Sangha News Dchad Misc riffing off BPF
Buddhist Peace Delegation in Colombia,
South America co-led by Linda Ruth Cutts and Sarah Weintraub. Couldn't
find it on the BPF (Buddhist
Peace Fellowship) web site and then when I did
the link to this
story wasn't working. Still isn't in June.
Here's a link to their Columbia
project. They do lots of good work for
the sake of all sentient beings like you and me and the cypress tree. - DC
Friends, Computer access and free time have been hard to come by so far, but we of the delegation wanted to send at least some of our accounts of what has happened so far. Each of us has written about a different meeting or event we had, so that incomplete patchwork that follows is the sum of our efforts. Not necessarily chronological, and possibly to be filled in somewhat later... BOGOTA ORIENTATION
Our first full day in Columbia started with 6:30 zazen in the small hotel conference room. Being so used to living in Cloud Hall, I headed down to the makeshift zendo barefoot with my inflatable pillow-zafu in hand. Linda had set up a traveling altar of wood crafted by the San Quentin BuddhaDharma Sangha. Each of us placed an object on the altar having some personal meaning relating to our intention in participating in this delegation that we shared with the group including statues, photographs and objects from the natural world. After service, we opened our experience together here with a ceremony. For each of the four directions, we bowed and Linda spoke for us, calling on the ancestors to help us embody the qualities of each direction, avowing aloud our intention to be open-hearted, kind and compassionate. Sarah followed each with vivid and passionate descriptions of what we would find to honor and respect in each direction, whose cries we had come to hear.
In one direction, mountains, valleys, rivers, fertile fields, bananas as far as the eye can see, campesinos, Afro-Colombians. In another, the coast, fish, fruit. In another, the indigenous. In another, the cities, the displaced. How much of Colombia can we breathe in in eighteen days? What will we bring back with us in our hearts and minds? How much love and how many tears will we leave behind to enrich the depleting soil growing the African palm for export? How much of our heart will we leave behind?
But, today, before we march forth with open ears and open hearts, something to fill our stomachs: banana, melon, papaya, lula, scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions. With wide eyes and excitement, we leave the hotel headed for the FOR office, giving lots of respect to the cars and buses that whiz by, mindful of the uneven sidewalks. We are greeted with big smiles, hugs and kisses by Janice and Camilla, our first introduction to the exuberant warmth we will be welcomed with as we make our way across this country.
Much to do and talk about today: introductions, history lessons, security protocols, cultural sensitivity, group dynamics and support. We started with illustrated autobiographies sharing how it is we came to be together this day on this delegation at this point in our lives. I took four pages of notes on the history of Colombia, the current situation, and the effects of the policies and operations of the United States government and corporations. We learned more about FOR, the organization facilitating our trip, and the peace presence here. We did a role play where we split up and enacted two different cultures meeting and interacting. We made a list of all of our fears and addressed each one. Fears ranged from giant insects to rape and murder. Some fears were ones Linda pointed out are our lifelong work and practice and are not specific to this particular trip. We discussed ways we can support each other. We delegated different chores such as setting up the zendo daily, coordinator of introductions, housekeeper, coordinator of report writing, and later we added snack keeper. Linda discussed the concept of privilege related to our life as Americans. We talked about how we will introduce ourselves to each group.
It was a long day. We had juice, tea, coffee and snacks. We went out to a neighborhood restaurant for an authentic Colombian lunch and received excellent service from Carlos who was thrilled with the opportunity to practice his English. We had a decadent dinner with fabulous desserts at Crepes and Waffles and all fell gratefully into bed.
The first group we met with was Justapaz, on the morning of April 27. The office was filled with women, and two joined us to share their insight and experience. Justapaz works with the ecclesiastical community. They emphasized a methodology of creating humanitarian programs that arise from the needs of the people, rather than imposing one´s own ideas, a practice that resonates with our intention here in Colombia.
They had an extraordinary number of publications, offering trainings, documenting past cases, etc. I found their insight on faith-based practice very helpful because so many communities draw their strength from their faith, and in the case of the Americas, from studying the Bible.
To work with a foundation of Biblical justification as Justapaz does is to speak the language of the people, and root the (sometimes despairing) struggle in a sense of hope and faith.
