Friday, October 31, 2008
Editor’s note: Pastor Reinel Martinez serves with the Ebenezer Evangelical Community church in Cesar, Colombia. He was in Bogota last week to speak out about the death of his brother at the hands of the Colombian military.
“If no one speaks out, the violence is going to continue. Someone has to give voice to what is hidden. May the anger and grief produced by this absurd death serve to stop the killing.” – Pastor Reinel Martinez
On Wednesday Pastor Reinel Martinez spoke out about the October 1, 2007 disappearance of his 23 year-old brother, José Ulises Martínez Medina. Jose was apparently another “false positive,” the term used to describe military homicides of civilians killed, dressed in military fatigues and armed, and then reported as subversives downed in combat. Pastor Martinez says that accompaniment from Justapaz lawyers provides the strength he needs to break the silence a year after his brother’s disappearance.
Jose left his professional military career as counterinsurgency soldier behind in late 2006 “because what he had to do was not coherent with his religious convictions,” according to Pastor Reinel. Upon leaving the army Jose served as a young adult leader at his church and worked in a recycling center. He was killed, allegedly by Colombia´s armed forces, about a year later.
An army acquaintance who was still in active duty had convinced him to go to Bogotá and pick up his last military paycheck. A second active duty contact gave him a lift from his home in Cucuta to Bogotá, a 12 hour drive. He never returned. Official reports leaked to the family show evidence of the Armed Forces´ responsibility in the murder. Several days after José Ulises left for Bogotá the military reported him as a guerrilla killed on in combat. Pastor Rienel recalls through tears the pictures of his brother’s corpse dressed in guerrilla camouflage.
In the last year Colombian nongovernmental organizations have registered more than 535 extrajudicial executions and more than 800 since 2002. The pattern repeats itself across the country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, asked the Colombian government to provide results in the investigations of military personnel related to the executions. Last week, human rights and church organizations publicized the trend in public events and a press conference in Bogotá. Pastor Reinel did multiple interviews with TV news and print media.
Moments after Pastor Reinel´s interview aired on the midday news he started receiving phone calls from friends congratulating him on his bravery for speaking out. Not everyone will be so pleased. “I know that I may be putting myself at greater risk. Speaking out about my brother’s senseless death may lead me to my own, but someone must stand up and say ‘stop!’”
Extrajudicial murders in Colombia were front page news in Thursday, October 30, New York Times. That article and others in the main stream press do not consider these “false positives” a military strategy, but rather report the civilian body count as a tactic for military personnel to win favor and rise in the ranks in this counter-insurgency war. This is true, but it glides over a deeply disturbing national trend that signals political responsibility at a higher level in the military chain of command. For example, according to his family José Ulises essentially retired as a conscientious objector, deeply troubled by what he had seen and what he was expected to do “in the line of duty.” The responsible parties went to a fair amount of trouble to orchestrate the disappearance. They were after more than a corpse. Jose represents those victims considered "dangerous" by the political and military establishment.
A second victim type characteristic in the false positives are the socially marginal and "disposable"--such as the homeless and young men with police records from poor neighborhoods. Extrajudicial executions provide a mechanism for both purging of these "problematic" members of society and winning favor with military superiors.
This rise in extrajudicial executions may not be the result of an official, albeit secret, government policy. That is not necessary. It is part of political culture understood and assumed by those operating within the government system. Colombian President Uribe’s flagship program is “Democratic Security,” a public policy of “achieving peace” through a military approach based on killing. The recently changed reward system which gives incentives for producing downed guerrillas is only a part and the false positives only an indicator of the result of this public policy.
The fact that Colombian President Uribe fired 27 army officials allegedly involved in 23 “false positives” from a slum of southern Bogotá is a positive step. But even identifying who is giving the orders will not curb the trend. The cases in the news are not aberrations, but rather the calculated result of a policy. The products will not change until the orientation and strategy fundamentally change.
One of the hot-button questions in Colombia right now is the effect of the U.S. presidential election outcome for Colombia. Regardless of who is elected, they are likely to support a military strategy to bring peace. This is counter to the way of the Kingdom of God. It is wrong. It may lead to the defeat of one of the parties, but it won’t bring real and lasting peace. Human rights training is good as it ameliorates the damage (as does firing the 27 army officials), but it does not solve the problem. Pressing Colombia’s military to adhere to international humanitarian law is a step forward, but it still misses the point.
When the political culture affirms peace through killing, death will be the result.
Greetings from the Andes . As I write this chilly Sunday evening, Jess is off giving a radio interview on the indigenous march (see below) and congested Amara is finally sleeping soundly. Having a precious daughter means less personal time, so I’ll share a smattering of highlights from our family life and peace ministry with telegraph-style brevity (hopefully).
Beyond newspaper headlines:
v Tierralta, Cordoba (northwest Colombia ) is the municipality where the government and paramilitary leaders brokered a disarmament and reintegration agreement for an umbrella paramilitary group in 2004. You´d hope that the physical location of the peace talks, a sub-tropical setting of small towns and large cattle ranches, would reflect something of the desired results. Unfortunately, the ongoing threats, assassinations, and forced displacement of local church leaders speak to ongoing paramilitary operations in collusion with government officials and armed forces. I’ve been working with local church leaders and international partner organizations to shed light on the alarming situation to our constituencies and the US State Department, which has been highly responsive. Click here for more and an opportunity to repond.
v Colombian indigenous communities in northern Cauca (southwest Colombia) and the sugarcane workers on strike in the neighboring province of Valle de Cauca are asking for an honest dialogue with the Colombian government to address the serious social problems they face. Rather than listening to the concerns of these marginalized communities, the Colombian government- backed by U.S. military funding—has responded with repressive force. Jess is keeping members of the US Congress abreast and helping Witness for Peace call for action to stop the repressive violence.
v On September 25th Pastor William Reyes was traveling back to his home in La Guajira (north east Colombia ) from a neighboring province when he disappeared. No, it was not a whimsical magic act. He had called his wife to report on his travel progress earlier in the day, and he has simply not been heard from since. Idia Miranda, Pastor William Reyes wife, is still waiting to learn the whereabouts and fate of her husband. Forced disappearances are a regular occurrence in Colombia . The victims are taken by one of the armed groups—most often by government forces or the paramilitary. But not always. Click for a sample letter if you’d like to respond. Through accompanying Pastor’s Reyes family we’ve learned about other horrific situations. This perverse tragedy has stayed with me: a pastor’s son was disappeared last year. She heard nothing until just last month when the government investigative unit reported him as killed in combat by the army, who claim he was a guerilla. Problem with the story: the military reported him killed before he disappeared from his home.
