Welcome as a prelude to peace in Colombia

Alix Lozano is a Colombian  Pastor and Theologian and the Co-founder of the Ecumenical
Women’s Group of Peace-Builders (GemPaz). This piece was originally published on the MCC LACA Advocacy blog on June 21, 2017. This reflection is taken from the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia worship packet.

All people at different stages and different moments of life seek spaces of welcome, healing spaces, spaces of acceptance, inclusion, and transformation. Political violence, delinquency, invisibility, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and poverty are some of the sources of stress, isolation, and trauma present in the realities of the Colombian people.

At this time, Colombia is experiencing a peace process, where the reintegration of ex-combatants in civil society is fiat accompli. The role of spaces, circles, and groups as instruments of the welcoming and transforming love of God is very pertinent, both in times of peace and in times of peace-building. We remember the biblical text of 2 Corinthians 1:4 which says: He consoles us in our suffering that we may console those who suffer, giving them the same comfort that he has give us.

Hospitality is an essential practice and value in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as a lifestyle and as teaching. Hospitality, understood as unconditional welcome of the most needy, is an act of unconditional love.

In fact, throughout the New Testament, much emphasis is given to the Greek concept of philoxenia, defined as love of the stranger. Philoxenia is more than just tolerating the other, without loving her or him; it is desiring his or her good. Xenos, which means “strange” as well as “stranger,” refers to the foreigner, the immigrant, and the exiled. It can be attributed to any human being who is a stranger, who needs welcoming in a strange land. This word is also the root of the term Xenophobia, which means rejection of the stranger, the foreigner. In diverse parables and teachings of Jesus, one finds reference to the responsibility to welcome others and offer them a home.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is on the road and is received in a home, the home of his friends. He rests and is served and welcomed. He takes advantage of the friendly atmosphere to teach with love. The women, Martha and Mary, have a special moment with the Teacher which gives us much to reflect on. In that home, Mary and Martha experience conviction and special strength.

Martha and Mary each have a distinctive way of welcoming and showing hospitality to Jesus. Martha does this through her concrete responsibilities as lady of the house, from the starting point of what is “normal,” that is, the norms of hospitality and welcome; she is a symbol of those in society who believe that everything is solved by fulfilling one’s duty. Thus the criteria for judging the behavior of others is simply to determine whether or not they have done their duty.

Mary also fulfills the custom of welcome and hospitality, but she does it in a very different way, with a novel attitude born from her heart. She is attentive to the presence of the other, in this case Jesus, by sitting by his side, listening to him, and offering him a personal relationship; but she does this outside of the social norm, what is legal or cultural. In doing so, Mary chooses “the better way,” breaking with tradition. She acts from what is human, from what is closeness, from what is a posture of listening and seeing the needs of the other, which were also her own needs.

It is important to note that Jesus does not judge Martha, as sometimes is believed, but rather invites her to see, hear, and listen for new ways of relating – a welcome that humanizes, where BEING is more important than DOING.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

The call of the Spirit, the Ruah, is to be welcomed, to give welcome, and to offer peace to people who come from different spaces as a prelude to the path of reconciliation in Colombia, which has taken on this peace process, where government and guerrillas have decided to put an end to the armed conflict.

PRAYER FOR PEACE

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
God of peace,
Our voices today unite in one cry,
A cry born from the depths of the heart
Of a humanity and creation wounded by war
That asks you to accompany our history
And knock down barriers that separate us so
that
Dialogues may come about that take us to
peace.

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
Our hands, our emotions
And all that we are
Unites in one dream of love
To walk with all those
Who suffer in our world and who,
Through processes of
Resistance, create peace.
Come Lord, fill us with your strength and
Carry us in your arms when
Our feet can no longer walk.
Come Lord.

– Inter-faith Dialogue for Peace, Peacebuilders in Prayer Liturgy.

