LOUISVILLE

Colombian and U.S. Presbyterians who have partnered for more than six years to protect human rights workers in Colombia are calling on their sisters and brothers in both countries to take accompaniment to the next level.

Leaders from the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (IPC) and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are asking all people of faith to join in a public fast June 5-12, 2011, to oppose the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. 

“Our partners in Colombia are crystal clear that this trade agreement will mean greater disparity of wealth, greater insecurity across their country and the weakening of the fabric of civil society,” said Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the PC(USA)’s 216th General Assembly (2004) and director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

More than 160 Colombians have committed to the fast, and a growing number of U.S. Presbyterians are joining them. The fasters hope to send a message to President Obama, urging him to not send the US-Colombia FTA to Congress. 

“It’s only when we call upon the Holy Spirit that we can affect great change against seemingly impossible odds,” Ufford-Chase said.

Organizers of the fast will hold a conference call Wednesday, June 1 at 9 p.m. ET to answer questions. You can register for the fast and an invitation to the conference call at the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship website.

The IPC and its church partners continue to tell stories of the ways the FTA harms the communities they serve. The following is from CODHES, a nonprofit human rights organization in Colombia:

In March of 2011, over 63,000 acres of land was to be returned to the indigenous Afro-Colombian communities in the Chocó Department.  Lands like these are often highly-sought by multi-national corporations for their mineral-rich soil and the year-round, fertile land that they occupy.  However, these lands are protected by law in Colombia if they have been historically inhabited by Afro-Colombian or indigenous populations.  Just as this land in Chocó was to be returned to its rightful owners, armed paramilitary groups came in and torched all the crops on the land, to threaten those who are returning with even greater abuses, and to push out the rightful owners who were to return to it.   It has been documented numerous times that various multinational corporations have paid for such harassment, even killings to get access to the lands they want.

The IPC has issued a statement that reads in part:

The Presbyterian Church of Colombia is not opposed to trade agreements between countries. It cannot be. We are a church that believes in justice and the development of the people — this is pleasing to God. But to be faithful to God, we believe that a trade agreement must contain the elements such as the following:

  1. We insist that the negotiations be as partners — that they be just, equitable, and that they benefit all participants and not just large investors and business people
  2. In this regard, the FTA should provide for the equitable participation of small farmers and small-scale producers such that the distribution of profits are fair and equitable.
  3. We accompany small farmers, whose traditions and customs of production are hurt when they are required to use transgenic products that do not reproduce, thus making them dependent on the laboratories that promote such products.
  4. Regarding the use of land, we believe that priority and importance must be given to the knowledge and experience of the small farmers and they feel that with the proposals of the FTA move them away from their traditional farming techniques.
  5. We demand respect for indigenous people to use the plants that have traditionally formed the basis of their medical treatment.
  6. We believe that we must ready ourselves as a society for the protection of the traditional values of the indigenous of native people of our land.
  7. We share with the small farmers and indigenous people the concern that in the face of so-called “economic development” that will bring goods along their roads and byways, they will remain without access to those goods for the lack of money to buy them.
  8. We warn the society that the development of the economy cannot and must not be detrimental to the quality of life of small farmers, indigenous peoples nor to creation.

For more information about the fast, organizing and liturgical resources and policy documents from the IPC, PC(USA) and partner organizations, please visit the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship website.

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is director of Colombia Programs for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. The Rev. Linda Eastwood is coordinator of the Colombia Accompaniment Program.