FUNDACION PARA VIVIR EL ZEN
On Saturday, April 28, we were warmly welcomed by the practitioners of the Foundation to live Zen Sangha (Buddhist congregation). The group is in the lineage of Kodo Sawaki Roshi and Deshimaru Roshi, and is very strongly influenced by the teachings of San Francisco Zen Center´s founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Our morning included periods of zazen (meditation) and kinhin (walking meditation) as well as a delicious breakfast of Japanese genmai brown rice cereal and homemade bread and jam. We also shared experiences of our collective and personal practices, icluding where, why, and how we began sitting zazen. Though we speak different languages, it was clear that we all understand each other on a very deep level. It was a wonderful experience to sit with them and feel so at home.
On the third day of our delegation we walked up some stairs and entered a small room with pink walls. This was the office of Afrodes, a human rights group that helps displaced Afro-Colombians get back on their feet. They welcomed us, and then began by giving us a condensed version of their people´s struggle starting with the slave trade in the 14th century. In the 1500´s many Africans were kidnapped from their homeland and brought to Colombia. Once here they helped fight alongside other Colombians for independence from Spain, because they were promised freedom if they won. However, after Colombia gained independence they broke their promise and massacred all of the African leaders. It wasn´t until 1851 that they were finally set free. Reparations were given to the slaveholders but not to the slaves, as if to say that the Africans have the same worth as property.
Most Afro-Colombians then moved to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to start a new life. At this time that land was worth nothing to the State, but now it´s more valuable and the Afro-Colombians are being displaced. Multinational corporations were interested in the natural resources of their land. So the Army, in conjunction with paramilitaries, came into the area and displaced between 15,000 and 17,000 people. Some Afro-Colombians came to Bogota and started Afrodes to try to start dialogue between those displaced and the government. The government claimed to take their land because of guerilla living there. The struggle isn´t about guerillas, the Afrodes leaders argued, but about land ownership. Land in Colombia equals power.
The next step that Afrodes is working on is getting the diplaced back to their homes in a safe, effective way. A few Afrodes leaders accompanied us to one of the barrios, poor neighborhoods, where displaced Afro-Colombians now live. As we entered the barrio the street went from pavement to dirt and the houses also deteriorated in quality. We then met with some women crafting hand-made jewelry in an attempt to make a sustainable living. After lunch we took a walk through the barrio. As we walked they explained to us that there is no police presence in the area. So at night it becomes a central area for paramilitaries and drug dealers. Many of the young boys are taken by one of the armed groups and forced to join their ranks. If they flee, their families are killed. What these people need from the international community, especially the U.S., is not military aid, but basic social aid. Electricity, running water, and sustainable amounts of food are things these people struggle to receive on a daily basis. We´ve seen that in Colombia´s past the conflict has not been solved through the use of arms. It must be solved by addressing the root problems of socio-economic injustice.
MAY FIRST MARCH
Today we accompanied our friends in the Red Juvenil de Medellin (Youth Network of Medellin) (our initial meeting with them we´ll describe in a later report) in the International Worker´s Day march. As representatives of Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), we didn´t participate actively in the march but rather walked on the sidewalk to support and acompany our friends.
I asked a Colombian Zen friend who had joined us how many people were in the march. He said that the traditional media would probably report 1,000 and the activists might report 100,000.
The energy was electrifying and many shouts and slogans were heard throughout the widely diverse groups. After a couple hours of marching we saw some rocks being thrown at the police and tear gas was set off. At that point, to be overly cautious, we left the march, took the metro back to the hotel, had lunch, rested, and then processed what we had seen and felt with an internal session of the delegation.
(... out of time for now... more to follow...)
yours, Lotus in Muddy Water Delegation
Subject: Colombia Buddhist Delegation - second report
Sunday, April 29th:
We arrived in Medellín and it seemed like a breath of fresh air after the harrowingly squalid barrios we saw in Bogotá the day before. The bus took us past mostly modest but beautiful colorful homes surrounded by lush green hills. Medellín is about 1/3 the size of Bogotá population wise, but it has its poor barrios clinging to the outskirts of downtown full of displaced people struggling to survive. One of the poor neighborhoods is known as “Comuna Trece” (Community 13). It has massive unemployment, drugs, crime, and active guerrillas and paramilitaries (paramilitaries are basically undercover military doing real dirty work without accountability [FOR editor note: most paramilitaries are army soldiers per se; many operate in coordination with army]). The government headed by President Uribe decided to “retake” Comuna Trece with a vicious and intense wave of violence starting around May 2002. He accused all who lived there of being guerrillas (thus making them legitimate targets for the military and paramilitary), and began burning many homes and threatening many of the residents to leave in 32 hours or else. Not long after, the most major operation in the area called “Operación Orion” brought things to full-scale massacre. Between 2002-2003 about 60-100 people, mostly but not all men, were killed extremely violently, and there were numerous cases of torture. Anyway, today we heard from people (mostly women: the victims’ mothers, wives and daughters) who live or have been displaced from Comuna Trece after experiencing and witnessing the horrors of their loved ones’ deaths. The women were meeting us in a convent outside of their neighborhood for their own safety, as many still receive threats and intimidation. The situation remains difficult - maybe one person is killed now each night instead of, say, 5, as it was in the past, with many forced to flee and be “displaced.”