We invite you and your congregation to join in with MCC partner organization, Justapaz, in celebrating Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia this summer. A packet of resource and worship materials is available here.

This post is also available in Spanish

Light, peace and hope shining in the darkness

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. –Henri Nouwen

It’s almost time – Christmas time! Our period of Advent waiting is nearly finished for another year. It is a time when many churches and families are lighting candles in anticipation. It is a season where we celebrate light coming into the darkness. Our hope is arriving—in many ways it is already here!

When I was working for MCC in Bogota, Colombia I experienced the Advent season as  an explosion of light. I have never seen so many bright and flashing Christmas lights. I remember taking a cable car up Monserrate, a mountain overlooking the city, to join with thousands of others, who waited for the Christmas lights to be turned on for another season.

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Night of the Candles.Noche de las Velitas in Bogota.  Photo credit/Anna Vogt

In the midst of the often extravagant celebrations, one of the most beautiful celebrations of light in Colombia is December 7, la Noche de las Velitas —the Night of the Candles. This is an annual celebration popular across Colombia on the eve of December 8th, when the church celebrates the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary by the Holy Spirit, and the lights guiding Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem.

Every year on December 7 Colombians meet together in parks, on balconies and in the streets, to light candles, watch them burn all the way to the end, while visiting with each other. For the next few weeks and even months the parks and sidewalks are plastered with the remnants of candles.

Then we think about this year. 2016 has been a politically intense year in Colombia, to say the least. It began with the announcement in June that a peace deal between the FARC and the government was forthcoming with the signing of a unilateral ceasefire. Across Bogota people flooded the streets in celebration. After more than 50 years of armed conflict, there was a light of peace at the end of the tunnel.

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Angélica Rincón lights a candle for peace. Photo credit/Anna Vogt

By the end of August, officials signed a peace deal in Havana Cuba, where talks had been hosted for the past four years. At the end of September, leaders, dignitaries and delegates from Colombia and around the world gathered to watch the formal signing of the peace accords. President Santos was then awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, on October 2 in a national plebiscite to officially endorse the peace accords—to everyone’s complete shock—the support of the peace deal failed by less than 0.25%, or about 60,000 votes. It was a completely devastating moment for many Colombians, to say the least. The future seemed uncertain, the peace process potentially in tatters.

Enter, once again, the candles and cries for peace. In the weeks that followed, Colombians from across the country poured out into the streets, marching, lighting candles and urging continued efforts to reach a peace agreement. Students and social activists joined together with churches and faith leaders, meeting together in Plaza Bolivar in Bogota, singing, comforting each other and calling for peace.

Eventually, by December 1, after many consultations across various parties, the Colombian Congress passed revised peace accords. The process was back on track, but not without significant opposition. And not without hardship and ongoing doubts.. But then December 7 came again—La Noche de las Velitas.

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Candles in Bolivar Plaza. Photo credit/Anna Vogt

As I write this, I’m thinking about our advocacy work with government in Canada and around the world. I think of the ongoing challenge of working for peace and justice within imperfect systems, where people so often seem to be looking for loopholes which will benefit themselves and their own interests. Sometimes I think about the futility of this work. Even when governments are committed to peace and justice, they will never be the fulfillment of true light in the darkness.

That fulfillment comes through the Incarnate One.

During Advent and at Christmas we celebrate this one authentic hope—Jesus, the light that shines in the darkness.  And this is the reason we continue our advocacy work, despite what comes our way, praying that our efforts point to this true light.

I close with an Advent prayer from one of my favourite theologians, Henri Nouwen. I offer this prayer for Colombia, for Canada and for places where the darkness threatens to overwhelm—may peace, light and hope shine brightly.

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

By Bekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office

Colombia’s long road to bread and peace

Angélica Rincón could not stop smiling. All around her, crowds of people cheered and waved signs, banners and Colombian flags. Rincón – like others who have worked with MCC Colombia’s partners [Justapaz] – had longed for this turning point toward peace for many years.

