Colombia: peace congress brings hope
“Paramilitaries came to my village and told me I had two hours to leave or I would be killed. I had to leave my wife and two young daughters. I cannot return to my village for fear of my life.”
When Jesus Alberto Castilla visited the UK in 2011, he told us that, as a community leader in the north of Colombia, he had faced threats, unfounded legal charges, and in 2002 had been forced from his home by a paramilitary group.
His story is far from unique: nearly 50 years of armed conflict between the army, leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups have killed thousands of people and forced more than four million Colombians to flee their homes.
In April, Alberto launched a major peace congress, in which our local partner Pastoral Social played a crucial role. The congress brought together more than 20,000 small-scale farmers, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians – groups that have all too often been excluded from the peace process.
CAFOD’s Barbara Davies says:
“The latest round of peace negotiations between the FARC [a guerrilla group] and the Colombian government has been going on since August last year. But ordinary people haven’t had a say in those negotiations.
“This peace congress meant that those most affected by the conflict could come together and send a message: there can be no real peace without justice.
“There needs to be justice for the millions of people who have been displaced. Land that has been illegally appropriated must be returned. And the truth needs to be revealed about those who have disappeared.
“As the official aid agency of the Colombian Catholic Church, Pastoral Social is seen as neutral and on the side of the poor. That means they are in a unique position to bring together groups with different views and to create consensus. The scale of this congress, and the fact that it gives a voice to the voiceless, means that it will be hard to ignore.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with Alberto, and with all those who put their lives at risk to fight for justice in Colombia.