On the home front:
v Have I mentioned that we love Amara? Today my grandma asked me if Amara was well-timed. I never asked myself that before, but I am unspeakably grateful for her presence in our lives now. How could I ever have anticipated the depth of joy, sheer happiness and fierce love that I would feel for our daughter? She keeps the calculated cruelty and repression that we deal with from penetrating my bones as it once did. Her laughter, babble, squeals of glee and affectionate pats display the Sacred’s smile and make our days pretty.
Going to Bogota ’s lush fruit and vegetable market with her is my favorite Saturday “chore.” As we approach our vendor friends they greet Amara by shouting, “The Princess has arrived!” “Look, our baby-doll Amara is here!” Yesterday one elderly vendor acknowledged that Amara is good for business, since she attracks potential customers to her stand. A few video clips are available on Jess' utube channel.
v Trip to the heartland, Decade of Servant Leadership Award. I’m still overwhelmed by the generosity and support of the Bally Mennonite church community (and beyond) that made it financially possible for our family to travel so that I could accept the Goshen College Decade for Servant Leadership Award. (Note: There is something uncomfortable, at least, about personal recognition connected to the suffering of others.) The whole experience was humbling and a great fun. My effort to articulate the essentials of what Colombia has taught me and my invitation to GG students is available here, in the acceptance speech.
Trip Highlights: Amara met her Aunt Maria and great-grandparents Witmer for the first time! Lively theological and political conversation around kitchen tables with family and the GC community. Being back in the classrooms, sharing with current GC students and alum about Colombia . Enjoying Amara with family.
An update would not be complete without noting that Jess is pretty excited about baseball season and I’m thoroughly enjoying my seminary classes! Our lives are well balanced. Our cups are full and running over. We give thanks.
Thanks for staying in touch, for your friendship and caring shared across the miles.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Since a few people have requested it, here is Janna's statement shared at a GC chapel.
Oct 3 2008
Faith defined by hope and courage in the midst of cruelty. That’s what attracted me to Colombia, South America, a country of contrasts in the midst of armed conflict. I had graduated from Goshen just months before I left for Colombia. The Goshen College core values resonated with me then as they do now. We are Christ-Centered, passionate learners, servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers and global citizens. I was freshly equipped with a social science tool kit, a burden for a hurting world and a fierce determination to be part of the solution. I was captivated by the radical peace witness of Colombia’s Mennonite Church.
In the six years that I’ve worked in Justapaz, the justice and peace ministry of the Colombian Mennonite Church, I’ve held various jobs. I established a sister church program. Later I monitored the impact of the 5.5 billion dollars US military aid package best known as Plan Colombia. Currently I coordinate a national human rights and peace monitoring program.
We record stories of victimization and make known the war crimes suffered by non-Catholic Christian communities, complementing the work of sister Catholic organizations. It takes personal interviews to gather meaningful testimony because phone lines may be tapped and e-mail is not secure. For many, the government’s formal procedure for receiving testimonies of abuse is neither trustworthy nor safe.
Actions perceived as questioning – and therefore challenging—civil order and authority, be it formal or informal, are grounds for harassment and persecution. This includes public criticism of government authorities; assisting war victims and social organizing for peace movement building. These are all forms of nonviolent resistance, as counseled on the Sermon on the Mount.
We also highlight the acts of resistance and constructive alternatives to violence implemented by church communities. Through sowing and living out “seeds of hope,” churches are agents of transformation in the midst of armed conflict. These efforts aim to contribute to a culture of respect for human rights and a nonviolent solution to Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict and profound social injustice.
There are consequences for challenging the ruling powers and seeking social transformation. I have friends who are living under death threats and others who have been killed.
I’ll share a few stories. Investigators have officially made no progress on either of the following cases.
First, one that affected me personally. On June 14 of last year, intruders entered through the roof, disabled the alarm system, and stole two computers from Justapaz. One was mine. What they apparently wanted—given the items of value left behind—was highly sensitive information on war victims, those who document the cases, and local churches working for peace. The hundreds of victims who had dared to share their secret truths with us feared reprisals for speaking out. The volunteers who take risks to document cases were the most likely targets after the political theft. But in their words, “these are the consequences of following Christ in an insecure environment.”
Fear used as a political tool was denied its victory. Justapaz stood firm. “We are convinced that we have no choice but to work toward true reconciliation, not only in this case, but in the thousands of life-stories of violence and victimization that have taken place.” (Justapaz communiqué) And, praise God, we have not experienced additional harassment.
The outpouring of responses from the international community was decisive. Colleagues from other organizations that do not enjoy international support have suffered additional break-ins, attacks and personal death threats. Many of you were a part of that response that contributed to the grace we now know. Thank you.
I want Colombian sisters and brothers “walking through the valley of death” to know that same grace. The advocacy component of our program aims to intervene in individual situations within a longer term goal of just peacebuilding. Emblematic cases highlight failed government policies we want to transform, trends we want to reverse. Or, in the following situation, individual stories shine through the political smokescreen aimed to ensure the continued flow of funds to the government of Colombia and its political and economic elites.
Second case. Location: steamy tropics of Tierralta, Cordoba in northwest Colombia. Tierralta is the site of negotiations between the government and leaders of the paramilitary umbrella organization AUC held in 2004. (The paramilitary are an illegal armed groups on the US list of terrorist organizations.) Date: Events occurred between February 2007 to 2008.
