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Forced from their Colombian town, residents find healing through story quilts and speaking for justice and peace.

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Reparations process and Colombia’s armed conflict

From the Fall 2010 issue of “A Common Place.”
by Marla Pierson Lester

Here’s a brief look at the conflict, plus a description of the reparations process. See suggested readings and links below for more information.

The conflict

Who: Colombia’s government and paramilitary troops — formerly the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) but now including groups such as the Aguilas Negras, the Rastrojos and many more – have been fighting against guerrilla forces such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). As they battle, individuals and entire communities are caught in the middle, often accused of collaborating with one side or the other. As many as 3.3 to 5 million people have been forced from home.

Where: Throughout Colombia. People are displaced in the countryside and in the city. Ten years ago, when residents of Mampuján were displaced, their region of Montes de María, the María Mountains, was a highly conflicted area. There were many kidnappings, killings and displacements as guerrillas and paramilitary fought for territory and sought to intimidate communities from helping the other side.

When: The conflict began more than half a century ago. Since then, government, paramilitary and guerrilla troops have vied for power and territory, motivated by economic and political interests.

The reparations process

Earlier this year, community representatives from Mampuján and two nearby communities came face-to-face in court with two leaders of the paramilitary group that displaced them to tell how they were damaged by armed conflict and to request financial compensation from the paramilitary group that displaced them. Here is information on the reparations process. Read one man’s experience of testifying against the paramilitary group that displaced him.

The first: The proceedings earlier this year were the first for survivors of paramilitary violence in the armed conflict that has plagued Colombia.

The proceedings stem from a judicial process started in 2005 with Law 975, better known as the Justice and Peace Law. The law called for the demobilization of the notorious United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which up until then had been on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations. To encourage paramilitary members to demobilize, it offers substantial sentence reductions (an eight-year maximum) provided members give voluntary, in-depth accounts of all related crimes.

The hearing: Over 11 days in late April and early May, eight community members from Mampuján Nuevo (New Mampuján) and nine from a nearby community traveled to Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, to testify in the Justice and Peace Court of the Superior Tribunal. They faced two former leaders of the paramilitary coalition, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), responsible for displacing them.

People in the two communities participated for the first nine days via videoconference. In Mampuján Nuevo, a large tent was set up with 400 chairs and three video projectors. 

Alexander Villarreal Pulido, a Mampuján Nuevo community member and church leader, spoke at the hearing. He spoke of the sickness of war and retaliation in Colombia and the need to work, not just politically, but on a personal level, to break out of that cycle.

“Peace doesn’t come from the president, nor from a political process alone; it starts here,” he said, pointing at his chest. “As a Christian I am required to forgive,” he said. “I know too, that forgiveness doesn’t only affect the forgiven; it’s just as transformative for the one who forgives.”

He ended by declaring his forgiveness, hugging those responsible for his displacement, and giving them Bibles. People listening in Mampuján Nuevo reacted to his words with spirited applause.

In the first few days of the hearing, one of the defendants, Édwar Cobos Téllez, said he does not think the demobilization has been effective, because he believes the majority of the men formerly under his command have rearmed, returned to illegal activities and continue to be a threat in the region. Security continues to be a concern for members of the displaced communities, especially for those who spoke out in the hearing.

The ruling: In June, the Justice and Peace Court ruled that the community must be compensated.

From a vocational high school to a health center and from a sewer system to a community truck, the court ordered various levels of government to strengthen the infrastructure of Mampuján Nuevo, the site where about half the displaced residents of Mampuján Viejo (Old Mampuján) have settled.

The court also allotted $9,000 compensation per person with a $64,000 cap per family, an amount that is being appealed as too low. The money would come from the National Reparations Fund, created with money and property seized from members of paramilitary groups.

However, whether or not there is enough money for reparations for everyone is also a concern. The fund contains only $17.5 million. The settlement offered to survivors of Mampuján Viejo would consume about 60 percent of that money; yet Mampuján Viejo residents represent less than 1 percent of the paramilitary victims in Colombia.

Learn more about Colombia’s armed conflict

MCC invites you to explore the following resources to learn more about Colombia’s long-running armed conflict.

washington.mcc.org/issues/latinamerica/colombia

Find online resources from the MCC U.S. Washington Office. This page includes links to a Colombia guide. MCC also encourages you to explore the link to “A Prophetic Call: Colombian Protestant Churches Document Their Suffering and Their Hope,” which is also available on this page.

In the links section of this page, you can connect to the website of MCC Colombia partner Justapaz. The links section also includes links to like-minded organizations such as a Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for International Policy. All have additional information on Colombia.

Colombian Churches Call for Peace (DVD)

Learn how local Colombian churches are taking risks to work for peace and respond to urgent needs. Purchase at mccstore.org.

Books

More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs and America's War in Colombia, by Robin Kirk. Public Affairs, 2004.

American Addiction: Drugs, Guerillas, and Counterinsurgency in U.S. Intervention in Colombia (abridged), by Noam Chomsky. AK Press, 2001.

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