After nearly four years of negotiations, [a historic peace accord] effectively ended the longest-running armed conflict in the Western hemisphere. Fighting between diverse armed groups has killed some 260,000 people and displaced close to 7 million since 1958.  (Elizabeth Phelps, Saying goodbye to war and hello to peace in Colombia.)

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Angélica Rincón of MCC partner Justapaz lights a candle for peace. Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

This week churches and community groups across Colombia will be marking the International Day of Peace – September 21.  For years churches, organizations and communities across Colombia, including many of MCC’s partners like Justapaz, have come together to celebrate this day with a call to action – calling for the basic necessities of life – Pan y Paz (Bread and Peace). A positive peace is more than a lack of armed conflict; it is a world where everyone has enough to eat and all are able to live without fear. On this day churches and communities march through the streets with candles, singing songs of hope and peace and offering bread to everyone they pass.

In September 2014, in my first blog post as policy analyst for the Ottawa Office and while still working in Colombia, I shared the hopes and dreams for peace of a small community just outside of Bogota, San Nicolas in Soacha. Residents of San Nicolas, especially the youth, have long felt the impacts of violence and threats of violence on a very regular basis.  After more than five decades of armed conflict, the cries ringing out from this community represent the cries from across Colombia – “We just want peace.”

The political context in Colombia is quite different in September 2016. After almost four years of peace talks, the Colombian government and the largest and longest running guerrilla group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), have announced peace accords, coupled with a bilateral ceasefire and an action plan for implementation. The announcement of the ceasefire was made in late June – resulting in celebrations throughout the streets of Bogota – and the final agreement was reached by both parties at the end of August 2016, with the objective of signing the accords by the end of September.

The peace accords themselves follow the original agenda of the negotiations:

  • Political participation in the national arena for the FARC;
  • Agrarian reform aimed at supporting small-scale land owners and property rights;
  • Greater investment in legal crops, creating incentives for farmers to disengage from the illicit economy;
  • Commissions and special courts to hear directly from victims of the armed conflict;
  • A roadmap to wide scale demobilization of the FARC, to be monitored by international bodies.
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MCC workers, together with partners, celebrate the June 2016 announcement of coming peace accords.  Photos courtesy Anna Vogt

MCC’s partner organizations and staff, such as Justapaz, have worked tirelessly for years in the lead-up to negotiations, and connecting with communities and civil society as the talks progressed. But the work is hardly over.

One could say we are just beginning generations of work.

The first step is gaining approval from Colombians in a national plebiscite (referendum) to be held on October 2, 2016.

But  beyond this lies the challenge of turning the peace accords into reality. Although the announcement of accords was publicly celebrated in the streets of Bogota, how will the various regions respond to the post-accord era? Many critics claim past demobilization processes of other armed groups had significant problems. Will disarmament, support for development and recovery reach all corners of Colombia? And how can the government accommodate the needs and concerns of over 6 million victims of forced displacement? Critics of the accords also claim excessive leniency was granted to both FARC and government perpetrators. Plus, the roots of the 50+ year conflict run very deep, relating to longstanding inequality and access to land and resources. Finally, many Colombians are hesitant to trust this process, as several previous attempts by the FARC and the government to reach a sustainable peace agreement have failed.

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Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

Despite the excitement around the peace agreement, MCC’s partners across the country, as reported by staff on the ground share many of these and other concerns. Integral peace goes beyond high level negotiations. Integral peace calls for a just society where everyone has access to sufficient food, resources and livelihoods; where everyone across the country can live in dignity and pursue their dreams; where people can live without fear or the imminent threat of violence.

As churches and communities mark September 21 this year, calling for Pan y Paz, my thoughts and prayers continue to follow the communities across the country, rural and urban, including Soacha, where communities and local leaders stand up for peace and justice, despite continuing challenges. My prayer is that this year’s Pan y Paz continues to reflect calls for peace and dignity throughout the communities of Colombia, as the country begins to move down the long and challenging road to peace.