Paster Rosendo was hunted down by four heavily armed men, allegedly rearmed members of a paramilitary group that had formally laid down their weapons and reintegrated into civilian life. When the police went to his town to “investigate” that same day, they travelled in a vehicle owned and operated by the paramilitary commander responsible for ordering his assassination. Later two of his neighbours were killed. Death threats persisted. Pastor Rosendo, his wife and their children eventually fled for their lives.
The widow of a related case said: “…We are fearful that everybody is at risk, because we have dared to speak out and denounce what happened … Now if we go back to our community, I fear we won’t come back alive.” Additional information and action response sheets for this situation are available at the exit. I invite you to participate. Vox victimarum vox Dei: the voice of the victims is the voice of God. Identifying with and responding to people who bear the brunt of violence, enflamed by our government’s official policies, is a meaningful way of being church. I’ve learned that it’s not a matter of “struggling for” the oppressed, the victimized. In important ways, we are the oppressed. In the post 9-11 era we are more aware than ever that our fates are interconnected. Our salvation is intertwined.
Walking with my Colombian community that willingly, passionately “carries the cross” is a privilege. Sharing in their joys and struggle is deeply fulfilling. The faith modelled by Colombian Mennonites has provided a provocative personal and political theological home for me. It invites and challenges a fresh interpretation of personal and social transformation based in Jesus’ message—the Kingdom of God present, Here. Now. Victims who are also prophets inspire hope in Jesus who embodied God’s passion for justice and wholeness in all things (or shalom).
That is something of my passion. What is yours? Identifying your passion will lead you to your truest vocation and the most fulfilling way to live your core values.
Ask yourself, what am I willing to live and die for? According to Hebrews 11, Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see. Find your faith; live inside your hope.
Where is injustice that tears you apart? Don’t run from suffering; go to her. Walk alongside the affliction that makes your blood boil. Let it hurt.
Take risks. Colombia has much to offer GC and its students, and I hope you come to us again. But Colombia, as a geographical place, is not for everyone. But do cross over. Live beyond the half-truths and cosmetic facades shielding you from the brilliant light of Life that exists most brightly at the brink of death.
Go to the place where suffering and hope meet, and live there. Perhaps you, like me, will find your salvation where the two meet. But, and this is important, discern and speak truth in community. This is very different than the peace Rambo approach.
And so I modify the words of Audre Lord that hung in the sociology/anthropology department when I was a senior when I say, “When we dare to be powerful - to use our strength in the service of our vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Through living Hebrews 11-style faith in community, circumstances change.
To students and to Goshen College, I say:
Find your passion.
Cross over to the heart of suffering.
Live in bold hope.
God is with us.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace and Justapaz
Pastor disappeared, action requested.
We are very concerned for the safety of Pastor William Reyes and other members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao - FRAME). Last Thursday, September 25, at 10 AM Pastor Reyes left Valledupar, Cesar, for his home in Maicao, La Guajira in northern Colombia; he never arrived. Reyes ministers in the Light and Truth Church (Interamerican denomination) of Maicao and is a member of the Pastors’ association (FRAME) – which has received repeated threats from the paramilitary, the FARC and other illegal armed groups since March of this year. Pastor Reyes’ wife, Idia Miranda, is the FRAME secretary. Pastor William Reyes and Idia have three children, William Reyes Miranda, 19, Luz Mery Reyes Miranda, 16, and Estefania Reyes Miranda, 9.
Human rights violations of church people, and of the civilian population at large, are ongoing in Colombia. Last year the Justapaz, Peace Commission Documentation and Advocacy program registered the murder of four pastors.
We ask you to send letters to:
* Express your concern;
* Request government action to locate Pastor Reyes and
* Solicit protection for Pastor Reyes’s family and the members of FRAME.
See model letter below.
Action Requests: Political Advocacy and Prayer
Communicate with Colombian governmental representatives (see sample letter). Ask that the Colombian government:
* Provide all necessary safety measures for Pastor Reyes’ family and for the members of FRAME. (See my comment/question.)
* Carry out a timely investigation and take the necessary steps to bring to justice both the material and intellectual authors of William’s disappearance.
* Carry out a timely investigation and take the necessary steps to bring to justice those responsible for the threats against FRAME.
* Well-being of Pastor William Reyes and his family.
* Safety of the members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao.
* Wisdom in discerning next steps in the midst of violence and a politically adverse climate.
* Recognition of the error of their ways, repentance and reparations of damage committed on the part of the responsible parties.
I am writing to express my deep concern for the safety of Pastor William Reyes, his family and the members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Ministers of Maicao (FRAME). Pastor Reyes pastors the Truth and Light Church (of the Interamerican denomination) of Maicao and is a member of FRAME – which has received repeated threats from illegal armed groups since March of this year.
Pastor Reyes departed Valledupar, Cesar for Maicao, La Guajira at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 25, and has not arrived or been heard from since.
We ask that you take all steps necessary to locate Pastor Reyes and to protect his family and the members of FRAME. We also ask that you ensure swift and thorough investigations of the threats against FRAME. Those responsible should be held accountable for their crimes.
Send letter(s) to:
Fiscal General (Attorney General)
Fax: 011-571-570-2000 ext. 2017
Gobernador de La Guajira (Governor of La Guajira)
Jorge Perez Bernier
Fax: 011-575-727-5007 (ask for fax)
Emails can be sent directly from here.
Comandante del Ejercito Nacional (Commander of the Army)
General Mario Montoya Uribe
Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad - DAS (Administrative Security Department)
Maria del Pilar Hurtado Afanador
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Friends and family,
We are deeply concerned. Attempts are being made to link Héctor Mondragón to the FARC guerilla movement in Colombia's paper of record, El Tiempo, which has reported on alleged e-mails to Héctor found on the computer of assassinated FARC leader Raul Reyes. Héctor, a Mennonite economist dedicated to the cause of the poor, is a good personal friend. He works closely with Colombia's indigenous and small-scale farmers (campesinos). He speaks passionately and writes prolifically on connecting the dots between the social political violence suffered and multi-national economic interests underlying the current armed conflict. In Colombia, good work does not go unnoticed. He is a survivor; he was being tortured around the time I entered the world.