These women, about 100 in all today, welcomed us with incredible warmth and a wonderful lunch wrapped in banana leaves. The meeting quickly became intense as each came forward with their individual tales about the fate of their loved ones from military and paramilitary violence in the last 10 years. Many of the victims they spoke of seemed like totally innocent poor men caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others were community leaders or activists or merely witnesses willing to speak out. Perhaps some were involved in petty crime, drugs, or gangs – all had been surviving under tough conditions and none deserved the extrajudicial slaughter and torture they received. No explanations were given to surviving family members, just further threats and intimidation. All this is part of the US and President Uribe’s “Plan Colombia” – a huge military infusion attempting to pacify society through state terrorism instead of economic justice, land reform, and fair judicial process for all crimes.
The women spoke of the men and boys and girls they lost. One mom was studying for the ministry, one young girl mistaken for a guerrilla was left to crawl and bleed to death on the street. Others were pulled out of pool halls and brutally tortured, burned, beaten and cut up. These women who spoke also told of having no one left to care for them in their old age and destitution, in addition to the agony of their loved ones’ awful deaths.
They all spoke of the importance of telling their stories in the hope of some accountability and reparations and justice, but also just so they could be heard. They all spoke of their love for the leading nun at this convent, who has helped them survive, physically and emotionally and spiritually. When we left we received smiles and warm hugs from all and I’m sure we all marveled at the love and joy that could still exist in people who have suffered so much. We were greatly impacted by their presence and stories, and will not forget them for sure.
Monday, April 30th:
Monday morning we were taken in our bus to the Asociación Campesina de Antioquia (ACA – The Antioquia Farmers’ Association) office in Medellin. As with where we’ve been so far, it was in a non-descript building with no signs or external indications of what was transpiring inside. We saw videos and talked with organizers and displaced people’s leaders about the dynamics of internal displacement. Something like 3-4 million people, 10% of the Colombian population, have been displaced within the country. Most displace from rural areas for the cities, although displacement also occurs from cities to the countryside and within cities’ neighborhoods as well. Some displace several times as they discover that either the armed groups they are fleeing or new situations drive them away from their new homes. Displaced people move to the only available space – the outskirts of the city and settlements gradually develop, always in extreme poverty and often disconnected from utilities and water.
We went to a displaced settlement with community leaders and ate a delicious lunch in a cinder block house with a partial roof. Leaders described many of the challenges of their new city life here and the lack of implementation and enforcement of laws guaranteeing displaced people’s rights. Hunger and unemployment is much worse in the city for them – one leader described how their rural life had always sustained them, even large families, but in the jungle of concrete that is their new city life, they can barely eat, much less buy the notebooks needed to attend the “free” schools. We were amazed to learn that the poverty we saw there was a “2” on the Colombian stratus system, which ranges from 1 (or 0) to 6. One delegate commented that our perspective on the situation here (because of our working environment, something we’ve discussed at length) was evident in how livable we felt this dirt-poor settlement was, compared to others we had seen. You know your point of reference is unusual when a cinderblock house project with no sources of income and a few tin roofs seems not so bad.
Subject: Colombia Buddhist Delegation - third report
An update from the Lotus in Muddy Water Delegation to Colombia’s Peace Movement.
The whirlwind is over, at least externally. At one o’clock this morning we rolled into the colonial, cobblestone town of Villa de Leyva, and this morning we relax and deepen into the three-day retreat with which we’ll close this time in Colombia. Speaking our experiences and reflection, and trying to integrate them together, but mostly just being silent together, in meditation, in movement, in creative writing, to try to make sense of this profound and profoundly complex experience.
It’s been hard to get chances to update you all, and we’re running out of time, so here are some reflections from some of us on at least some of the things we’ve done since the last update. Its sloppiness is a function of how completely engaged and scheduled we have been!
