Colombia is in South America, bordering Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela and Panama. Millions of Colombians live in the middle of terrible conflict and have been forced to flee their homes because of fighting between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army. It has the highest number of displaced people in the world after Sudan! Find out more, and learn what YOU can do to help the people of Colombia… Colombia: YOU CAN PROMOTE PEACE BY JOINING OUR ONLINE CAMPAIGN
Who are the guerrillas? The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the oldest and largest group among Colombia’s left-wing guerrillas. It was founded in 1964 with around 9,000 fighters. Some of the key leaders have been killed, but it remains a serious threat. The National Liberation Army (ELN) was formed in 1965 – now it’s weakened but they refuse to accept peace which isn’t on their terms. Sometimes they join with paramilitaries against the FARC. The conflict started when small farmers were driven off their land by big landowners, creating support for a guerrilla movement
Who are the paramilitaries? They’re originally private security guards for the wealthy elite. They are notorious for atrocities and target anyone they want to label “subversive”. 32,000 are meant to have disbanded under a Colombian government programme. But their victims have not been able to get any justice. M any paramilitaries still remain active and new groups have formed.
Caught in the crossfire Francisco* and his family fled their village during fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries. Some of their friends were killed. Caritas helped them with food and training in coffee-growing Guerrillas and paramilitaries fight over territory to transport weapons, export drugs, or access gold or oil. Millions of rural civilians, especially women, children, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are caught in the crossfire. *People's names have been changed for their safety
The drugs trade Colombia is a major producer of coca (the raw material of cocaine) and poppies (used to produce heroine). Drugs money fuels the conflict. 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.
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. 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.” Caritas has given him food and hope for a more peaceful future.
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! 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.
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.
What is the army’s involvement? The army increased its fighting against the guerrillas in 2002. Since then, there have been many reports of human rights violations by the army. This includes random killings of innocent civilians, who the army say are guerrillas. CAFOD partner CINEP recorded a total of 112 cases of innocent people being killed in the 12 months to June 2008. There is also evidence of army and police also being involved with paramilitaries in committing atrocities.
Double standards… The government - led by President Alvaro Uribe - weakened the FARC, but they are still strong. The government are being hard line with the guerrillas. But they are trying to reintegrate the paramilitaries into civil society and encouraging them to hand in their weapons. BUT… a recent scandal exposed paramilitary influence in the top levels of government! So, there is suspicion of corruption in the Colombian Congress.
The Church in action The Catholic Church is trusted in the middle of all the fighting and corruption. Caritas Colombia gives free legal help for people wanting to apply for state assistance and runs education programmes in human rights and peace and reconciliation. They also have psychologists to help people deal with trauma and bereavement.
Back in business CAFOD, Caritas Colombia and the EU are helping more than 500 families in southern Colombia rebuild their lives by setting up small community businesses – from launderettes to coffee growing.
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.
Overcoming stigma The CAFOD/EU project also helps people who have been displaced from their homes integrate into their new communities. It helps them 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.”
While the violence over land and resources go on, people will continue to flee their homes. One Caritas employee said: “It’s just one violent situation after another. The people that I knew as children have grown up to be victims.” Through its Peace is Possible campaign, the Colombian Catholic Church is urging its government to provide victims with the right to truth and justice, and bring about a peaceful solution to this forgotten crisis.
<ul><li>What YOU can do… </li></ul><ul><li>Your support helps. </li></ul><ul><li>Add your name to CAFOD’s campaign for peace in Colombia </li></ul><ul><li>Fundraise for CAFOD </li></ul><ul><li>You can ensure that the UK government uses its influence to reach a peaceful solution for Colombia. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s simple and easy to campaign online for peace in Colombia. So what’s stopping you?! www.cafod.org.uk/colombia </li></ul><ul><li>Photo credits: </li></ul><ul><li>CAFOD, SNPS, CINEP, Paul Smith, Michelle Hough, Barbara Davies, Kieran O'Brien, Annie Bungeroth </li></ul>