Colombian Mennonite Church President Alix Lozano writes:
Héctor H. Mondragón has been a member of our church since 1994, that is, 14 years. We have known him as a Christian not only committed to the cause of Jesus Christ, but also to Jesus' teaching and example of nonviolent love. ... His positions towards the government as well as toward the insurgent groups have been clear. ... The Colombian Mennonite Church rejects any attempt to link one of its members -- and in this particular case Héctor H. Mondragón -- to any armed group or any violent practice or to slander his/her name, which as we all know, is also extremely dangerous for the life and security of any person in this context. (Click here for the full statement; aquí para español.)
You can also read Héctor's response in his own powerful words in an essay called "My choice for civil resistance" (aquí para español):
Those who know me know very clearly that I am not part of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), because I disagree with their strategy, their political line, and their methods.
For 18 years, I have publicly and privately differed from the FARC's strategy. That strategy is centered on the role of the guerrilla converted into a revolutionary army, through which the people can seize power and transform society. ... It has become a tragedy for popular struggles. It has permitted the strengthening of the extreme right, which today is running the country. Not only has it failed to stop the displacement of hundreds of thousands of peasants and Afro-Colombians, but it has actually exacerbated that process, and even provoked the forced displacement of indigenous peoples in various parts of the country. ...
Since 1994 I have opted for a personal commitment to nonviolence as the way to contribute to radical social change. I renounced the use of arms in self defense under any circumstance. I got rid of two revolvers that I had legally carried since I had been threatened with assassination ... I stopped working with bodyguards because I did not want to save my life at the expense of another. I ended up abandoning all routines, and thus the possibility of a stable job, in order to avoid being assassinated. I believe in the struggle for radical social change, but I believe it must be accompanied with a radical change of method, the abandonment of armed struggle and the abandonment of the notion that the end justifies the means. The radical means of nonviolence can help us reach the objective of truly radical social change. ...
It is not about replacing one corrupt, right wing government with another. It is not about exchanging one set of gangsters for another, so that our friends can rule instead of our enemies. It is not about demonstrating "governability" without meeting the basic needs of the 80% of Colombians who live in poverty. Colombia needs deep changes, especially on the land and in its relationship to the transnationals. And the only way to win these changes is to deploy the widest civil resistance, to construct alternatives from the base, and to have massive and committed civil mobilization. Absolutely everything I have done in these years, every single day, has been to work towards this with all my strength and all my experience.
Today, I still carry wounds from the torture that I suffered in 1977 and also from 20 years of being threatened with death, pursued by the paramilitaries. Sometimes I lose hope, especially when I know that some of my friends have been killed. I ask myself why continue in this struggle with indigenous people and peasants, why not give up. But then I am struck again with the passion for the people I love and the certainty that they deserve lives with dignity, and solidarity. They failed to kill my body but today they are threatening to kill my words, and I feel it like a re-opening of my old wounds. But the word is a seed and it grows, whatever happens, in the peasant on the land, in an indigenous person in her territory, in Afro-Colombians returning to their communities, in those who live in the popular neighborhoods of the cities who will eat better after the land reform that we will win, in every working family that will get a just wage for work, there the word will live. They won't be able to kill it.
A call to action may be forthcoming. For the time being we invite you to share this concerning turn of events and pray. Héctor writes, "I remain firm in prayer and many have prayed for me as well. They sustain me. (Me he aferrado a la oracin y muchos han orado por m. Me llegan muchos apoyos y me sostienen. )"
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
On the homefront. Jess is now on his parental leave, which affords ample time to be with Amara and indulgently practice being a news junkie. Reenergized by four months of maternity leave, I’m enjoying my return to Justapaz. I’m working part time and taking two seminary courses. We are deeply blessed by our time as a family.
In the news—and what doesn’t make headlines. Developments on Colombia’s political front are more complex and less charming and benign than Amara’s. The dynamism of the moment makes it hard to comment on this critical juncture without providing a skewed picture, but I’ll reference a few developments.
The rescue mission of former presidential candidate, French Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt, three US contractor workers and 11 Colombians gave Colombian President Uribe a major popularity boost. Colombia Gallup polls put his approval ratings at a record-high 86 %.
On the international scene, even news sources like the Guardian and the BBC seem to be reporting on Colombia through a new rosy glow for this administration. As noted in my last letter, the euphoria incited by the rescue mission was a collective experience in Colombia. But reflections should move beyond that moment.
Two comments related to developments of the famous bloodless military mission of 15. One of the army commandos admits using the Red Cross emblem and two others confess posing as TeleSur news journalists during the rescue mission. These actions put real journalists in danger and may jeopardize the important work of the Red Cross in the Colombian conflict. Masquerading in this way represents violations of International Humanitarian Law.
Secondly, the warranted enthusiasm has clouded from view an important fact: we are still in the midst of an armed conflict. While the FARC are clearly weakened, one impressive rescue mission does not tip Colombia over the precipice into the post-conflict phase. Reports from the regions testify to the continuation of war, albeit a different stage. The documented cases volunteers from around the country send to me—of active (never demobilized) paramilitary, demobilized narco-paramilitary, rearmed demobilized paramilitary, collusion between the aforementioned actors and state actors, extrajudicial murders and FARC and ELN guerrilla violence—tell a story different from the Colombian and US official versions.
On to another subject. What have you heard about the 14 paramilitary leaders extradited to the US on drug trafficking charges? As formally demobilized paramilitary, they were being processed under what is known as the “justice and peace law” and were in the midst of hearings. Their confessions, partial at best, of macabre acts evolved to include naming ties with the Colombian government and international corporations. Testimonies revealed strategies, intellectual authors of crimes and kingpins of paramilitary structures. These truths fed the “para politics” scandal and, at that moment, the Uribe Administration effectively cut off the hearings by allowing the US to whisk them off to be processed for drug trafficking. It left me sputtering—what? As the 14 para leaders are now under US jurisdiction, they are only being tried for drug charges and not for the countless instances of torture, homicides, and other war crimes committed. As noted by one Colombian analyst: “The ex-narco-paramilitaries’ revelations about their partners in crime ended up being subordinated to the narcotrafficking proceedings, and their “truths” turned into bargaining chips for sentences even lighter than those anticipated under Law 975 (the justice and peace law).”
