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Last Updated:4/6/01
Letter from 38 representatives to President Andrés Pastrana about the San José de Apartadó peace community, March 30, 2001
March 30, 2001

President Andres Pastrana Arango
Republica de Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Santafe de Bogota, Colombia

Dear President Pastrana,

We write to you out of concern for the recent attack against members of the civilian population of San Jose de Apartado, Antioquia, and our fear of further imminent attacks. On March 5, a group of armed men burned houses and threatened members of the community as well as representatives of international non-governmental organizations. This attack occurred two weeks after a Congressional delegation including Representatives Jim McGovern and Jan Schakowsky visited this community. This delegation described to you their tremendous respect for this community and its leaders and the importance of the "Peace Communities" as an example of civil society organizing for peace in the midst of the conflict. The delegation remains committed to maintaining regular contact with the community. During their time in Colombia, the delegation also expressed their concerns directly to the Command of the XVII Brigade of the Colombian Armed Forces that they have not provided adequate protection to the community.

Because of its strategic location, the area surrounding San Jose de Apartado has been the site of violent confrontation, with the presence of the Colombian army, paramilitaries and guerrillas. After suffering two massacres in 1996, on March 23, 1997, the community declared itself a "Peace Community," meaning their land would be neutral and solely occupied by unarmed civilians. Sadly, since the foundation of the Peace Community, more than 80 people from San Jose de Apartado have been murdered, without a single thorough investigation or guilty party brought to justice.

According to reports, the gunmen came to the community on March 5th from an area that had just been patrolled by members of the Colombian Army's XVII Brigade. Soldiers from this brigade have reportedly been patrolling with known paramilitaries and have allegedly threatened community members. Representatives of Peace Brigades International (PBI), who maintain a permanent presence in San Jose, were informed by the Defense Ministry that travel to the area was not advisable between March 5th and 11th. This sequence of events suggests that the military anticipated the armed incursion and yet took insufficient steps to prevent it, despite the fact that there is only one access road to the community.

This latest attack proves that previous measures have not been sufficient to protect the lives of the villagers of San Jose de Apartado. Stronger measures need to be taken to guarantee the security of the people of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado and that of the non-governmental organizations working with them, in particular the Intercongregational Commission of Justice and Peace and PBI.

We urge you to take specific and immediate measures to clarify the events leading to this attack and previous murders and attacks, to establish clear accountability and see that those responsible are brought to trial and punished.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We recognize the important steps your government has taken thus far to protect human rights throughout Colombia. Please know that we appreciate and support your commitment to peace and stability in Colombia.

Sincerely,

James P. McGovern (D-MA)
Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL)
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
Henry Waxman (D-CA)
John Joseph Moakley (D-MA)
Benjamin Gilman (R-NY)
Pete Stark (D-CA)
James A. Leach (R-IA)
Nita Lowey (D-NY)
Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ)
William D. Delahunt (D-MA)
Christopher Shays (R-CT)
Ed Pastor (D-AZ)
Connie Morella (R-MD)
Sam Farr (D-CA)
Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Lane Evans (D-IL)
Jim McDermott (D-WA)
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)
Tom Sawyer (D-OH)
Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY)
Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH)
George Miller (D-CA)
Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
Peter DeFazio (D-OR)
Joseph Crowley (D-NY)
John Tierney (D-MA)
Robert E. Andrews (D-NJ)
Jim Oberstar (D-MN)
Michael E. Capuano (D-MA)
John Olver (D-MA)
Michael Honda (D-CA)
Jose E. Serrano (D-NY)
Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD)

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