things are better in Colombia, right? It is always a hard question to answer - see Which Story? from Tuesday - but in the past two months, it has been even more complicated. After entering office with high hopes, and with some very positive steps toward seeking some form of justice for the millions of Colombians who have suffered in this country's violent conflict, recent steps by the Santos administration have called much of that progress into sharp question. Adam Isacson has an excellent analysis here. It is a comprehensive look at events from the past year. It begins with an analysis of a major change the Colombian government is considering in its military justice system - a change that is widely considered to significantly weaken Colombia's fledgling attempts to hold some form of civilian control and accountability over the armed forces. On top of that, the Colombian government has taken several public positions against human rights workers and the persons they represent. The first was a case being investigated about a famous massacre in the small town of Mapiripán, and following that was a case against a group of displaced persons in Las Pavas. Both cases are complicated, as these cases always are, but in both cases the government has gone out of its way to condemn and question the whole of the human rights community and of displaced persons working for restitution. Together they paint a very troubling picture. Isacson concludes that "the human rights counteroffensive appears to be an ill-advised attempt to appease radicalized sectors of the military." He also notes that the timing of these efforts is notable - coming just off the heels of the US Congress' approval of the Colombia - US Free Trade Agreement. In other words, the world's attention is now off of Colombia, so efforts here on human rights protection, even if it only seemed a window dressing, can now be put by the wayside. These questions of the government's support of human rights is of critical concern in Colombia in these days, especially considering the importance of a recent law to restore land to the millions of displaced persons here. A major obstacle to this process is the violence leaders of persons returning to their land have faced, and will continue to face, without the government strongly guaranteeing their safety. What is our response as people of faith? Our partners in the IPC have been watching and discussing these events with great concern. The issue of land restoration and the safety of those involved are the top priorities for the IPC in the coming year. In the face of these growing storm clouds, our partners in the IPC offer two responses. The first is not to lose heart. While the hope that their government may have turned a corner and could be actively working to protect and defend the majority of the Colombian people may be badly battered and flickering, it is not extinguished. Because our hope is not in any government's action or inaction, but in the movement of the Spirit which is always seeking ways to instigate peace and foster new life and nurture wholeness. The second response is to get busy. Through years of working on the issues of justice and full life for all people, the IPC knows that it takes all of us - both here in Colombia and the thousands of partners and accompaniers and readers in the United States to affect the change needed here. We can let our representatives know that the eyes of the world do still indeed care about the state of human rights in Colombia. We can still write to the State Department to stop its human rights certifications that will be hollowed out by this change in Colombia's justice system. We can continue in our solidarity and accompaniment of the people of the IPC and all displaced Colombians, showing that they are not alone, that their sisters and brothers in faith are alongside them as a tangible sign of the living God's presence with them. So we pray. And hope. And act.
********Other related news reports are here: The first is an example of the government's good steps at addressing land reform in cooperation with civil society groups. The second is a report of how those very government officials manage to subvert any positive steps and corrupt the system further. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, a partner also working in Colombia, has a further analysis of the case of one of the groups of displaced peoples the government is calling into question.
Some interesting links from around the web on some of the '30,000 feet subject's' that are often neglected when we think about our work in this world...
- One of my favorite development bloggers takes a look at where religion and development work intersect. It shows how far our sides have drifted apart - he seems to be writing about making the first tentative steps toward an alien race - but historically and on the ground, Development NGO's, people's organizations, and religious bodies have long been steadfast partners.
- What? The world's largest escalator in one of our favorite cities? Medellin rocks! (like the MetroCables, this escalator serves some of the cities most isolated and impoverished neighborhoods. Medellin has a world-class system of public voting on development projects, and this escalator is a prime example of how people want to improve their neighborhoods.)
- There's more to development than ending absolute poverty | Jonathan Glennie | Global development | guardian.co.uk
- [caption id="attachment_2457" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="from brandspankingnew.net"][/caption] What is the population problem? by Claire Melamed. This is from the slew of articles came out when the world's 7th billion person was both last year. A good look at the deeper questions of justice and equity that are raised when one considers the current state of how we use our world's resources instead of only thinking of population numbers.
- A great look at the impacts, both positive and negative, of short-term mission trips, from our friend and Co-Worker in Guatemala Amanda Craft.
