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BY REV. SHANNAN VANCE-OCAMPO

May 19, 2021
Protests in Colombia are heating up, but they have old and complicated roots, with much U.S. policy to blame.
Photo credit: Federico Rios | The New York Times
Colombia Is in Turmoil. Biden Must Push It Towards Dialogue. -via The New York Times

Our neighbor to the south is on the precipice of a return to a low-level civil war or the dawn of a new day of social engagement.
Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
    and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
–Psalm 37: 1-4
The news of late has been overwhelming, and so I’d like to draw your attention to some that is near and dear to my heart: the spiraling situation in Colombia, South America - of uprisings, high rates of COVID-19 infection, and increasing police brutality against Black and Indigenous members of Colombian society. 
 
I always tell people that the political and social history in Colombia, South America, is PhD-level geopolitics (so don’t feel bad if it confuses you!). It has some striking similarities to the Middle East: children are oftentimes taught from an early age to have hatred towards “the other,” emotionality is hyper-charged, unaddressed trauma is a big part of decision-making, it’s not about what you think it’s about (in Colombia the main issue is land and resource extraction, not drugs or Pablo Escobar), and the relational challenges are a toxic mix of class, race, religiosity and generations – making them very hard to solve. 
 
The biggest similarity is that decades of U.S. foreign policy, from both Democratic and Republican administrations, carries much of the blame, and big-money donors in both parties are making huge profits off of other people’s misery. 
 
What I just wrote are big sweeping generalizations, because there isn’t enough space in this short piece to explain the history of the conflict in Colombia. Like I said at the beginning, you could get a PhD on the conflict in Colombia and still be slightly confused or only be an “expert” on one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up the whole. Adam Isacsons’s writing in The New York Times is a great starting place, as are the resources at the Washington Office for Latin America, where he works, and their partner, the Latin America Working Group.

I have been working in Colombia on human rights for over 15 years, am married to a Colombian, and plan to live the last part of my life there. To say that my heart has been breaking these last few weeks is an understatement. To say that our family is polarized is an understatement. To say that there are generations of trauma in every family in Colombia that have barely been addressed is an understatement. At the same time, you cannot overstate how much of the absolute mess in Colombia is the result of mostly U.S. and other “Western” countries' interventions, mostly predicated on fossil fuel and mineral extraction and greed. As my husband says all the time, “There are no poor countries, only bad leaders who make their countries poor.” 
 
If only we as a world could stop seeing the Creation and the people, communities, animals and ecosystems that live in it as a commodity to be traded and extracted, we would do so much better. Extractive economic practices are at the root of so much suffering and militarization in this world, and they may possibly be the undoing of us all. For me, there is no higher calling as a person of faith than to struggle against these sins. In this struggle, I honor my commitments to the God of Creation, the Jesus of Peace, and the Spirit of the human, plant, animal and ecosystem neighbors I dwell among. 
 
I pray it is the same for you.
I invite you to take some time for learning. Here are two excellent recent podcast episodes that do a great job at explaining what is going on in Colombia: 
The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
    but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
    but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
    when he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
    for the Lord holds us by the hand.
I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
They are ever giving liberally and lending,
    and their children become a blessing.
Depart from evil, and do good;
    so you shall abide forever.
For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his faithful ones.

–Psalm 37: 21-28
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