(Washington, D.C.) December 16, 2011 — The U.S. Jesuit Conference and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA join in offering the following statement of support for the Program for Development and Peace of Magdalena Medio (PDPMM), the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP), the Jesuits of Colombia and their Provincial, Fr. Francisco "Pacho" de Roux, the Universidad Javeriana, and the Association of Cacaoteros of Buenos Aires (ASOCAB) in response to the recent indictment by the Prosecutor General of Cartagena, which attempts to discredit these parties and their work with displaced communities in Colombia.
Since its creation in 1995, the Jesuit Program for Development and Peace of Magdalena Medio has engaged in efforts aimed at fostering peace, development, and reconciliation, and has supported the attendant legal processes to return displaced communities to their land. The founder of PDPMM and current Jesuit Provincial of Colombia, Fr. Francisco "Pacho" de Roux, S.J., has been honored for his work, and less than three months ago Colombian President Juan Miguel Santos named Fr. de Roux one of the top ten peacemakers in Colombia.
As part of this effort PDPMM has accompanied ASOCAB, a farming cooperative from the Las Pavas community of Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region, in its effort to vindicate the rights of its members to land restitution, safety, and protection from further displacement. Accion Social, the Colombian agency responsible for verifying incidents of displacement has registered the farmers of Las Pavas as victims of forced displacement. Accordingly, ASOCAB initiated legal proceedings for land restitution with the appropriate governmental entities, the Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER) and the Ministry of Agriculture.
In representing the interests of these displaced farmers, PDPMM has diligently and transparently complied with the series of processes required under Colombian law. We are thus saddened to learn of accusations recently made by the Prosecutor General of the Cartagena region, alleging that the Las Pavas community defrauded the state and falsified evidence to claim displacement. The indictment also asserts that the Society of Jesus, CINEP, and professors of a Jesuit university (Universidad Javeriana) have assisted in manufacturing fraudulent claims as part of a plot to "orchestrate staged displacement."
We are disturbed by the character of these allegations and the manner in which they were disseminated to the public and the press, wholly outside of the proper legal avenues for investigating supposed irregularities. The actions of the Prosecutor General could very well jeopardize the success of Colombia’s newly passed law for Victim’s and Land Restitution, and has already endangered the lives and well-being of the Las Pavas farmers and the civil society organizations that have accompanied their fight to reclaim their lands.
The Society of Jesus (Jesuits), ASOCAB, PDPMM, CINEP, and the Universidad Javeriana wholeheartedly reject the accusations of the indictment and have asked for a full review of the facts of the case before the appropriate tribunal. Our partners in Colombia manifest that claims of the Las Pavas community have always been well-documented and presented in a manner that is respectful of the Colombian government and its laws.
We join our Colombian colleagues in their urgent request that the indictment be scrutinized through applicable judicial processes, and we believe that such a process will confirm the truth of the claims made by ASOCAB, and the information PDPMM, CINEP, and Universidad Javeriana have compiled in support of the Las Pavas farmers.
We share the concern of PDPMM that this indictment is a strategy being deployed to weaken the legitimacy of the demands of Colombia’s vulnerable displaced population, and we highlight the recent statement of the Ministry of Agriculture and INCODER which characterizes the indictment as "dangerous," and “hope[s] the decision was not made with the bad intention of using this episode and the accusations… to decontextualize or to cast a mantle of doubt upon legal stability and respect for the Rule of Law and the ability to rigorously apply to the Law of Victims and Land Restitution."
We note this is a critical time for the victims of displacement in Colombia, and we implore the relevant Government agencies of Colombia and the media to avoid premature judgments and allow the facts to be determined through the appropriate investigation and judicial procedures.
The U.S. Jesuit Conference and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA know that the PDPMM, Universidad Javeriana, CINEP, the Society of Jesus have always acted with honesty, transparency and respect for the laws of Colombia, and we are confident that a proper review of the case will show the accusations made against them to be unfounded.
Rev. Michael Evans, S.J.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Rev. Thomas Greene, S.J.
Secretary for Social and International Ministries
Jesuit Conference of the United States
To read the complete translated version of the statement from the Bishop of Barrancabermeja, the Jesuit Provincial of Colombia, and the directors of CINEP and the Programs for Development and Peace of Magdalena Medio, please see below.
Statement on the Case of "Las Pavas"
Since its creation in 1995 the Jesuit Program for Development and Peace of Magdalena Medio (PDPMM) has supported the development of the Rule of Law in Colombia, and labored to this end both with the vulnerable communities it accompanies and with organs of the State.
Under this mandate over the last several years PDPMM has accompanied a process in which the Association of Cacaoteros of Buenos Aires (ASOCAB) [a farmers collective from the Las Pavas community in Magdalena Medio] have demanded rights to restitution and protection from the State. Among its many needs, the Association is part of a land rights lawsuit before the Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER).
The farmers of ASOCAB have depended upon and will continue to count on our support in their claims – claims that always have been put forth in manner that is respectful of the state institutions and its laws. In the words of ASOCAB members, "We think that the law recognizes us and protects us as farmers and guarantees respect for our lives."
The Program of Development and Peace of Magdalena Medio has learned through mass media of a decision put forth by the Prosecutor General of the Cartagena Region’s Unit of Displacement and Forced Disappearance.
We understand this decision to be the beginning and not the end of a judicial process, as the Prosecutor General has not yet clarified, nor demonstrated the truth behind a series of allegations leveled against the farmers of ASOCAB. The decision has not yet has been confronted through appropriate judicial processes, which in our view is the most suitable way for us to engage the controversy and confirm that the information that we have compiled in our judicious support of the case is accurate.
"The farmers of Las Pavas," as affirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture and INCODER in their official statement on the 2nd of December 2011, "were recognized by Accion Social as the victims of forced displacement since the time of the previous Administration and received measures to protect their right to the land. The registration of these people as a displaced population took place as a result of a process advanced by Accion Social, the state institution responsible for evaluating the veracity of the related facts."
The Program of Development and Peace of Magdalena Medio indicates its concern over evidence that a strategy is being deployed to weaken the legitimacy of the demands of the victims and the displaced persons. In light of this, we share the concerns highlighted in a recent statement by the Ministry of Agriculture and INCODER when they affirmed: "The decision of the Public Prosecutor of Cartagena seems dangerous to us, and we hope the decision was not made with the bad intention of using this episode and the accusations by the public prosecutor of Cartagena to decontextualize or to cast a mantle of doubt upon legal stability and respect for the Rule of Law and the ability to rigorously apply to the Law of Victims and Land Restitution."
We invite the State institutions, organizations of the country, and the mass media to proceed with caution and await greater knowledge of the underlying facts as gathered from the diverse sources, before making judgments and allegations on the case of Las Pavas.
The Legal Clinic of the University of Javeriana, as well as CINEP, the Society of Jesus, and the Diocese of Barrancabermeja maintain that we have always acted with honesty, transparency and with deference to the law.
We hope through judicial processes to have the opportunity to controvert the allegations of Madam Prosecutor General of Cartagena, Myriam Martínez Palomino. At the same time as we categorically reject the accusations leveled by Prosecutor General Martinez that allege a campaign by the Jesuits characterized by fraudulent machinations, orchestration of staged displacement and other irregular conduct.
CAMILO CASTRELLON PIZANO, SDB
Obispo de Barrancabermeja
FRANCISCO DE ROUX RENGIFO, S.J.
Provincial de la Compañía de Jesús
MAURICIO GARCIA DURAN, S.J.
Director CINEP/Programa por la Paz
LIBARDO VALDERRAMA CENTENO, S.J.