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Presbyterians tell U.S. to end support of Colombian police, military

Statement from 24 signatories follows violent crackdown on peaceful protesters

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The Colombian flag flies over a building in Bogotá, Colombia. (Photo by Flavia Carpio/Unsplash)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a grassroots Presbyterian group are two of two dozen organizations calling for the suspension of security aid to Colombia and an end to the violent repression of protests in the South American nation.

“The daily deluge from Colombian streets and countryside of horrific images and videos of abuses, and the myriad credible reports about the Colombian government’s systematic acts of repression, have demonstrated not only a continuing but an escalating attack on the core of human dignity,” the statement from the 24 signatories said. “These images, accounts, and reports demonstrate a refusal of Colombian state agents to acknowledge some of the most basic and fundamental rights of the Colombian citizenry.”

A paragraph later, the statement continues, “Because the Colombian government appears dead set on continuing and escalating the repression against mostly nonviolent and peaceful demonstrators, we call on the government of the United States of America to immediately stop all police and military assistance and arms and crowd control equipment sales to Colombia.”

The Rev. Dr. Valdir Franca, coordinator of Presbyterian World Mission‘s office for Latin America and the Caribbean, said, “there have been ongoing campaigns of solidarity, support and advocacy organized by several ecumenical organisms in Latin America and the Presbyterian Church of Colombia. These conversations that include the Reformed Presbyterian family have been helpful to learn how the churches and civil organizations believe the outside communities can come alongside them, even more in this time of difficulties.”

Signed by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, a grassroots organization of Presbyterians, the statement is the latest from the church in response to a crisis that started in April when Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez proposed a tax reform bill that would have increased the cost of necessities such as food and utilities. Citizens took to the streets to protest and were met by an overwhelming police force, which the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy for the PC(USA), denounced in a joint statement last month.

They wrote, “The government has opted to militarize its reaction to the current manifestations of the people’s profound discontent.

“We call on the government of President Iván Duque, asking him to immediately halt the abuses and communicate the responsibility of the state forces to respect the fundamental rights of the people, including the right to protest, and to set a space for true dialogue with the groups that participate in the national strike.”

Though the tax bill was withdrawn, anger over the brutal police and military response remained. A May 27 report in The New York Times detailed incidents of police clubbing protesters who were already in custody and shooting a 17-year-old in the head as he attempted to flee.

“The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has a long relationship of mutual support with the Presbyterian Church in Colombia through our accompaniment work,” said the Revs. Aric Clark and abby mohaupt, co-moderators of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. “Based on that relationship, we wholeheartedly support the recent calls for increasing international pressure on the government of Colombia to end human rights abuses occurring there through violent repression of protests. We deplore the unbridled use of force against civilians in Colombia and we see very clearly how similar dynamics are playing out in the United States with the increasing militarization of police and crafting of legislation aiming at delegitimizing and even criminalizing protest.

“A nation that makes peaceful protest impossible makes violent insurrection inevitable. We urge people of conscience to call on the governments of the United States and Colombia to cease attacking protestors and begin prosecuting the human rights violations of their own security forces.”

In addition to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the 24 signatories to the statement include Amnesty International, the Latin American Working Group, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, School of the Americas Watch, and the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

The statement ends imploring the Colombian government to address the reasons people protested in the first place.

It says, “We urge the Colombian government to end the security force violence, ensure accountability for the abuses, search for the missing, and establish a meaningful dialogue to address the underlying economic and racial inequality and denials of basic human rights that gave rise to the protests.”


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