Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Urgent Action Requested from our partners in ministry of the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowhsip: 

Justice for murdered land rights defender and his community

Yesterday we received an urgent communication from the Rev. Jaira Barriga of the Presbytery of the North Coast in Colombia concerning the murder on April 12, 2013, of a young man, Narcisco Enrique Teheran Mejia.  His murder followed a series of death threats and paramilitary operations in an area called El Tamarindo in the municipality of Galapa, near the city of Barranquilla.  Mr. Teheran was the son of a land restitution activist and was shot pointblank in his face while sleeping in his home.


The Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (IPC) has been supporting this community for some time in their process of land restitution.  This community is comprised of internally displaced persons from a variety of regions who are working to regain their land and stay together in the safety of the zone of El Tamarindo.  This community has been together since 2001 and includes over 135 forcibly displaced families.  Beginning on January 28, 2013 a paramilitary group called “El Cartel de la Costa” has been carrying out intimidation, evictions and threats to these families.   Homes have been burned to the ground, crops have been destroyed and community leaders have been threatened.   Mr. Teheran lost his life last week as part of this systematic and increasing project of threats to the community of El Tamarindo.

Our response in Colombia:

We have accompaniers who are based in Barranquilla for the month of April.  Two days ago they visited the El Tamarindo community to offer their solidarity and support, alongside leaders from the Presbytery of the North Coast.  They visited with Mr. Teheran’s grieving family and community.  They reported that while in El Tamarindo they saw bulldozers entering the town, presumably to inflict even greater acts of aggression and destruction upon that community.  While there the bulldozers began their work of destroying one farmer’s land.  Our accompaniers continued to talk to leaders and take photographs of the destruction.  They report that a Colombian Army official ran across the field to tell them to stop what they were doing.  They identified themselves as U.S. citizens and members of the PC(U.S.A.).  We give thanks for their bravery and ministry of accompaniment in this important time.   Our accompaniers wrote these words about their time in the community and the attempted intimidation they faced while accompanying that community:  “All of the actors in the complex dynamic in the struggle for land were present:  the thuggish paramilitary wielding a machete and a few of his cronies, the local police, at least 8 armed military carrying assault weapons, the spokesperson for the “presumed" land owner trying to appropriate the disputed parcel of land, the land owner by the law of usage who together with his campesinos had worked the land for more than 10 years, and a grief stricken father whose son had received a bullet through his head execution style only days before.  And we were there, our delegation of four Presbyterians, there to bear witness and to stand in solidarity with the farmers.”

Thank you so much for your immediate attention to this urgent action that is a direct request from our ministry partners in Colombia. 

Please share this action alert widely through your social media and personal contacts.  Please respond to this action alert to let us know that you have reached out to these persons or with any questions you might have.

Please join us in prayer for our sisters and brothers in the El Tamarindo community and for the grieving family of Mr. Teheran.

Please take the following steps immediately:

Write to the following persons, letting them know that you are a U.S. citizen (and name any other titles, leadership and membership you have in organizations such as the Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship).   You may write these letters in English/Spanish.
·       Tell them that you demand an immediate investigation into the deteriorating situation in El Tamarindo
·       Demand immediate protective measures to be put in place for the IPP families in El Tamarindo
·       Request a response to your letter detailing the actions they are undertaking on behalf of the community of El Tamarindo

There is a sample letter below for your use.

Send a letter to the United States Embassy

ATTN: The Honorable P. Michael McKinley
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia
Fax to: 011-571-275-4600 (this is the direct dial from the US to fax to Colombia)
(faxing is THE most effective way to get the attention of the Embassy)

Presidente de la República (President of Colombia)
Casa de Nariño Carrera 8 No. 7 -26 edificio administrativo calle 7 no. 6-54 Bogotá D.C.
Colombia- conmutador (571) 5629300

Vicepresidente de la República (Vice-President of Colombia)
Carrera 8 No.7-57 Bogotá D.C. Teléfonos (571) 4442120, 4442122

Ministro del Interior (Minister of the Interior/Colombia)
Carrera 8° no. 7 - 83 Bogotá D.C.
(571) 2427400

Fiscal General de la Nación (Justice Department/Colombia)
Diagonal 22B No. 52-01 (ciudad salitre) Bogotá D.C.
conmutador: 57(1) 5702000 – 4149000

Sample Letter

Ambassador P. Michael McKinley
Carrera 45 No. 24B-27
Bogotá, D.C. Colombia 

Dear Ambassador McKinley,

I am deeply concerned by the murder of our brother in Christ, Narciso Enrique Teherán Mejia on April 12, 2013 in the town of El Tamarindo, Colombia in the municipality of Galapa.  Mr. Teherán was murdered by unknown persons as he slept in his home in a community of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), where his father was a land right’s activist.

I strongly urge you to direct officials from our Embassy to prioritize the immediate investigation of this case and to demand that the Colombian government conduct a thorough and fair investigation into this murder. I also ask that you direct officials from our Embassy to call upon the Colombian government to protect Mr. Teheran’s remaining family, colleagues and community members.  Finally, I encourage you to press for an investigation into security and development policies on Colombia’s northern coast that leave small farmers vulnerable to violence.

Our church partners report that Mr. Teherán was a campesino working for people’s rights. He was not doing anything illegal or untoward. He was a leader working on farming projects with fellow farmers who have been displaced by violence.

Presbyterians have engaged in ministry with our sisters and brothers in Colombia for over 150 years. We support the ministries of our partners in the face of the violence and instability within their country. We pray and work for an end to the violence and a just peace for all Colombians.  Since 2004 our denomination, of which I am a part has been engaged in a program on nonviolent community accompaniment with our church partners in the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. 

As part of that program, two United States citizens serving as accompaniers visited the El Tamarindo community and Mr. Teheran’s grieving family on Friday April 19, 2013.  While there they encountered members of the Colombian armed forces assisting with the forcible displacement of the El Tamarindo community.  They witnessed bulldozers in the area and were told they were not allowed to take photographs.  Nevertheless they visited the community and did take photographic evidence of what is happening in that community.  It is concerning to me that members of my church, and who are United States citizens serving on behalf of our shared ministry were treated in this fashion as a response to their ministry of accompaniment and solidarity in the name of Jesus Christ. 

I invite you to join us in this work by taking the steps outlined above in response to the murder of Narciso Enrique Teherán Mejia and the urgent threat his community is under today. I look forward to hearing the steps you take in this matter.

Respectfully yours,