Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

The soldiers of peace


In a gritty industrial city about an hour north of Bogota, Colombia, three young Canadians wait for their paramilitary executioners.

Lisa Martens, William Payne, and Matt Schaaf are all Mennonites from Toronto and Winnipeg. In the great Mennonite (and Canadian) tradition, they've decided to put their lives on the line in the cause of peace.

They are members of a remarkable network of people called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Their team is based in Barrancabermeja in the violence-ridden South American country of Colombia. Since the mid-1960's, more than 200,000 Colombians have died in insurgency and counter-insurgency fighting.

It's an old and sad story. Immense wealth, crushing poverty, governments of right-wing persuasion with American political and military support, ideologues in the mountains with machine guns, drug gangs and thousands of violent deaths.

CPT is active in a number of countries around the world - in Colombia, in the occupied Palestinian territories, in Iraq, Puerto Rico, and even in Canada. Their approach is simply to be present, without helmets or flak jackets, on the front lines of conflict.

In Colombia, their team of six (including the Canadians) has been living in a poor neighborhood, living in solidarity and protesting the "disappearing" of local people by criminal, paramilitary, and police operatives and supporting the human rights activists in the city.

Last weekend, the team was sent a message by a shadowy paramilitary leader that one of their members would be killed soon as punishment for bringing international attention to his murderous gang. The six Peacemakers have just published on the Internet a remarkable document called "A Statement of Conviction from CPT Colombia."

In it they proclaim their belief that "life will proclaim victory over death." They call on authorities to renounce the use of violence to free them if they are taken hostage or to punish their murderers if they are killed. They ask the people of Canada and the U.S. "to regard our deaths as no more tragic than the murders of tens of thousands of Colombians over the past 50 years."

And in one of the wisest statements about ending violence and war that I have ever read they say, "We believe that until people committed to nonviolence are willing to take the same risks for peace that soldiers are willing to take for war, people will always choose violence as the most viable solution to their problems."

So on the front lines of the battle for peace, they hold their positions and await the assassin's footstep on the stair.

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