On April 3, The Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace hosted Jesus Emilio Tuberquia from the village San Jose de Apartado in Colombia as part of its Sojourns for Justice Speaker Series.  With more than four million internally displaced people, Colombia is home to the Western Hemisphere’s greatest displacement crisis. Jesus Emilio described how the homes and lands of indigenous, Afro-Colombians and small-scale farmers in Colombia continue to be violently and illegally seized by paramilitary and guerilla groups who often profit from the sale of these lands to multi-national companies.

 Gail Phares, who heads CITCA and serves as the director for Witness for Peace Southeast, added to the conversation by commenting that Colombia has rich reserves of oil, coal, gold and other minerals and thus targeted by the above groups.  She also urged us to work to stop passage of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, as well as to stop further US military assistance to Colombia.

Phares noted that over the past decade the U.S.government has given more than $6 billion in military aid to Colombia and thus she sees that we cannot waste any more time or taxpayer dollars on a strategy that not only does not work but also has contributed to the country’s protracted humanitarian crisis. The community San Jose Apartado alone has had over 190 people killed mostly by Colombian army forces or connected paramilitary groups over the past fourteen years.  Many in the community continue to try to protest these atrocities through non-violent means.

Following the evening’s presentation and activities, one person commented that “ . . . it allowed me to see the dramatic reality of what we don’t see in our everyday lives” and others suggested the need for “more programs like this in the future . . .so that we have a better understanding of what is happening in our world.”