So it turns out that working with an election monitoring group (MOE), even for a day, is quite an educational experience. I was struck as we attended an opening ceremonies of sorts for the voting day that everyone there commented on how the elections were going to be free of corruption this year with no voting irregularities.
Of all the promises and speeches that get made on US election days, the idea of voting fraud and corruption is rarely the issue (unless you were voting in Florida in 2000, but whatever). Indeed, the fraud in US elections tends more toward pre-election voter redistricting or moves to require IDs which often disenfranchise one population thus benefiting another. There has been some voter intimidation and I am sure vote buying, but I don't think we have anything on voter fraud Colombian style (not even in Chicago).
We have more thoughts about the meaning and impact of these elections to come, but here is just a taste of the "voting irregularities" that can make monitoring important. Some of these we saw while some we merely heard about.
- Carousel - Someone outside the voting area gives you a marked ballot (thus ensuring that you vote for their candidate). You take the marked ballot into the voting area, “vote”, and bring the blank ballot back out to the person waiting thus supplying them with another ballot they can fill out for the next carousel rider. You are, of course, paid for your participation.
- Mochilero - This person is named after the bag, “mochila”, he carries. In it is a great deal of money (one person caught on Sunday had about a million and a half pesos on him) with which he goes about soliciting votes. In addition to this being illegal, it is also quite dangerous both because of all the money being carried and because that person becomes a target for an opposing candidate's machine if he is discovered. If the police catch him he will be jailed for a year or so. He (or his family) is paid during this time. While he is in prison or when he gets our he may still be killed by the opposition. It feels a bit like a fool's errand, and yet if your family needs the money...
- Transhumancia – I don't really know how to translate this, because the English “transhumance” refers to livestock migration, but the idea of shuttling from one place to the other is dead on. This fun twist on voting refers to registering and transporting buses of people from one voting district to another. You take folks from one area in which you are not concerned about the vote outcome, and you shuttle them to another place in which you are not so secure. In one community in Atlántico that means having 8,000 people registered to vote in a town with a population of only 5,000...you do the math...
- ID Fraud – Everyone in Colombia has to present an identification to vote (they all get their initial ID cards issued free), yet there continue to be cases when Señora. X shows up at the polling place and finds...she has already voted! In one town this year they implemented fingerprint ID confirmation to try and lower the supplanting of voters. The challenge there was that if your fingerprint did not register (was not able to be read vs. did not match) then there was no back-up confirmation available and you were passed on through, because if you weren't then your right to vote would be denied. Kind of a catch-22.
- Ballot stuffing – Just like it sounds, it showed up at one table where everyone else had 15 votes at their tables and this one had 90...even though that many people had not entered the voting place.
- Vote passing – I love this one. Many voting sites are schools as they are in the United States however, because we live on the Caribbean coast, many schools are basically open air with walls that have open windows and holes for ventilation both in the individual classrooms and around the perimeter. So what is the easiest way to dispose of votes you don't like or get some you do? Just pass them through the wall!
- Transportation manipulation – This scheme has two faces.
- A candidate pays people TO bring folks to the polls. A man we know was paid $200,000 (about $100) to drive people back and forth to polling sites all day long. To put this in perspective, $515,000 is the amount you would earn in a month if you had a job that paid you minimum wage (though many folks do not actually make that), so running folks to the polls for one day would get you over a third of what you would make in a month. Makes you wish elections came around more often...
- A candidate pays people NOT to bring people to the polls. They are not taken somewhere else, their services are just not available. A bus company is paid to keep their buses in the lot. Taxi drivers are paid to stay home. I don't have a contact to know how much this one pays, but I think few of us would turn down being paid to not work.
- Where's Waldo - Okay, this is clearly my name for it, but it basically involves moving the election site, or posting information that says it has been moved. In many areas there is just one voting site in all the township, and you might not have the ability to get to more than one.
- Asonada - Definition: political disturbance, or mayhem. Just in case you were not able to fix the votes on the front end, besides "counting errors" (which, after seeing the vote counting mechanism seem remarkably easy to sustain even as legitimate errors), you can sound an asonada. This basically involves going up to a table that you know you have not won and yelling and screaming about how the process there was totally fraudulent - especially if it was not so. You get to blow off some steam and get the votes at that table nullified all at one time. It is like a two-fer.