Remembering Cristhian

Remembering Cristhian

A year ago today, I met the Aragon family in the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero in Buenaventura.  I learned that they had been threatened for standing up against the forced recruitment of young people into the paramilitary groups that are terrorising the region. Doris and Ezekiel had recently returned to their home, a wooden shack built on stilts over the sea, after spending a year in exile with their 4 children because of the threats.

That evening, their 17 year old son, went out with his mates, against the advice of his parents, and never came home. Cristhian Aragon was tricked into meeting with members of a paramilitary group, where he was beaten up.  He was then brutally murdered, shot several times in the back whilst trying to escape his captors.

I met the family again that evening, at the hospital where Cristhian’s body lay on a gurney in a courtyard; that sight will stay with me forever!

The family were quickly moved to a safe house, but the threats continue.  Just 10 days ago, Doris received a phone call from one of the killers, saying that she will ‘pay with her life’ and claiming to have friends in the police who will find her. He blames her for ruining his plans and thanks to her, 3 of his best men are in prison!

This was a shocking experience for me, but these threats, acts of terror and violence, and forced displacements are common place all over Colombia.  Cristhian represents so many others who have been the victims of injustice, forced displacement and violence, many for economic or political gain.

I will always remember Cristhian: his death and his family’s stance against the violence impacted me and changed me.  I want to stand up for justice, and stand with the people of Puente Nayero as they remember their victims.  The Humanitarian Space is a haven of peace in a city of terror; if Cristhian had stayed in that space, he would probably be alive today.  The people in that neighbourhood won my heart, their courage and strength are inspirational.

 

Where is the blood?

Where is the blood?

The Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero is the response of the Afro-Colombian people who live there to the violence that had pervaded their neighbourhood and homes.  Over 300 families live in the main street and 2 parallel ‘bridge streets’ which are on land reclaimed from the sea using rubbish and debris.

Before April last year, they felt that there was no hope.  The presence of the gangs (who have formed out of the paramilitary forces) brought fear on a daily basis; many of the residents were threatened, some were the victims of extortion in order to be able to continue running their small businesses, some just disappeared, some were tortured and killed within earshot of their neighbours who could do nothing about it.  The aim of these gangs is to intimidate the residents to such an extent that they leave this prime land (more about that in a future blog).

Yesterday one man, Don Pedro, told me that when someone just died in the community, one child said “Where is the blood?”  This child had not seen a natural death; children were so used to seeing violence and bloody deaths, that they didn’t know what a natural death was!

However, since the declaration of Puente Nayero as a Humanitarian Space, under the protection of precautionary measures of the Inter-American Courts for Human Rights, there has not been one death in the ‘Space’.

People feel like they can breathe again, they feel safe, there is a calm undertone in the community.  They can go about their daily lives with a measure of security.  The presence of the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace, and international accompaniers, gives this community protection. That is why I am so glad to be here; my presence gives them security too.

Hopefully, there will be no more blood shed in Puente Nayero and other communities will follow their lead too.

Gearing up for an adventure

Just over a week to go and so much to do. I travel to Bogota on Sunday next week.  In an ideal world, I would like to see ALL my friends before I leave, but that’s probably not going to happen.  Things I must do include ‘buy malaria tablets’, download some music onto ipod, make sure I have all the emergency contact numbers and insurance details somewhere safe, get some currency – US dollars and …… what is the Colombian currency again? Oh yes, pesos.  £1 is about 4,000 pesos. Hmm -won’t be carrying many coins around then!

So, yes, my adventure starts on Sunday, and at the moment, most of it is unknown.  I am going to be volunteering with Comision Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (Inter-church Commission for Justice and Peace),  or JyP as I will refer to them.  If you met Father Alberto Franco when he was in the UK last year, you will know of the brilliant work that they are doing with vulnerable and displaced communities.  So, I will be doing whatever is needed to support their work, including travelling to the communities to ‘accompany’ them and give them visibility and profile.  Hence the blog!!  Their stories need to be told – getting their message out to the world is what will keep them safe and change their circumstances.

While I am there, I will also be supporting them practically too – working with a school or a women’s group and I am really looking forward to getting immersed into their lives.  I know I will miss everyone here so much and it will be hard in so many ways, but it’s a great opportunity to make a difference.

So please follow my adventures and share it with others who may be interested.  I have also joined Twitter  @ColombiaJill so follow me there too for brief updates.