CENTRO ZEN MONTAÑA DE SILENCIO (Medellín)
Visiting the Mountain of Silence Zen Center was such a joy! We sat and ate some of the best Colombian food yet. We introduced ourselves and learned that many people in the Zen group are individually involved in working for human rights, education, advocacy, and peace in this conflict. Some very creatively, like one Sangha member who teaches music in the poorest communities and watches the joy, liberation, and peace this brings the children, spread through their families, and beyond. The head of practice Juan Felipe was very moved to have us there – he had had contact with San Francisco Zen Center, home of many of the delegates, decades ago as he was starting his practice, and it was the completion of a circle for him to have us visit his temple. We stayed late talking and laughing and sharing our lives and our practice. More Dharma friends! Some of them joined us as we traveled in Medellín throughout our time there, and it was a real blessing to have their company and support.
RED JUVENIL DE MEDELLIN (Medellin Youth Network)
We met with the Red Juvenil, a pacifist youth group of conscientious objectors in Medellin who began organizing seventeen years ago. I was very moved by the strength of their collective will. By saying no to the war, they are living and running a very different kind of revolution. An unarmed counter-culture, they spread their message of resistance to the youth of Colombia through art, music, dance, and street theatre. By saying no, they are living on the edge of society, limiting their options in life, as everyone who is eligible to serve in the military but does not cannot work and will not be able to graduate from the university. I was very inspired by the union of their vision for a peaceful Colombia with their expression of it through nonviolent actions of creativity. They are reaching out to the world of youth with great energy and passion, with a strong voice of love, and the will to live in a world where one can make a choice to say no to violence.
RUTA PACIFICA DE MUJERES (Women’s Peaceful Path)
A poster on the wall read: “Vamos Mujer: Por una vida digna.” “Let’s go woman: For a dignified life.” The organization has operated for eleven years in nine regions of Colombia. Their values are anti-militarism, non-violence, and a politically negotiated peace. They are known for their use of colors to represent intentions and ideas: orange for resistance, white for justice, blue for reparations, black to mourn victims, green for hope, lilac for feminism, yellow for truth.
In our group introduction, I shared a quote that says: “Sharing sorrows halves the sorrow, sharing joy doubles the joy.” And so we did. We listened with our hearts and minds to stories of displacements, false accusations of guerilla involvement, murder, threats, and massacres. And we shared their relief and gratitude for the organization helping them to find their voice, find support, and offer a nurturing place to grow. “Ruta Pacifica saved my life,” one woman said. One woman is running for public office. May she be safe. (Many opposition candidates are threatened and murdered.) Another woman came to Ruta to feel human. “We come to talk about our pain and to work on our fears together. To identify what’s going on, to feel supported, strong, alive, and part of the country. To feel raised up in our own houses... We are awoken on the road to resolution.”
LA UNION (a settlement within the Comunidad de Paz de San Jose de Apartado)
(Ed. Note: The “Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó” is a nonviolent community that opts out of the conflict by demanding that all armed actors stay out of its boundaries. It consists of a few settlements in the vicinity of Apartadó in the Urabá region, including San Josesito, a displacement community formed a couple of years ago after State forces violated the Peace Community demand and built a police post in the town of San Jose, which had served as the community’s hub. We spent one night in San Josesito and two nights in La Union.)
Our plan was to get a good early morning start on our two-hour trek up the mountain from San Josesito to La Unión. But nature had other plans for us and decided to rain all night, flooding the river we would have to cross the next day. So we waited until around noon for the water to drop and then loaded up the horses and mules and hit the road. When we arrived at our destination, it felt deserted, because most of the people in the community were out tending their fields and wouldn’t be back until four or five. So we met with one of the community leaders and were given a brief history of the settlement and their struggle for peace. The next morning we woke up to the wonderful vibes of Vallenato, a Colombian style of music you hear everywhere you go. Then after breakfast we took a walk around the community. We walked through fields of cacao, bananas, and yucca, the three principle crops of the community. We then walked up to an outlook overlooking the community, and a few of the campesinos (farmers) told us their sad stories of struggle with the armed groups. After lunch a few of the delegates accompanied by some of the children of the community took a hike to the local river where there is a water hole to play in. After a few hours of water tag and rock painting, it started to rain and we decided to head back. That afternoon we met with another community leader who gave us a more in-depth account of La Union’s history. Unfortunately, the next morning it was already time to pack up the mules and head back down the mountain. Nonetheless, I’m extremely grateful for our time with the community. For people with so little, they share a lot, showing us once again that Bodhisattvas exist in every corner of the globe.
Our trip has not left us time to record it, and much of it feels unrecordable – it’s hard to expresss what’s actually happened here, but we know that it has transformed us. We know that we will keep looking for ways to share this experience.