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office

 

A settler encounters the Doctrine of Discovery

This week’s guest writer is James Schellenberg, Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Low German Program. 

As an almost 67 year old ‘settler,’ born and raised on the Manitoba prairie, and connected to the land through seed-time and harvest, it was profoundly disquieting to have that connection challenged when I was confronted with my culpability in the implementation of the Doctrine of Discovery.  Two days of presentations on this topic at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg in early April occasioned this disquiet, and made me think.

When my great-grandparents settled here on the ‘empty land’ of the Canadian prairie in the newly-formed Province of Manitoba in the 1870’s, they were simply grateful for the opportunity to acquire land. They were grateful for the opportunity to ‘subdue’ the prairie by the sweat of their brow, and to make the land productive–by their definition.  It was with a deep and grateful satisfaction that they laid the foundation for what they hoped would be a secure future for their children and grandchildren. They truly and humbly felt that they were doing what God had called and gifted them to do.

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Low German Mennonites in Salamanca, Quintana Roo, Mexico.  MCC photo/Kennert Giesbrecht

Three generations later, when I as a child encountered Indigenous people, it was almost as if they were the interlopers, and we were the legitimate inhabitants.  And nowhere was I challenged in that perception. At school we learned about the discoverers and explorers, and reveled in their exploits.  At church we heard about ‘native missions’ and felt good about our efforts to make ‘them’ more like ‘us’.  Even after I grew up and studied, and gained some sensitivity about stereotypes, my perspective in the teaching of Canadian history was still very much that of the ‘discoverers’ and settlers.

Therefore it was profoundly disquieting to be confronted with an aspect of my history that felt like something I should have known and should have seen.  It was disturbing to see, in documented detail, how closely the church has been aligned with empire, and how conveniently doctrine could accommodate the aims of empire.   It was painful to be reminded of the many ways this has played out also in the relatively recent history of our own country, and how also we, as Mennonites, have been participants.  How could we claim not to see the injustice and wrong in a policy of assimilation that wrested children from the arms of their mothers and grandmothers, no matter how pious the terms it was couched in?

So it has been unsettling, and it has made me think. It is one thing to acknowledge an injustice, and another thing entirely to put things right.  What was done in the past cannot be undone, and recognizing the root causes of pain and dysfunction does not address their consequences.  It is so easy to let the unease and disquiet become an end in itself.  It is too easy to let meetings and conversations feel like an end, rather than the means to an end.  And so I need to remind myself of the need to move beyond reflection and conversation to action.  Acknowledgement of complicity in an injustice calls for participation in the work for justice.

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Low German Mennonites from Mexico are looking for land holdings in Colombia so that their children can continue the farming tradition that is valued in their communities. MCC photo/Kennert Giesbrecht

And it calls for vigilance in the present.  How do the assumptions that underlie the Doctrine of Discovery continue to provide rationale for what we do?  A situation that has come up recently in the course of my work with the so-called ‘Low German Mennonites’ has unsettling echoes.  In their seemingly insatiable quest for land that will allow their children also to be people of the land, Low German Mennonites from Mexico are considering the purchase of land in Colombia. They are simply looking for fertile land with abundant rainfall where they can find it, and where they will, with assurances from government about their independence in questions of education and religion, be able to live quietly and productively on the land. The ‘empty land’ that they are being offered, however, is land from which the legitimate owners have been forced, during the years of violence and instability in Colombia.

Given our own history in Canada, we in MCC cannot simply take the ‘moral high ground’ and condemn the action of land-seeking Mennonites from Mexico.  But we can invite them into conversation with Mennonites from Colombia, who see this quest with entirely different eyes.  We can, acknowledging our complicity in the injustice in our own past, call them and ourselves to a higher standard.

And that just might be one small step in the direction of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.

