Many religious leaders are increasingly concerned about U.S. policy towards Colombia. In February, the heads of Washington denominational offices wrote Congress urging a "no" vote on President Clinton's proposed two-year $1.3 billion military aid package for the "Push into Southern Colombia." Instead, they urged Congress "to support much-needed assistance for peace, human rights, justice reform, alternative development, and humanitarian assistance to Colombia's internally displaced."
The letter continued:
"Colombia is currently the third largest recipient of U.S. military assistance. Yet reports from the United Nations, the U.S. Department of State, independent human rights organizations, and Colombian judicial authorities point to continuing ties between the Colombian security forces and brutal paramilitary groups responsible for massacres, assassinations of community leaders and human rights defenders, and over 70 percent of Colombia's human rights abuses.
"Colombia's internal conflict has produced 1.6 million internal displaced persons, more than Kosovo or East Timor, and an increasing number of refugees fleeing to Panama and Venezuela. The proposed aid package will draw the U.S. deeper into Colombia's (40-year) civil war, intensify the conflict, and make the U.S. complicit in violations of human rights."
In February, six people from the UCC's Central Atlantic and Connecticut Conferences went to Colombia as part of a three-way partnership between the two conferences and the Mennonite Church in Colombia. The delegation in-cluded the Rev. Barbara Gerlach, First Congregational UCC, Washington, D.C.; the Rev. Charles Wildman, Rock Spring (Va.) Congregational UCC; Merlene Bagley, Christ Congregational UCC, Silver Spring, Md.; the Rev. Frederick Streets, Church of Christ in Yale, New Ha- ven, Conn; the Rev. Kent Saladi, Connecticut Conference; and Rachelle Schlabach, Mennonite Central Committee.
The following excerpts are taken from a sermon by Barbara Gerlach and an article by Kent Saladi after the trip:
Last March, President Clinton apologized for the U.S. role in Guatemala's internal conflict. He said, "Support for military forces or intelligence unites which engaged in violent and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake."
The United States is about to repeat that mistake in Colombia, if it votes for the $1.6 billion aid package that President Clinton has requested, most-ly for helicopters, intelligence and military training.
When we visited the U.N. Human Rights Office in Colombia, the first thing its directors said to us was, "Hasn't the United States learned anything from Central America?"
We have to dig deep to find the faith, the community, the commitment to keep opposing war and building peace. We have to get involved in politics, care about these presidential primaries, make our voices heard in Congress to be sure the letters of recommendation we send (2 Cor. 3:1-3) are not instruments of war but people and policies of peace.
When you hear "Colombia" what springs into your mind? There is a good chance you think of three things—drugs, drug cartels and coffee. It is a country that does not have a good reputation. The news that repeatedly hits the media worldwide helps to reinforce this impression. A recent delegation from the UCC has returned with a new perspective ...
The delegation heard about the work of the churches in Colombia with the approximately 2 million persons who have been internally displaced because of the violence.
Little attention has been given to this unique problem in our own hemisphere. Despite its magnitude and longevity, the human rights crisis in Colombia remains little known, less yet understood. It is, to a large extent, a silent crisis.
We witnessed the growing multitude of inter-nally displaced persons. We walked among displaced persons living in absolute poverty conditions and witnessed first hand the results of the violence.
Women and children bear the brunt of the conflict in Colombia. The other population most directly affected includes constitutionally recognized minorities such as Afro-Colombians and indigenous people who have been forced from their legally protected lands.