Phil Hart came to speak to us today about his experience with Christian Peacemakers in Columbia. They are, essentially, unarmed bodyguards for oppressed people. The theory is that humans often are willing to cheat and steal from the poor and less powerful people if they think no one is watching or that they can get away with it, but they are less inclined to do it if there are witnesses. So, the Christian Peacemakers go to the unlikely corners of the earth in order to serve as witnesses. In Columbia, far back into the middle of the country is Las Pavas. The people who have made their home on that land were relatively undisturbed until Pablo Escobar moved into the surrounding lands and confiscated it. He was a power all unto himself in a time when power was defined by the size of the army you commanded. When Pablo Escobar was killed, the Government took over the land. The Columbian law does protect the farmers who live there, but a palm oil plantation wanted the land and moved onto it. The government did not enforce the peasants ownership rights, instead they protected the palm oil company owners. They cleared the land and pushed the peasants off again.
On April 4, 2011, the local farmers moved onto the land. It was orchestrated to be witnessed by the American Christian Peacemakers and to have such publicity that the palm oil plantation owners could not stop them. However, by the spring of 2012, waiting until the farmers were fully invested in their crops… the publicity had died down and the witnesses away, the plantation owners came in and cut down the farmer’s crops. Homesteads were burned. The local government authorities did nothing to stop them.
Incidentally, the Columbian farmers are considered internal economic refugees. They are ineligible for refugee status in the U.S. which is only for political refugees.