But they may not even be the big winners. As the notorious paramilitary leader from north-western Colombia Ever Veloza García, alias “HH,” said in a radio interview last week, “the only ones that won are the rich of this country. The ones who invested in the war, who paid money for us to kill.” In an interview available on Y-tube he affirms that “the majority of the people who died in this war are innocent.” In another radio interview he shared “how the security forces coordinated the movement of troops and helped us move weapons. We paid them to give information and cooperate.” The memory stick of disappeared paramilitary national capo Carlos Castano that he turned over to investigators reveals secret police information and correspondence outlining political violence squarely indicting State officials. “HH” has reiterated his plan to share the “full truth” before his extradition to the United States. But will he be given opportunity “to tell the truth about why the victims’ relatives died, where the graves are, and who participated” before then? (I would love to have him over for dinner before he’s extradited.)
But HH does not describe a grizzly chapter of Colombia’s past. Important changes are underway, but paramilitary structures still exist and violence continues. This is history in the making.
One victim of the paramilitary exclaimed at church last week—“I feel like I’m being white washed from history. But look, touch me, I do exist!” (What will be history’s verdict on US intervention in these affairs?) Many more victims are arriving to the church door. Very painful.
This same Afro-Colombian victim also voiced concern about a possible third term for Colombian President Uribe, a hotly debated issue currently. Running for reelection again would mean changing the Colombian constitution for a second time. (He did so once to run for a second term, which he won handily with the help of illegal deal-making with a Member of Congress.) If he decides to run he would likely win, but what would be the political costs internationally?
A Colombian friend and pastor recently returned to her country of origin after several years in Bolivia and Costa Rica. She says this of the current political climate: “I’m so deeply discouraged and frustrated. I don’t understand my people. Why are they going along with this obvious lie? Where is this taking us? Down the wrong path, that much I’m sure.”
I opened this section noting that it’s challanging for me to provide concise, complete commentary on current situation. Violations of rights to life have gone down over the years. But is that an indicator of a sustainable, improved situation? Civil liberties have been cut, and the violence has changed forms.
We are in the midst of a high-stakes power struggle. Justapaz and others call for truth, justice and repentance (explaining the intrigue and, yes, hope inspired by HH for me personally). Yet the ruling powers aim to consolidate relationships and structures cementing status quo and the dominant economic model, turning at least some former “instruments”… “of the rich and powerful” (HH) who are bulking at movement to silence them into enemies of the powers that often direct(ed) their world.
Ok, had enough of Colombian politics for now? Do what I do now. Take a break. Laugh with Amara. This, my friends, is a healthy development. (Missed the link the first time? Click here.)
peace and hope,
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Its been months since I´ve written anything about the current events in Colombia. But I can't let "the hug the country has been waiting for" slip by without comment.
My infant daughter Amara and I were at the deli counter when the news broke. A current ran through the grocery store causing eruptions of joy. Ingrid Betancourt, former Presidential candidate, the three U.S. contractors and 11 others kidnapped by the FARC guerrilla group were freed this afternoon.
See reports in The New York Times and Colombia´s paper of record, El Tiempo.
An hour later as Amara nursed, I listened to interviews with mothers and other family members of the recently released. Ingrid, beloved symbol of the kidnapped, was held captive for more than six years. The U.S. contractors for more than four. A number of the Colombian uniformed officers released were kidnapped over 10 years ago. The visceral responses to the electrifying news of freedom doesn´t lend itself to tidy sound bites for radio interviews. The sobs and exclamations were beautifully stirring. Upon delivery to a military base, an emaciated Ingrid gingerly climbed down from the plane and fell into her mother´s embrace. She choked, "no more tears, mommy." I squeezed my little Amara tight.
The rescue is being hailed as an "impeccable military operation." According to news reports, Colombian intelligence infiltrated the FARC leadership and not a shot was fired in the rescue mission. If media sources are accurate, the Colombian military essentially tricked the guerrilla into handing over four of the highest profile kidnap victims and 11 soldiers and police. Human Rights Watch congratulated the military for carrying out the rescue without any civilian causalities or otherwise violating international humanitarian law.
By all accounts this largest and oldest guerrilla group in Latin America is weakened, and clearly the Colombian military is at a strong point. The U.S. has helped to ensure as much. These military achievements are in line with U.S. military strategists´ application of an El Salvador model in Colombia. As such, the FARC would be forced to the negotiating table. But at what cost, paid in human lives and quality of life?
Ingrid exclaimed, "this is a sign of peace!" Could it be? While this was an intelligence and not a military rescue in the traditional sense, recent events force reflection on my values and sense of the fundamental direction of history regarding military solutions. As is common, many of the jubilant declarations praising the military with religious overtones created dissonance with my beliefs, principles and politics: "Glory be to (Colombia´s military) intelligence! Glory be to the army soldiers!" ... "God blessed (this rescue operative), but not just God, Uribe blessed it! Yes, long live Colombia ! We are winning the war!"
As a Colombian army general noted, the mission could have turned out differently. At the risk of sounding like the relentless critic, the 15 hostages and the operatives who bore great risk to rescue them could all have been killed. Had the scenario played out differently the FARC may not have experienced yet another humiliating blow. Colombian President Uribe´s reelection campaign would not have this huge boost.
The threat of destructive force as an immediate strategy remains a problem. Military successes could lead to surrender and even armistice, but they should not be confused with lasting peace. As we have experienced with the paramilitary process, a settlement between the warring factions that does not provide for truth and justice, repentance and forgiveness may betray Colombia´s populace. A formal resolution that does not prioritize education, health, housing and other investments will not deliver the conditions necessary for dignified life for the majority poor. In the midst of the collective euphoria sparked by the release there are many questions. Which are the right ones to be asking?
Ambiguity and ambivalence aside, I am jubilant with those reunited with family once again. I´d hug the three U.S. military contractors myself, if I could.
