Friday, December 21, 2007

Colombian Journey - The Gift of Herons and Children

Dear friends,

During this season of joy and celebration, I’d like to share with you two of my favorite gifts from Colombia – herons and children.

In February, a friend suffered a very traumatic experience and had to flee from the region. After I heard about her situation, I went up to the terrace roof of the social organizations’ building here in Saravena to seek comfort by watching the sunset. The sky was hazy and there wasn’t much of a sunset; but then, suddenly, white herons started flying by on their way to roost for the evening. I saw hundreds of herons pass within a mile of the building and dozens flew overhead! In the midst of the suffering caused by violent men, it was very soothing to see that Nature was still continuing her dance.

For the next several weeks, I went up to the roof every afternoon at sunset to receive the blessing of the herons. This month of December marks the beginning of the dry season here in the state of Arauca and that’s the best time to see the herons – at dawn and dusk. I took the attached photo on the morning of December 2 - I hope it brings you some sense of the beauty and peace that also exist here in Arauca.

When I was in Bogotá in October, a psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant (Paroxetine) as a way to deal with the trauma that I’ve witnessed and continue to witness. Fortunately, there’s a very skilled therapist here in Saravena that utilizes natural healing techniques. Alejandra is four-years-old and she prescribed skipping every evening.

As I mentioned before (Colombian Journey – Celebration; November 4, 2007), Alejandra and her family live just a couple blocks from the social organizations’ building. When I returned here last year, she would greet me by shouting “Gringo!” and waving. One evening, as I was returning from my favorite pizzeria, she ran to the corner to meet me. She was so excited that she started skipping back to her home and, fortunately, I had the good sense to skip along with her! That has now become our evening ritual and we’ll often skip along the entire block!

Earlier this month, after skipping with her to the corner, Alejandra told me that she had just had a birthday. On my way back after dinner, I talked with her family and they told me that she had turned four. I returned the next morning and gave her a photo that I had taken of the Canadian Rockies as a present. On the back I wrote, “Thank you very much for skipping with me.” While I was there, I took the attached photo of my skipping buddy.

May the beauty and joy of herons and children be with you during the holiday season and throughout the New Year.

In love, joy, and solidarity.

Community Action for Justice in the Americas

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Mother's Pain and Courage

Dear friends,

The last time that Maria saw her son alive was when she left their home on November 26 to attend an event organized by the Dawn of Women for Arauca. A few hours after the event ended, Samuel and another young man were killed by the Colombian army outside of Saravena. The commander of the 18th Brigade declared that the army had killed two “narco-terrorists of the ELN (guerrillas)” in combat and that the army was working to “ensure the December festivities” for the people of the region.

The event on November 26 commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It was the first time Maria had heard about the Dawn of Women for Arauca and she expressed her enthusiasm during the event. “I felt so strong there” Maria told us, and she explained that it helped her to deal with her son’s death.

Samuel Navia Moreno was 27 years old and was attending night school to finish his high school education. He played guitar and was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church.

Maria told me that Samuel sang “serenatas” (serenades) for women on their birthdays – especially for the women that live in the poor neighborhoods of Saravena. “They’re not going to receive any gifts” he would say to Maria. During the funeral, various women told Maria “He gave me a serenade for my birthday.” One of them asked her to “open the coffin so I can give him a rose.”

The members of the church put together a video of Samuel for the funeral. It showed him working on projects in the neighborhoods and giving roses to the women for their birthdays. In one segment, Samuel was on crutches and singing. Maria explained that he had torn some tendons in a motorcycle accident. Seeing him sing in the video, “Filled me with happiness” she said. “He was my happiness.”

Jhon Carlos Nocua Rueda, the other victim, was just 18 years old and helped provide for his mother and two siblings. His family filed a denunciation with the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation just hours after they learned of his death. As Rosaura, his mother, was leaving the office all I could do was put my hand on her shoulder and say “I’m sorry.” She began to cry and said, “I want my son alive.” The family returned the next day after they had seen his body - they said that Jhon Carlos had been beaten to death.

This year the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation has documented 16 cases of “extrajudicial executions” – civilians killed by the army and then presented as guerrillas killed in combat. On November 28, I traveled with the president of the Arauca Peasant Association to their office in Arauquita. Leaders of a rural community in the municipality of Tame came to the office to file a denunciation about human rights abuses in their area this year – including five extrajudicial executions.

In the midst of their pain, Maria and Rosaura found the courage to denounce these killings in an effort to prevent other families from suffering the loss of their sons.

“I disagree with the army’s declaration that my son was a guerrilla” said Maria. “He lived with me in my house and he was never a guerrilla.”

“The only thing I want is justice for my son” said Rosaura.

In love and solidarity.