More than a single story: Migration in the Americas

This week’s guest writer is Anna Vogt, policy analyst and advocacy support for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA), based in Bogota, Colombia. This reflection was first posted on the Latin America Advocacy blog and is the first of a special series of articles on migration.

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Stories of people on the move dominated headlines throughout 2015: refugees from Syria; deportations and raids of Central Americans living in the United States; the journey of unaccompanied minors north through Mexico and many other stories. So far, analysis for 2016 predict more of the same: people continue to move throughout our globalised world at the highest rate since World War Two.

It is easy, however, to read headlines and come away with a stereotyped idea of migration. How well do we really understand the complexities of this theme, especially from a Latin American and Caribbean perspective, where this blog is based? How does our understanding influence public policy and how we treat our neighbours?

In the book Advocacy in Conflict, Casey Hogel emphasis that, “The power to define a campaign or movement’s narratives- and the amount of diversity and nuance that is allowed within narratives- has huge ramifications for the level of solidarity that activism espouses.” A complex understanding of migration, from migrants themselves, is vital if we want to realistically advocate with people on the move, not simply assume we understand their situation.

As Hogel mentions, that complex understanding starts with asking who is defining the narratives around migration: those who are experiencing the pressure to migrate and the migrants themselves or others?  Yet the majority of the time, migrant experiences are not present in public coverage of the theme. In a recent report, researchers found that migrants were referenced in only 15% of British newspaper articles on migration and that 85% of British articles on the topic did not even include a migrant perspective.

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The report goes on to state that “46% of stories represented migrants as a threat or a danger to the economy and to society, while 38% represented them as victims. Furthermore, migrants’ voices were mostly absent from the coverage of migration.” Given similar news coverage in Canada and the United States, this is a problem of perception that impacts and reflects on policy decisions and debates.

In fact, readers only heard the voices of migrants when the articles included in the studied portrayed the migrant as a victim. While allowing migrants to share their experiences is a good thing, telling a story of only simplified trauma in a portrayal that presents people only as victims, does not allow the nuances, complexities and contributions of migrants or their agency to shine through. Complex narratives demand more than simply an emotional reaction. They include the facts about who migrants are, where they have come from and why, in order to contribute in a meaningful and realistic way to advocacy.

Migration is a normal part of life and society, both in the north and the south, yet migration is “still framed as extraordinary and involving extraordinary individuals and stories…. As with most of us, the majority of migrants lead lives which are fairly normal and not particularly newsworthy. Their migration experience may not be a key or significant feature of their identity. Or it might just be seen as another characteristic to be shared, but not shown off or emphasised, with their neighbours.”

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A complex understanding also examines the variety of forms of migration that take place throughout the region. Did you know that many migrants move from one Latin American country to another, instead of heading north?  That more Mexicans have left the US to return home than have left Mexico to move north in 2009-2014? That the amount of migrants coming from Africa to Latin America has dramatically increased over the last five years?  That 15,000 migrants from the United States live in Colombia?  (Check out thiscool app for a global perspective of migration!)

During orientation at MCC, participants watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk on the danger of a single story. How we talk and write about people and issues matters because our beliefs either perpetuate stereotypes or challenge them and the structures that hold them in place.

We are excited, therefore, to present a new blog series on migration in LACA, where we want to tell more than simply a single story about migration, portraying migrants as neither simply victims nor villains, but ordinary people, seeking to live ordinary lives. Throughout the course of the series over the next few months, we will cover topics ranging from south-south migration, migration and climate change, urbanization, reintegration, armed conflict and migration, those who choose not to migrate, migration and gender, and much much more.

We invite you to participate and to pay attention to the diversity of meanings included with the theme of migration throughout our series and in the people around you.

To read subsequent posts on migration, visit Latin America Advocacy Blog.

A new era of accountability in Canadian mining, or business as usual?

