Some 25 religious leaders and 600 Christian congregants urged the two presidential candidates to seriously reconsider the current U.S. policy in Colombia, through a letter sent on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004. The letter, which specified a three-point strategy to maintain peace in the highly volatile nation, ultimately urged the two candidates to commit to a long-term strategy based on social improvements rather than short-term military strategies.
Colombia is one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a religious leader, promoter of peace, or human rights defender. That danger is consistently brought to light as astonishing numbers of religious and civil society leaders are assassinated, threatened and detained, the leaders wrote.
The suffering of the Colombian churches and their call to us for assistance and solidarity compel us to appeal to you to seriously consider recommendations for a new U.S. policy toward Colombia that are outlined below.
The three point strategy, as explained in the letter, called for: A greater commitment to a negotiated, political path towards peace; Increased attention to social concerns as a preferred long-term strategy to sustainable peace; Humane drug policies that meet the needs of those most directly impacted, including an increase in drug treatment and prevention programs to curtail drug use in the United States.
The letter took note of the plan Columbia program to decrease drug production in the nation through military pressure. The U.S. has already spent more then $3 billion on this plan, which was adopted during the Clinton-administration to halt the nearly $32 billion-a-year-flow of cocaine to the U.S. from Colombia.
The United States can make a significant contribution to the long-term sustainability of peace in Colombia by shifting the focus of its aid to that country toward a greater emphasis on effective social development, said Lutheran World Relief President Katherine Wolford.
Such developmental funding, she said, would acknowledge the work of churches, local governments and other civil institutions that are working together for lasting alternatives to violence and the inequality and poverty that sustain it.
The letter added: The conflict in Colombia and involvement of peasant farmers in coca production is deeply rooted in social and economic exclusion of many of its citizens. Many of the areas most in conflict have little or no social infrastructure or viable economic options.
Strategies that rely primarily on military aid or fumigation, and provide only limited social investment in local communities, will not create lasting change.
Essentially, the letter reminded President George Bush and John Kerry that churches are an effective outlet for change and improvement.
We are grateful, the letter reads, for the attention provided to refugees and internationally displaced persons through U.S. aid, and see this as a positive contribution of U.S. policy toward Colombia. Yet much more remains to be done.
We call for a greater proportion of U.S. aid to Colombia to be dedicated to investment in sustainable development, humanitarian aid and the defense of human rights.
Leaders who signed onto the letter include: the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine; the Rev. James Winkler, general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church; the Most. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, USA; the Rev. Kenneth Gavin, S.J., national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, USA; Bruce Wilkinson, senior vice president of the International Programs Group of World Vision; and Marie Dennis, director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns.