Background Info on Colombia

“The origin of the armed conflict in Colombia goes back to 1920 at agrarian disputes over the Sumapaz and Tequendama regions. Peasants at the time fought over ownership of coffee lands which caused the liberals and conservative parties to take sides in the conflict, worsening it.

The Colombian conflict began approximately in 1964 or 1966 and is an ongoing low-intensity asymmetric war between the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and left-wing guerrillas such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the National Liberation Army (ELN), fighting each other to increase their influence in Colombian territory. It is historically rooted in the conflict known as La Violencia, which was triggered by the 1948 assassination of populist political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and in the aftermath of United States-backed strong anti-communist repression in rural Colombia in the 1960s that led liberal and communist militants to re-organize into FARC.

The reasons for fighting vary from group to group. The FARC and other guerrilla movements claim to be fighting for the rights of the poor in Colombia to protect them from government violence and to provide social justice through communism. The Colombian government claims to be fighting for order and stability, and seeking to protect the rights and interests of its citizens. The paramilitary groups claim to be reacting to perceived threats by guerrilla movements. Both guerrilla and paramilitary groups have been accused of engaging in drug trafficking and terrorism. All of the parties engaged in the conflict have been criticized for numerous human rights violations.

According to a study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 220,000 people have died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians (177,307 civilians and 40,787 fighters) and more than five million civilians were displaced and forced to migrate to other territories between 1985 – 2012.”

Wikipedia

“Colombia still struggles with violent conflict as drug trafficking and corruption run rampant in the country. According to SIPRI (el Instituto Internacional de Investigaciòn Sobre Paz), the internal conflict in Colombia is among the 10 most bloody in the world.

Drug trafficking continues to grow, and presidents resolve to fight. Former President Álvaro Uribe survived 15 assassination attempts before coming to office.”

Source: The World Factbook, 2014.

“Illegal armed groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), killed, kidnapped, and extorted religious leaders and practitioners, inhibiting free religious expression in some areas. The National Liberation Army (ELN) continued to threaten members of religious organizations. Terrorist organizations generally targeted religious leaders and practitioners for political rather than religious reasons. Organized crime groups that included some former members of paramilitary groups also targeted representatives and members of religious organizations.

There were some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.”

2011 Report on International Religious Freedom – Colombia, Publisher United States Department of State, 30 July 2012

“The U.S. government estimates that coca (used to make cocaine – parenthesis mine) now covers about 50,000 acres of the country, making Colombia the single largest source of coca in the world. Combined with the coca brought into the country to be processed, Colombia now exports three-quarters of the world’s cocaine.
Even more dramatic was the shift to opium poppy, the plant from which heroin is derived. Before the 1990s, opium poppy was little-known in Colombia. Now it covers about 3,000 acres, enough to supply two-thirds of the American heroin market.

Why did drug production suddenly soar in Colombia? In large part, coca shifted over the border when government crackdowns in Peru and Bolivia (helped by a fungus that attacked Peruvian coca) pushed production down in those countries. Opium poppy arrived after Colombian traffickers cut deals with Southeast Asian gangs, who traditionally dominated heroin production and smuggling, in order to get involved in the American heroin market. More crucial, though, was the chaos in the Colombian countryside. Leftist guerrillas who held effective control over huge swaths of Colombia, especially in the south, encouraged the traffickers to develop coca and opium poppy on their lands. In exchange for protection from the government, the rebels taxed the drug producers. The traffickers got a steady supply of drugs, and the rebels got a lucrative source of financing for their war.

After decades of economic expansion, Colombia is now in its worst economic recession since the 1930s. Here, too, the fingerprints of the illegal drug trade can be found. Corruption, the standard tool of illegal drug trafficking, erodes the quality of governance, which in turn hampers development efforts. And the huge profits of narco-trafficking create serious structural distortions to the economy over time.
The murder rate is 10 times that in the United States–on average, one person is killed every 20 minutes.”

Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen, Jan 2001

“The unequal distribution of resources and the massive poverty is a significant component of the social and armed conflict in the country. The consequences of the conflict have been, and still are, huge for the Colombian people. According to the figures of Amnesty International: 70,000 civilians have been killed over the past 20 years as a result of the conflict; 15-30,000 are missing; 20,000 have been taken hostage, either by paramilitaries or by rebel groups.