It is wonderful to share good news from Colombia on the armed conflict front!
Monday, June 9, 2008
Amara met some Hunter/Wallace cousins, aunts and uncles in Aruba thanks to Jess' family and frequent flyer miles.
Amara and I have worked out an arrangment allowing us to enjoy what we both love. I assume that Amara, too, benefits from our intellectually stimulating nursing sessions. Two favorites from my maternity leave reading list: Jesus, Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (M. Borg), The End of Memory, Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Volf).
Jess' creative shaving inspired gaugy Aruba tourist outfits for the whole family. The funniest part was that was did not stand out at the airports.
Amara and I enjoyed our early morning hikes on beaches, across sand dunes and through the island’s wind-swept desert interior.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
For the game of creation, my brothers (and sisters), a sacred “Yes” is needed. -Niezsche
(photo caption: Amara thoroughly enjoys being diaper free. The effect of her newest smile/ squeal/ nose scrunch combination is curiously reminiscent of a highly pleased piglet.)
With the exception of kicking with the freedom of nudity, Amara loves nothing more than going for walks. She peers out of her carrier with her hands clenching the outer swatch of cloth, her eyes wide and her mouth in a perfect circle. She’s impressed.
Smiles and coos convey her content as she “converses” with us. She trusts. When she cries, it is because she is needy. No manipulation or false pretenses. While she is not a placid baby, many little ones are innately what Colombians would call “uncomplicated.”
The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers (and sisters), a sacred “Yes” is needed. (Niezsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
Amara provides a new lease on life in
At a time when I was tired and settling into a lens of painful memory, Amara’s smile and “sacred ‘Yes!’” came to us from a creative place untouched by offenses and suffering. I’m sometimes amused by how happy I’ve been lately as I experience life anew with and through her. But besides a new mother, I’m a human rights defender. I’m dedicated to recording wrongs and keeping alive the memory of injury in a land of impunity. Reports urge readers to Pay attention! Remember! The experiences of my new identity question my former self. What is proper remembering? Would there be any such thing as divine forgetting in
It’s lovely to slip into Amara’s world untainted by evil, but how to strike a balance? How to honor “the memory of wrongdoing needed as an instrument of justice and a shield of injustice” and simultaneously “…reach towards the world of love” which is reconciliation? These are the words of Miroslov Volf, author of “The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.” He’s spurring on my thinking these days while my little teacher nurses, as evidenced by the white spray across the book jacket.
Time for an abrupt transition, as the little one is stirring. Thanks to little Amara for this opportunity to focus on a dimension of
Here are some more pictures of my little teacher and sweet pea.
Above: Waking smiles. Jess and I may have a harder time than she does when Amara leaves our “family bed.” You can imagine the joy and love springing deep within when waking to this smile.
Above: Babes from the Tuesday morning play group through PROCREAR, the home birth "with dignity" organization that has accompanied Amara through it all. We both love it, right Amara? ...Yes, she is the pink, wailing baby.
Above: Amara coos and squeals her delight with this Infant Stim-Mobile ® , making me a believer in age appropriate toys.
Friends and Family,
In celebration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement, here are a few images of the focus of my efforts, our source of great joy and endless amusement. It's no longer a mystery to me why some women choose to withdrawal from their career tracks to be w/ their children.
Today Amara, Jess, June Hunter (Jess' mom is visiting!) and I went downtown where thousands were participating in the annual A few rabble rousers showed up and challenged the police, "damaging the march," according to one Afro-Colombian organizer. A scuffle ensued. The tear gas stung. During the rowdiest moments of her short life, little Amara woke only momentarily to give me a perplexed look and then returned to her deep sleep. Her parents and "Nonna" were relieved. march/protest.
As per the norm, even in her slumber and tucked into her "moby" carrier fair-skinned Amara with her button nose drew much attention. Frequently heard comments: "look, it's a real baby!" "she doesn't even look real!," "looks just like a doll!" One woman actually confessed that she thought to herself, "my, that woman is a little old to be carrying a doll around." (Confession: While Amara is likely unaware of all attention, it may be going to her mother's head.)
A note on the pictures. I took them last weekend, when Amara was 6.5 weeks old. Three failed attempts at purchasing a camera led cousins Aaron and Laura to loan us theirs for a weekend. We really appreciate it! (Yes, three times we've tried to give businesses our money so that they send us a camera, and no dice.)
A happy mom,Janna
Monday, April 14, 2008
In celebration of Amara’s one-month birthday, April 11, I’m sharing an abbreviated version of her birth story, a post-partum anecdote and an Amara top-ten list.
Thanks for indulging us!
PS. We were relieved of our camera, so there is no picture to accompany the update or new photo/video entries on the blog.
Amara’s birth story
We are grateful for a quick birth without complications and, most importantly, a healthy daughter. Labor and delivery felt very natural; I confess that at the time it was nearly anti-climatic. (“What, it’s over? But I didn’t even get to employ my well-rehearsed pain management meditation.”) My body knew what to do for this astonishing miracle and I was prepared to let it. For me the beauty of Amara’s birth was in its natural simplicity and intimacy—Jess and I together ushering forth a new family member where this new life began. But the reactions of others to the story, especially the improvisation necessary for this fast home delivery, have influenced how I’ll remember Amara’s entrance into the world this side of the womb.
We were at home (as planned), so there were no rushed trips to the hospital, no drugs, and no medical personnel buzzing about. I felt peculiarly calm and relaxed. It’s true, however, that the doctor didn’t arrive until after Amara was born. Consequently, there was no medical equipment or pool for a water birth as planned, and Jess served as assistant to the midwife. His role included tracking down a pair of sterile surgical gloves at 1:30am and cutting the umbilical cord with our all-purpose kitchen scissors. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
On Sunday night we went to bed excitedly timing the first contractions. We thought the long-anticipated day had arrived, but although they continued throughout the night the surges were generally mild and irregular (first 3 min apart but later at 15-20 minute intervals). I walked into the office with Jess on Monday morning and stayed until co-workers sent me home a few hours later. (“Janna, caramba chica, I’ll just die if your water breaks at the office! I’m going on maternity leave now if you don’t go home immediately!” to paraphrase one 20-something colleague.) The first strong contraction surged on my walk home, directly in front of the well-established post of a shoe-shine man. I resisted the urge to lie down on the grass and instead leaned against a tree and breathed deeply while he looked on with notable concern.
