Lutheran World Relief Alarmed by Violence in Northern Colombia

by Lutheran World Relief | Lutheran World Relief (LWR) - USA
Friday, 13 November 2009 00:00 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Baltimore -- Lutheran World Relief is concerned over increased violence against LWR partners in northern Colombia, South America. In the province of Córdoba, murder rates over the last two years have reached historic highs, with more than 500 assassinations last year. LWR partners, representing rural farming communities, internally displaced populations and Evangelical churches are under threat. The October 29 murder of Ramiro Montes Valencia—teacher, community council president and member of the Beautiful Light Evangelical Church—highlights a disturbing trend of violence in Córdoba. Recent threats, murders and disappearances have been aimed at civil society members taking steps to protect their communities and advocate for improved living conditions in the province's more marginalized towns. Lutheran World Relief is saddened by the murder of Montes Valencia, who was killed by unidentified gunmen while waiting for public transportation near the Pica Pica community in the Montelíbano municipality. Montes Valencia leaves behind his wife and four young children. LWR calls on Colombian and US officials to quickly investigate this murder and ensure that Montes Valencia's family has access to necessary protection measures. Despite a 2003 government-sponsored demobilization of paramilitary forces in Córdoba, the region has not experienced peace. Annalise Romoser, acting director for public policy and advocacy at LWR explains, "Re-organized paramilitary forces, largely made up of former rank and file paramilitaries, are terrorizing communities in Córdoba and impeding their access to vital land, resources and justice mechanisms. Violence in Córdoba—a region already hard hit by poverty—represents a serious humanitarian crisis." Romoser adds that because of violence in Córdoba, the number of internally displaced Colombians in the province has increased in recent years, contributing to the nation's already significant internally displaced population of four million. LWR partners in Córdoba affected by violence have received inadequate attention from the Colombian government, including the state agency charged with serving internally displaced people (IDPs), Acción Social. Displaced communities are unable to return home due to precarious security situations and sheer fear. In cities and towns they suffer from unemployment, lack of food and clean water, and unsanitary living conditions. "Violence in Córdoba and the impunity perpetrators enjoy is a threat not only to our partners, but to development as a whole," notes Michael Watt, LWR regional director for Latin America programs. "LWR has accompanied displaced communities in Colombia since 1996, but growing violence has required the organization to increase our focus on protection and emergency measures, while limiting our ability to support development and rehabilitation programming, such as improving rural families' livelihoods and facilitating a return home for IDPs." LWR continues to support partners in Córdoba and advocate on their behalf before the US Congress and Colombian government. LWR calls on the US government to work with Colombian officials to investigate all acts of violence in Córdoba and develop decisive plans to protect communities in the region and dismantle re-organized paramilitary groups operating in the region. "Protection, an end to impunity and political will to address the growing number of illegal armed groups in Córdoba is essential for rural development to take hold and families to break free from poverty in the region," says Romoser.