Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Tense Calm Breaks

Dear friends,

“The present is uncertain and the future is uncertain,” Sonia told me on February 13. Sonia is the president of the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation here in Saravena, Arauca. There is a “tense calm” now and people are concerned about what will happen when that calm breaks.

“There was a calm period during 2007 and people started returning to their homes,” said Sonia. “Then there was a series of killings (in January 2008) and people had to leave their homes again.” After those killings, Sonia, her spouse Eduardo, and their two children left their home and moved into the social organizations building in Saravena. She and Eduardo are at risk from FARC militia members and, also, from the government security forces.

“We’re relatively safe here with protective security measures but I’m worried about my brother and my parents” she said. Sonia’s brother was detained in August 2006 by ELN guerrillas who accused him of being a supporter of the FARC guerrillas. Fortunately, his community reacted quickly and demanded his release – which saved his life.

“When the paramilitaries (right-wing armed groups allied with the military) couldn’t find the person they were looking for, they would kill someone else from that person’s family,” explained Sonia. “So far, that hasn’t happened in this conflict,” but she’s still concerned for her parents.

The ELN and FARC guerrillas have been present here in the state of Arauca for more than twenty years, and both groups claim to be fighting against the government in order to achieve social justice. However, for the past two years they’ve been fighting against each other in Arauca for the control of territory and resources – and that fight exploded again last month. Both groups have threatened, displaced and killed civilians that they view as supporting the other side.

In the midst of this insanity, Sonia and I felt the need to “desahogarnos” – let our feelings out. She described the process as “sharing our sorrows.” We talked about the difficulty of not knowing what’s going to happen next – you think that the situation can’t get any worse and then something happens and it does worsen. Most recently, the government took advantage of this situation to carry out another mass arrest in Saravena on January 31 - 20 people were arrested for “rebellion” and there are arrest orders out for 20 more people.

In addition to talking with Sonia, I continue to seek solace by going up to the terrace roof of the social organizations building to watch the sunset and the herons flying by to roost. Recently, I met two children up there who moved into the building with their family last month.

Yeini is nine-years-old and as we were talking she asked me, “Do you have a father?” I replied, “Yes, do you?” She said “No” and then told me that her father had recently died - Pedro Ruiz was the president of the community of Pueblo Seco and he was killed by FARC guerrillas on January 6. Hector is eight-years-old and he asked me, “Are you displaced?” He thought that everyone that lives in the building is “displaced” – having fled from their homes.

Yeini and Hector are very beautiful and resilient children. May they inspire us to confront all forms of violence and repression, and to take even more effective action to end the U.S. military aid that continues to fan the flames of war here in Arauca.

As I finished writing the above, the tense calm broke here in Saravena. The president of the Saravena city council was assassinated at 3 P.M. yesterday afternoon just a few blocks away from the social organizations building.

In love and solidarity,

Scott

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