Change often comes slowly, if at all. At least that’s what we’re told, especially when it involves the impact of advocacy on government policies and practices.

Ken Battle, President of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, coined the term “relentless incrementalism” to describe the often slow-moving nature of advocacy. Advocacy is often a laborious task requiring endless patience, as we often see only little droplets of change at a time.

But what happens when it is clear that a government has no intention of moving forward on particular legislation or actions that would bring about change?

This appears to be the case when it comes to enacting tougher accountability laws and standards for Canadian companies operating at home and abroad—something civil society advocates have long been calling for.

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Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, San Marcos, Guatemala. Photo by Anna Vogt

In terms of global business, Canada is, by a wide margin, home to the majority (75%) of the world’s mining companies. In Latin America, specifically, in the last 10-15 years the proportion of Canadian companies active in exploration and extraction has increased significantly. According to MCC coalition partner the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), in the five years between 2002-2007, the proportion of Canadian mining companies operating in the region jumped from 30 to 50 percent. Within certain countries, these numbers are up to 70 percent. Over 500 Canadian companies are active within Latin America, with investments of over $40 billion.

In many of the contexts in which Canadian companies operate, mining activities play a role in fueling violence and exacerbating tensions, damaging the environment, negatively impacting health, and causing community displacement.

In many mining-heavy contexts such as Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, countless communities, civil society groups, and human rights defenders have also been threatened or targeted for speaking out against mining projects, particularly when the government has a vested interest in the profits.

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Citizens of Bucaramanga, Colombia defend their water supply from a Canadian-owned gold-mining project, 2013. Photo courtesy Pastor Virviescas Gómez / CBC.

Further, in many countries legal and illegal armed groups have a stake in the mining industry, either because they offer direct security services to mining companies or because they profit from the trafficking of natural resources. There have been many notable instances—Hudbay Minerals’ abuses in Guatemala, for example—in which the local security forces hired to protect mining projects are accused of carrying out violence and human rights abuses against nearby communities. When it comes to trafficking, in a context such as Colombia there have been reports that some illegal armed groups have abandoned the production and trafficking of illicit crops as a means to fund their operations in favour of controlling mining projects instead.

Companies fall under the laws and regulations of the countries in which they operate. Proponents of tougher corporate social responsibility, however, point to the weaker legal frameworks of host governments when it comes to things like environmental protection, working conditions, and transparency of financial reporting. And, even when the laws exist on paper, the lack of robust enforcement and broken judicial systems make them virtually meaningless.

Most of what the Canadian government has put in place when it comes to corporate social responsibility standards has been voluntary in nature and ineffective for holding companies accountable.

For instance, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor, a position established in 2009 under the previous government to assess and mediate complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses abroad, has been widely criticized as having a mandate with little-to-no power. In addition to the process being entirely voluntary for companies, the counsellor has no civil or criminal powers of enforcement, nor can he/she impose remedy or issue sanctions against a company.

Reportedly, this mandate apparently will remain unchanged under the new Liberal government, despite earlier promises to the contrary.

In light of these realities, many civil society organizations such as Development and Peace, Mining Watch Canada, KAIROS, and Publish What You Pay are calling for a more robust system of corporate social responsibility in Canada.

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDOne campaign, named “Open for Justice,” calls for a number of changes to Canada’s framework. This includes an independent ombudsman with the power to monitor, investigate and impose economic and legal sanctions on Canadian mining companies that violate clearly-established environmental or human rights standards. The campaign also demands that Canadian courts be open to hearing and processing complaints from communities where Canadian mining companies are accused of abuses and local judicial systems are broken.

During the fall election campaign, the Liberals promised to establish such an independent ombudsman. This is apparently no longer the case. Will they consider reassessing Canada’s CSR strategy overall to ensure better accountability for the extractives sector?

If Canada’s CSR standards remain unchanged, one has to wonder what kind of impact mining operations will continue to have in Latin America and around the world.