The contractions gradually increased in frequency and intensity throughout the day and early evening. Around 9pm managing the surges started to require my full attention. The “birth affirmations” shared by
I called the doctor when the contractions were 3 to 4 minutes apart, around 11 pm. The call to his cell phone went directly to voicemail. Jess called the midwife and, after listening to the description of my state, she said that she was happy to come over, but that I was still early in labor and suggested we call back after reaching a few bench marks or in an hour, which ever came sooner. (The early morning delivery she attended the night before may have been a contributing factor.)
Determined not to be the over anxious couple on the first round of childbirth, we (Jess actually—I wasn’t talking much at this point) called her back an hour later. Every call to the doctor went directly to voicemail. I had unequivocally strong urges to push and the intensity of seemingly unceasing surges bearing down on my body had taken my mind to place beyond myself. I remember thinking, “wow, what my body is experiencing down there is intense!”
Out of my earshot an anxious Jess asked the midwife what Plan B was if we couldn’t reach the doctor. She said she had to check me out to assess the situation.
A powerful surge erupted as Diana, the midwife and multi-tasking queen of that night, walked into our apartment. I willed my body to take in air for Amara. Diana observed my management and said, “oh, you can still breathe through the contractions? You must be early on.” My internal response: “Didn’t we prepare so that we could breathe through anything? Really, this is hard work!” But no matter—I was just relieved she’d arrived so I could start pushing. But when I told her as much she firmly told me to resist until she checked how far I was dilated. My internal response: “WHAT? AHHHHHH!” Withstanding the urges felt about as possible as birthing a litter of kittens. Meanwhile Diana and Jess had been calling around to 24-hour pharmacies looking for someone to deliver surgical gloves. No luck. Jess called over to our doctor friend and neighbor, Carol, who did happen to have some. Lucky. He ran around the block to catch the gloves she threw from her third story apartment. Diana had us create a “nest” on our bed and checked me out. I was fully dilated. Ok, she said, you can push! Hallelujah!
It was a tremendous relief to move from management of the grinding contractions pounding my body to being an active agent in birthing our baby. The sharp sensations created through pushing her through the birth canal were welcome; they meant she was advancing. I channeled the power and determination that must unite the universal circle of mothers into those pushes. I was confident, perhaps over-eager, and knew her arrival was immanent. Amara, come to us! Meanwhile Jess and Diana continued efforts to reach the doctor.
The mother in me was born with the image of Amara’s head crowning. The sacred of creation manifest in me—my body, a channel for new life! I’m grateful to Jess for asking if I wanted to see and holding the mirror so that I could.
Amara was born at approximately 2:10 AM, about 25 minutes after I started pushing. Unbeknownst to me, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and she came out blue. Since the cord was still her life-line, she wasn’t breathing and didn’t cry. All this scared her dad, who tried to nonchalantly whisper “everything ok?” to the midwife. She assured him it was. Diana immediately placed the warm, wet little creature on my bare chest. My Sparkle, now a “glimmer of the image of God,” was in my arms.
The labor, from the time contractions were 3 to 4 min apart to delivery, was about 3.5 hours long. They tell me that’s pretty fast. A chagrin Mauricio, our beloved doctor who we admire whole-heartedly regardless of the circumstances, arrived about 10 minutes after Amara did. (His son had borrowed his cell phone and didn’t replace his sim card properly. Mauricio attended to a birth the night before and so was sleeping soundly and didn’t check his phone prior to dropping into a deep sleep.)
Our friends Paul and Carol (mentioned above) came over and joined the “the celebration,” as Mauricio calls it. This consisted of looking at the babe, trying out nursing for the first time, routine check-ups for mother and child, eating together, a shower for me, and clean-up thanks to Paul, Carol and Mauricio. (Having a baby at home is a messier venture than we anticipated.)
Writing this out (in snippets), with one hand as Amara is splayed out on the other arm or while she sleeps or stares into the light, helps me appreciate the blessing and beauty of our birth experience anew.
An anecdote: Janna commits unforgivable cultural violations—for 40 days.
Two days after Amara was born I wanted to get some fresh air, so our family of three ventured outside to walk to our elderly neighbor’s house two blocks away. But our door-women didn’t want to let me out of the building. With her hand keeping the door shut she says in a shocked, scared voice, “Lord have mercy, what are you doing? You are going to get sick, I have 5 children and believe me I know, please don’t go….(etc.)” Amused and slightly perplexed I promise to keep Amara’s head covered as we proceed into the 70 (plus) degree air of a sunny day. A block into our journey a neighborhood friend runs over to see Amara and relays that her mother, looking on from the window, can’t believe we’re out and about all ready. Several steps further a friend who had a baby a month before leans out of window and calls, “Hey, congratulations! When was she born?” We tell her and she gasps, “And you’re outside already? You have to take care of yourself!” We approach our destination and some friends pull up in their car. “We heard Amara was born. Congratulations! But what in the world are you doing out already? Really, you have to take care of yourself. You’re going to get sick. Please go home and follow ‘the diet.’”
By this time Jess and I are a little uneasy. Are we naïve, careless and terrible parents? It wasn’t until later that we realized everyone was concerned about me, not Amara. (We did call our doctor and he reassured us that we were behaving appropriately.) Of course we’d heard of “the diet,” in which a new mother stays at home for 40 days after giving birth, eats a whole chicken every day and allows others to wait on her hand and foot, but we thought this was a by-gone tradition of earlier generations in rural areas. Nope. (Well, okay, eating the whole chicken everyday has fallen out of favor.)