Two decades of conflict waged between the corrupt government, the rebel movement, illegal armed groups, and drug cartels have ravaged Colombia, terrorized its population, and left the majority of its people in poverty.”

Colombian Students Watch

“No one wants to think that we live in a world where children would be targeted by criminals, but that is exactly the situation in Colombia. Children are often abducted by civil war guerrilla groups. The children of Christian leaders are at particularly high risk. To protect these children, Open Doors has built a safe house for the children of church leaders and pastors. Here the children can grow up in safety and continue to receive an education. It is difficult for these children to be separated from their family and for safety reasons cannot visit them. While other children suffered great loss with the death of family members.”

Open Doors

“Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict between paramilitaries, guerrilla groups and the Colombian army has displaced massive numbers of people, with at least 4.1 million people forced from their homes, both within and across its borders, since 1985. As the Colombian government continues to pursue an aggressive counterinsurgent and counter narcotics policy, illegal groups assert control over territories and communities to conduct illicit activities and engage in acts of terror. Such acts include the use of selective assassinations, extortions and forced displacement. In addition, massive floods have inundated the country and affected more than 2.7 million people. Thousands of people still have not received basic assistance including food, water, sanitation, emergency shelter, and health care.

Current Humanitarian Situation

Conflict in Colombia has intensified along its border and as a result, between 370,000 and 500,000 refugees have left for Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and other countries in the region.

In Ecuador and Venezuela, illegal armed groups from Colombia terrorize local populations and exercise social control over entire communities. Death threats, selective assassinations, kidnappings and extortion are on the rise and are now affecting communities that are hosting refugees. Reports of military personnel harassing Colombian refugees because of their lack of proper documentation are frequent as well.

Internally displaced Colombian women and girls continue to survive in the ongoing conflict. Nearly 50% of displaced households are headed by women, yet the humanitarian response still fails to address their specific needs. Armed groups use sexual violence and forced recruitment as military tactics. A 2007 study conducted by the Ombudsman Office in four Colombian cities found that 18% of displaced women identified sexual violence as a direct cause of displacement. Lack of dignified shelter, access to sustainable livelihoods and jobs, and recovery/compensation for lost lands are the major unmet needs of those displaced in Colombia.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has declared a state of emergency in response to massive floods in the country. Yet, as millions of dollars raised for flood relief, a humanitarian crisis still persists and the basic needs of thousands of people are still not being met. The severity of the emergency has overwhelmed the capacity of existing government aid agencies and non-government organizations. There is a lack of coordination among the confusing array of actors now involved in the response, as well as a lack of information on the specific needs of the people who have been affected by the floods.

Colombia is home to the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world, the majority of whom live in urban areas. Armed conflict continues to displace more than 130,000 people annually. Once displaced, these Colombians frequently endure extreme poverty, live in unsafe settlements, and suffer social and economic exclusion. Helping urban IDPs move from conditions of sustained suffering and vulnerability to self-reliance and social inclusion will transform Colombia into a more stable and prosperous nation. The new Victims Law provides an organizing framework for achieving this goal. Although the Colombian government appears to possess the political will necessary to make real progress, coordination problems, excessive decentralization, and weak local capacity threaten to derail the implementation of the new law.”

Refugees International

“Forced internal displacement in Colombia continues to be a matter of serious concern. According to official figures of March 2013, over 4.7 million people were internally displaced. …UNHCR anticipates that at the end of 2013 the number will reach over 5.2 million people.

Despite the Government’s efforts to improve its response to forced displacement and implement the Victims Law, widespread insecurity and violence including the forced recruitment of children and youth, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), threats, disappearances and murders continue to occur in many regions. The growth of displacement in urban areas and continued conflict in remote rural areas that are difficult to access for UNHCR and its partners, highlight the need for the continuation of prevention and protection programmes at national and local levels.

The main causes of displacement are linked to confrontations involving illegal armed groups and the armed forces, the presence of land mines, and threats to communities related to territorial control.”

2014 UNHCR country operations profile – Colombia

“Before giving his life to Christ, Elmer persecuted Christians as a guerrilla commander in Colombia. “Instead of being a messenger of hate, I am now a messenger of peace,” he says. The guerrillas consider Elmer both a deserter and a threat for leading others to Christ. “I know that many … would like to kill me,” he says. But despite the risk, Elmer continues to share the gospel on the front lines in Colombia.”

The Voice of the Martyrs, 24/7/2014

Composed by Pia Horan, 30 July 2014

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