I will mention briefly anyway the stops and meetings that we have not had a chance to write more about:
UN HIGH COMMISSIONER ON HUMAN RIGHTS (Bogota)
This event was a very interesting balance to some of the more radically active and grassroots organizations we have met with, and it brought up a lot of reflection in our group about the various kinds of working for peace. We were given a translated version of the 25 or so page Human Rights report for 2006. The office is clear about ongoing human rights concerns, and is at the same time in a series of complex and sensitive politically and financially-supportive relationships that give it both substantial power and certain limitations of expression. We felt both of these aspects in our informative meeting.
ACOOC (Conscientious Objector’s Association) (Bogota)
Over dinner one night, two young people spoke with us about their organization that worked on draft resistance and legalizing Conscientious Objector (CO) status, which Colombia does not recognize. They talked about the complications economic class poses to the draft, the ease with which wealthier people can bribe their way out of it, and about the harassment and even torture that CO’s can face. In addition to the above, ACOOC discussed the issue of how without proof of military service, their employment and educational future is extremely limited. Recruitment by illegal armed groups is also widespread, and ACOOC works to show young people alternatives to that as well.
COMUNA 13 (Medellin)
A group of human rights lawyers facilitated a meeting for us with a group of women from the poor barrio called Comuna 13, where there has been incredible violence and a targeted military operation. This meeting was extremely powerful and for many of the delegates was the most intense piece of the trip. One by one, women, many of them clearly traumatized, recounted their unspeakable losses of children, husbands, husbands and children, multiple children, life-changing injuries, and more, all of which have taken place with the complete impunity of the perpetrators. We cried and cried with them, encouraged and deeply supported by the facilitator, who saw more than perhaps any of us how deeply healing the sharing, listening, and empathy was. We promised as we drove away in the rain that we would not forget them, that we would share their stories.
MADRES DE LA CANDELARIA (Mothers of the Candelaria) (Medellin)
A similar meeting was with a group of women and men who hold a weekly vigil in downtown Medellin, carrying cards with the faces of their disappeared loved ones and holding banners with the faces of many more disappeared. One by one these women and men also told us their stories of the disappearances of their loved ones, abducted by all of the various armed groups. The pain of their unknowing was on top of the pain of their loss, and while the political perspectives in the group varied, they agreed about the lack of victim’s rights in Colombia, and all prayed that one day they would at the very least see some remains of their loved ones. One story told with some joy as a “success” was not that a loved one had been recovered alive, but just that finally the truth of the situation had come out. Again, their pain and stories broke our hearts, and again we felt at least a small measure of the healing power of listening.
17th BRIGADE OF THE COLOMBIAN ARMY (Apartado)
We were honored to be received by the second in command of the notorious 17th Brigade, the army unit responsible for the territory of the Peace Community. The colonel and the captain in charge of human rights shared with us their perspectives in a friendly meeting in which our differences were obvious but our shared humanity was too. We were assured that Human Rights training is a rigorous part of the troops’ training, and were given a copy of a human rights procedures booklet that each soldier is obligated to carry.
US EMBASSY (Bogota)
We spoke with two US diplomats in charge of human rights and spoke about the complexity of the Colombian conflict and the US role in it. We were happy with how openly they received us, and in a cordial meeting we were reassured that they have various procedures in place to monitor human rights and exclude human rights violators from receiving US aid. This differed somewhat from other accounts we had heard, and contrasted to the deep dislike of US Colombia policy that we heard from many of the victims we spoke with.
CANADIAN EMBASSY (Bogota)
In a quite different meeting with the Canadian embassy, we got another perspective on the diplomatic world of Colombian human rights. Not contributing military aid and committed to a negotiated peace, and aware of the complexities of development and multinational corporations, the Canadian embassy told us about their projects in the country and asked for details about the latest from San Jose de Apartado.
CARLOS FRANCO, DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE OF COLOMBIAN VICE-PRESIDENCY
We spoke with the highest-ranking human rights officer in Colombia about some of the many concerns we had heard raised in our two weeks of speaking with people “on the ground.” He was very knowledgeable and told us many times in many ways that progress was being made, systems were being put into place, and that though there was long way to go, the Colombian Government was committed to the process.
THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT.
We regret not offering you more detailed updates from our trip: it is a whole universe. But we thank you for supporting us in the many ways that you have and look forward to sharing more deeply our experience when we are back in the U.S. and Canada.
Sincerely, Lotus in Muddy Water
|Go to What's New|