Since I’m still within the 40 day “diet” window, I am still regularly scolded for not “taking care of myself” (read: over-eat and lay motionless on a couch?!?! I would go crazy!). It goes so far as threats such as, “if you don’t follow the diet you won’t be able to have more children” or “you feel strong now, but you’ll have a bad back (like me) or aching joints (like me) by the time your 40 if you don’t take care of yourself.” The reprimands come from strangers as often as friends. For about a week now I’ve been telling folks who ask that Amara is 41 days old.
Amara top 10 list (in no particular order):
- Snuggling while sleeping (J & J)
- Kissing her (J & J)
- Feeling her breath on our cheeks (J & J)
- Watching her gaze into the light, splash in the bathtub, or just breathe…(J & J)
- Her baby noises—sighs, grunts, little roars, groans and “ahs” (J & J).
- Expressions and mouth formations she makes while sleeping (favorite is the smile that gives way to a baby belly laugh) (J & J)
- When she stops crying after a distressed spell! (J & J)
- Burping that turns into her sleeping on my chest. (Jess)
- Nursing, the nuzzling that precedes it, and the way she gazes into my eyes during. (Janna)
- Joy of Amara shared with friends and family. We had a wonderful visit from Amara’s grandparents Greg and Ellen Bowman and are looking forward to “Nona” June Hunter’s arrival! Numerous families in our apartment building, previously strangers, have come to visit Amara and become friends since her birth. We are deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support from friends and family, those of you over seas and our community here in
. Thank you! Colombia
Bonus: Observing Amara’s daily developments—she holds our hearts in her two hands.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
From left to right, Mauricio (our doctor), Janna and Amara, Diana (our midwife) and Jess. We are so grateful to both of them for all they did leading up to and during Amara's birth.
Janna talking to her parents just minutes after giving birth to Amara.
Amara's first cry. For some reason she didn't like being naked in our cold apartment while to doctor measured her!
Janna and Amara both have a well deserved meal in bed on Tuesday.
Janna and Amara getting some sleep after a long night of labor and birth.
Mom, Dad and daughter just moments after birth.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
At 2am this morning, Amara Wallace Hunter-Bowman was born in our Bogotá apartment. The doctor forgot his scale in the office, so we are not sure how much she weighs, but all signs point to a happy and healthy baby. After an incredible night, mother and daughter are asleep on the coach, getting some much deserved rest. You can see a photo of our now larger family attached.
Basking in the joy of new life,
Sunday, March 2, 2008
The profound changes
Ways of thinking change...
And as everything changes,
That I would change is nothing odd.
As our baby’s "Todo Cambia/“ "Everything Changes” has found an echo deep within me. (Click here to listen to the song. Lyrics are below.) due date approaches, the Mercedes Sosa song,
It’s a curious thing, this keen awareness that our lives are soon to change—dramatically. As Jess and I walk the 1.5 mile to work down a tree-lined boulevard, I see couples with eyes only for each other or striding to their destination on one side of us. On the other side, parents are pushing strollers and chasing after their little ones. Big belly, Jess and I walk between them, and I hum to myself, everything changes, everything changes…
Our friend Barbara found the “Todo Cambia/Everything Changes” refrain playing through her mind in the days leading up to her husband’s recent death. At the other extreme of the life cycle, we too find ourselves subject to the timing and control of forces beyond ourselves.
I am great with child—(you can call me “Big Janna” like my Dad does, or just “Gorda,” “Fatty” a term of affection here)—and the changes in my body are unmistakable. Nature is taking its course to bring this little human through me. Today I felt like myself, with a bounce in my step and ability to concentrate at work. There are other days, however, when the energy and creative power I once managed are directly channeled to the life within, and I find myself sitting breathless and fatigued before a blank computer screen. At these moments I rub my taut belly, and remind myself to marvel: I am the vessel for a child of God.
At one such moment I reviewed the story of a woman who went into labor as she fled an armed attack on her village. She became a mother with the help of her uprooted neighbors en route to anywhere safe. I remind myself, I am a privileged vessel as I move into the stream of mothers who carry children in this land of turmoil and uncertainly.
Colombians don’t allow tears to steal their laughter or trials to crowd-out a celebration, and our little child “made-in-Colombia” (a maternity shirt received from a friend) seems to be staking claim to this part of her identity. About a month ago I woke up at 3:30 am to loud bongo drum and Andean flute music filling our bed room from the college party held on the patio outside and several floors down and baby’s very full-body, wildly lively movements against all walls of her snug home. Sleep wasn’t coming, so after watching my jumping stomach for a few minutes I decided to join her. Somehow her Daddy slept soundly throughout.
An analyst friend connected my reflections on this phase of transition with the Colombian social and political landscape. Might also be on the precipice of change? Numerous mass marches organized by politically diverse groups, respectable gains by a political opposition party, economic and political changes in the US, and a fresh outpouring of weariness of war from civilians and inklings from the guerrilla groups, not to mention the conviction of my pastor, may suggest as much. Will I stay tuned into these developments after becoming a Mom?
I felt anxious about leaving work for months, but we have a plan for covering major pieces while I am on maternity leave. Now I need to let go and let others do the job. Releasing that baby and related identity to receive and nurture another will challenge me.
The shepherd changes with his flock…
Plants change and dress in green
with the coming of spring…
That I would change is nothing odd
The change is in progress and with it new challenges to rest with mystery and trust the God of Life and great unknowns. At play with these feelings is the raw, fierce love that I have for our daughter and our eagerness to know her this side of the womb. Anticipation outweighs anxiety.
Baby girl, our catalyst of radical change, we are excited to receive you!
* * * * * * * * * * *
The following is a rough translation of the far more lovely spanish lyrics, available here.
TODO CAMBIA// EVERYTHING CHANGES
The superficial changes
The profound changes as well
Ways of thinking change
Everything changes in this world
The climate changes with the years
The shepherd changes with his flock
And as everything else changes
That I would change is nothing odd
The direction of the walker changes
Even though this causes her harm
And as everything changes,
That I would change is nothing odd
The sun changes in its path
When night subsists
Plants change and dress in green
With the coming of spring
But my love doesn’t change
No matter how far I find myself.
Nor do my memories or my pain
For my people (change).
What changed yesterday
will have to change again tomorrow
Just as I change in this far off land