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Colombia: Creating peace amid conflict
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Colombia: Creating peace amid conflict

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Today, Colombia has the highest number of displaced people in the world after Sudan. ...

Today, Colombia has the highest number of displaced people in the world after Sudan.
Millions have been forced to flee their homes during decades of fighting between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army. The conflict started when small farmers were driven off their land by large landowners, creating support for a guerrilla movement.

Through its Peace is Possible campaign, the Colombian Catholic Church is urging its government to provide victims of the conflict with the right to truth, justice and reparations they need and bring about a peaceful solution to this forgotten crisis.

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  • 1. Today, Colombia has the highest number of displaced people after Sudan. Millions have been forced to flee their homes during decades of fighting between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army. The conflict started when small farmers were driven off their land by large landowners, creating support for a guerrilla movement. Colombia: Creating peace amid conflict
  • 2. Who are the guerrillas? The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the oldest and largest group among Colombia’s left-wing rebels, founded in 1964 with around 9,000 combatants. Weakened after deaths of key leaders, but still a serious threat. The National Liberation Army (ELN) formed in 1965 – now seriously weakened but refusing to accept “dishonourable” peace terms. Sometimes allies with the paramilitaries against the FARC.
  • 3. Who are the paramilitaries? Paramilitaries - originally private security guards for the wealthy elite - are notorious for atrocities, targeting anyone they choose to label as “subversive”. 32,000 have supposedly demobilised under a Colombian government programme, but this has not guaranteed the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation. M any paramilitaries still remain active and new groups have formed.
  • 4. Caught in the crossfire Francisco* and his family were driven out of their village during fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries. Many of their friends were unable to leave and some were killed. They fled with just the clothes they were wearing. Thanks to Caritas they received a food parcel and the chance to make a living from growing coffee. Guerrillas and paramilitaries fight over territory to use as routes to bring in weapons or to export drugs. They also want natural resources such as diamonds or oil. Millions of civilians, mainly in rural areas, are caught in the crossfire. Women, children, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are worst affected. *People's names have been changed for their safety
  • 5. The drugs trade Colombia is a major producer of coca, the raw material of cocaine, and poppies, which are used to produce heroine. Drugs money is one key factor in the conflict. Increasingly the paramilitaries and the guerrillas depend on the trade to buy their weapons and to finance themselves. Many farmers are forced to grow drug crops or taxed for them.
  • 6. Uprooted and driven out Pedro* and his family had to leave their home because of the conflict. “ One day I was working with my youngest brother when guerrillas came and killed him. That is why I had to leave. “ There were many clashes between the guerrillas and the army. We could not live, sleep nor eat in peace. “ We had to be ready to run away at any moment. The conflict went on around the clock.” Caritas has given him food and hope of a more peaceful future.
  • 7. Out of the frying pan … Both guerrillas and paramilitaries plant landmines to drive people out of their homes in rural villages. Colombia is the country with most landmine casualties in the world. … Into the fire … Most people forced to flee seek shelter in Colombia’s large cities. They often end up in slums, in cramped conditions with little or no access to running water, healthcare, education or work
  • 8. … And then abandoned Felipe stepped on a landmine in January 2008. The accident blurred the vision in his right eye and left him deaf in one ear. He has not been able to work since and is in a lot of pain. He now lives with his mother. Those affected by landmines can apply for compensation from the state. Felipe has applied but is still waiting.
  • 9. What is the army’s involvement? Since the intensification of the military campaign against the guerrillas in 2002, there has been a steady increase in reports of human rights violations by the army. This includes “extrajudicial executions” of innocent civilians recorded as guerrillas. CAFOD partner CINEP recorded a total of 112 cases in the 12 months to June 2008. There is also evidence of army and police collusion with paramilitaries in atrocities.
  • 10. Double standards The government – led by President Alvaro Uribe – has inflicted big defeats on the FARC. This has weakened and fragmented the group, but they are not near defeat. But, in contrast to a hard line with guerrillas, the government tried “demobilisation” with the paramilitaries – handing in weapons and being reintegrated into civil society. But a recent “parapolitics” scandal exposed paramilitary influence up to the highest levels of government. Members of the Colombian Congress are being investigated for links with paramilitary groups.
  • 11. The Church in action The Catholic Church is seen as a trusted and neutral actor. The Social Department of the Colombian Bishops Conference (Caritas Colombia) provides trained psychologists to help people deal with trauma and bereavement. It also provides free legal help for people wanting to apply for state assistance and runs education programmes in human rights and peace and reconciliation".
  • 12. Back in business CAFOD, Caritas Colombia and the EU are helping more than 500 families in southern of Colombia rebuild their lives by setting up small community businesses – from launderettes to coffee growing.
  • 13. A new life Antonio* and his family have fled their homes twice because of the violence. “They were threatening us, we couldn’t sleep. We had to run for it with just a bag of clothes,” he says. Antonio is now vice-president of one of the CAFOD-funded businesses – a shoe-making cooperative.
  • 14. Overcoming stigma The CAFOD/EU project also helps displaced people integrate into their new communities, and overcome stigma and discrimination. “The future won't get better unless we work together,” says Maria*. “ We have learned that we need to share what little we have with those who have fled their homes.”
  • 15. The search for peace While the violence and battles for land and resources go on, people will continue to leave their homes in search of peace. One Caritas employee said: “It’s just one violent situation after another. The people that I knew as children have now grown up to be victims.” Through its Peace is Possible campaign, the Colombian Catholic Church is urging its government to provide victims of the conflict with the right to truth, justice and reparations they need and bring about a peaceful solution to this forgotten crisis.
  • 16. What the world can do Investments, aid and solidarity from the outside world can influence events in Colombia. Donors such as the UK and EU must ensure programmes they support are free from any link with illegal groups. British voters can ensure that the UK government uses its influence to achieve a negotiated solution. Find out what you can do at: www.cafod.org.uk/colombia Photo credits: CAFOD, SNPS, CINEP, Paul Smith, Michelle Hough, Barbara Davies, Kieran O'Brien, Annie Bungeroth