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Colombian Mennonite Church calls for support for member
October 15, 2008
AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is supporting Colombian Mennonite churches as they respond to political accusations against Hector Mondragón, a Colombian Mennonite economist and activist.
The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo alleged on Aug. 29 that an e-mail to Mondragón had been found on a computer belonging to a slain leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the nation’s largest left-wing armed group. Mondragón denies receiving the e-mail or having any contact with Raul Reyes, the rebel leader.
The Mennonite Church of Colombia (IMCOL) and Justapaz, the church's peace organization, have denounced the allegation as "slander" that could make Mondragón a target for assassination by Colombia's right-wing paramilitary groups.
Alix Lozano, president of IMCOL, and Jenny Neme, director of Justapaz, wrote in an open letter, "We hope with this to emphasize our position of support for brother Mondragón for the peace of anyone or any group who might have been confused with such news. At the same time, we ask for support both at the national and international level to defend his good name and to ensure his security.”
Because of the allegations, Mondragón canceled an MCC-sponsored speaking tour in the United States in order to clear his name in Colombia. MCC is providing $4,000 to help Mondragón with legal costs and other expenses, and Colombian Mennonites are also providing financial support, according to Daryl Yoder-Bontrager, MCC's director of Latin American and Caribbean programs.
Mondragón had planned to speak in the U.S. against the proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Lozano and Neme noted in the open letter that Colombian leaders who support the free trade agreement have traveled to the United States while Mondragón could not.
"[T]here is an evident lack of fair play in the democratic debate surrounding this issue," they wrote.
The letter was written through an extensive discernment process within the church community, according to Bonnie Klassen, MCC's Colombia representative. IMCOL led the process, and Klassen and another MCC staff member, Janna Hunter-Bowman, participated in it.
According to Klassen, the risk to Mondragón is based in part on his decades of experience as an advocate for human rights, especially among indigenous people, peasant farmers and Afro-Colombians. In 1977, Mondragón was arrested and tortured because of his political views, and paramilitary groups have repeatedly issued death threats against him.
Thousands of people are killed and kidnapped every year in Colombia's armed conflict, which has devastated the country for 60 years. The violence has displaced an estimated 3.5 million people within Colombia, and more than 1 million have fled the country as refugees. Recent reports indicate an internal displacement rate of 1,500 people per day this year, which is the highest rate since 1985.
Anabaptist churches in Colombia, which include IMCOL and Brethren in Christ and Mennonite Brethren churches, aim to build bridges among diverse sectors of society and open doors for dialogue between those involved in the armed conflict. They work closely with other churches to help victims of violence, strengthen respect for human rights and promote peace and restorative justice.
According to Yoder-Bontrager, MCC's role in Colombia is to support the missions of Anabaptist churches.
“In a situation of much violence and injustice, Colombian Mennonites sometimes take actions that put them at risk as they attempt to live out their calling to bring peace and reconciliation to the country," Yoder-Bontrager said. "There are times when workers from outside the country backed by an international organization like MCC can lend a measure of credibility, and even security, to people who are putting themselves at risk as they work to gain more justice."