Do we dare to expect, or even hope to see, change on the horizon when it comes to the actions and consequences of Canadian mining operations abroad? Given how important the extractives industry is to Canada, how will values of justice, human rights, and sustainable development play against economic gain?

By Bekah Sears, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

Peace is not achieved by saying, “We want peace,” but by working for it

This blog was written by Amy Eanes, who lives and works in Istmina, Choco (Colombia) as part of the MCC Seed program. This blog was first posted on the Seed Blog

Peace building in the context of the armed conflict, government neglect, and poverty is an enormous and multifaceted challenge, but in my role as a Seeder with the Mennonite Brethren Churches of Chocó, Colombia, I interact with many who are diligently laboring to that end, often far from the spotlight. I sat down with Arosa Palacio, a member of the Jerusalem Mennonite Brethren Church in Istmina, Chocó, to talk about her life and experiences as a person who has been displaced by the armed conflict and has worked for justice in her community.

Originally from Chocó, Arosa and her family were living in another part of img_2332-web-editColombia when intense violence forced them to flee their home and return to the department in the mid-1990s. “Chocó was our refuge of peace,” she says, adding that illegal armed groups had not yet arrived.

Protecting their children and removing them from a violent context was their top priority. Upon arriving in Istmina, Arosa and her family sustained themselves through mining and agriculture, traveling down the San Juan River to work in various communities.

Three years after their displacement, she joined a group of displaced persons that had begun organizing, led by a local teacher. Under Law 387 of 1997, displaced persons were recognized and guaranteed assistance and protection in their process of resettlement. But, as Arosa explains, when the people went to claim their status at the level of local government, “they didn’t want to respond or accept the responsibility because they saw us as beggars. They rejected any formal declarations if the people arrived dirty or without shoes, but if you arrived well-groomed, they asked how you could really be displaced if you were clean.” As a result, the group organized trainings on human rights and a trip to Bogotá to meet with government entities to advocate for their situation as victims who had not received legal recognition.

The group’s advocacy efforts enabled them to gain official status as displaced persons but did not achieve the financial reparations that were their right. “They didn’t collaborate with us, economically,” she says, “but with recognition of our status.”

img_9278-editWith backing by the Catholic diocese, the association of displaced persons started an agricultural initiative of raising fish, pigs, and chickens. Though it did provide employment for many people during its time, the initiative ultimately proved to be unsustainable.

Arosa continued to work with the organization’s leadership and was later selected as its vice president. “They liked my way of working in respect and solidarity with the people,” she says.

Despite decades of work with the association, roadblocks remain: “I don’t have answers to respond to the needs of the communities…. I’m watching how things are going, but I also see that the government isn’t responding and isn’t fulfilling its responsibilities. The same people who wrote the law are violating it. We have been victims of violence, and now we are victims of the government.”

img_1559-editAcknowledging the power of prayer and the hope that she has for God to intervene in their situation, she states, “Peace is not achieved by saying ‘We want peace,’ but by working for it.” Just as Jesus preached and fed the multitudes, so too the work of the church should preoccupy itself with both spiritual and physical needs. “Jesus, with the little that he had, fed the five thousand and had baskets of leftovers. The disciples who were with Jesus, when they saw the hunger of the people, told Jesus to send them away, but Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, was able to meet their physical needs. This is the Christian life,” she says, “to see reality through the eyes of Jesus.”

In addition to accompanying displaced persons in her community, participating actively in the Mennonite Brethren Church, and her role as a mother and grandmother, over the past twenty years Arosa has served as foster mother to approximately fifty children who have arrived at her door in a state of malnutrition and neglect. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to feed the multitude, her passion to meet the needs of the people in her community and work towards justice is real and breathing despite the years of struggle and injustice.

Please pray for the Mennonite Brethren Churches in Chocó, their regional projects, and the women and men who work for peace in the midst of such difficult circumstances.