Christian Pastor, Lay Leaders Jailed for Subversion in Colombia

Friday, October 24, 2003

Christian Lawyers Association Defends Evangelicals against Terrorism Charges
by David Miller

MIAMI, October 24 (Compass) -- Attorneys of the Association of Christian Lawyers in Colombia have assumed the defense of a pastor and several church lay leaders arrested by security forces near the city of Sincelejo and accused of terrorism.

Deivis Manuel Carrascal, a pastor of the Association of Evangelical Churches of the Caribbean (AIEC), was arrested in a military sweep at his home in the village of Colosó at 5 a.m. on August 20.

Manuel Monterroza, a Christian school teacher from nearby Chalán; Enaldo Rodríguez, Luis Herazo, Miguel Segundo Arrieta, Eladio Pérez, Oscar Zambrano, Jaime Chamorro and Francisco Ruiz, all identified as active members of the evangelical church in Chalán, were also arrested.

In all, security forces arrested 156 residents from communities in the area of Montes de Maria and charged them with rebellion against the state and acts of terrorism, crimes punishable by 20 to 30 years in prison.

In recent years, Montes de Maria has been the scene of bloody massacres committed against the civilian population by paramilitary units and guerrilla groups operating in the area.

Carrascal, 23, is married and has a small daughter. In addition to pastoring the AIEC congregation in Colosó, he is currently enrolled in theological studies at CIPEC, an AIEC pastoral training program based in Sincelejo.

According to attorney Maggie Urueta, one of four female lawyers who has assumed defense of the jailed pastor, Carrascal and other suspects were arrested solely upon the accusation of one ex-guerrilla informant who wore a hood over his head to conceal his identity as he led military units from house to house.

Urueta says that the informant’s testimony against her clients is itself suspect.

“This man says he trained Deivis to use explosives in a guerrilla group and that Deivis is a guerrilla commander,” Urueta told Compass. “But this was supposedly in 1983. At that time, my client was only eight years old.

“How could he even recognize Deivis after all these years? This claim alone disproves the man’s entire testimony.

“Nevertheless, my client remains there in jail,” Urueta said.

Urueta plans to raise these objections once officials begin hearing charges against Deivis and the other evangelical defendants. However, the military has not yet completed preliminary investigations, so she and her clients must wait to have their day in court.

Security forces refuse to reveal the identity of their informant; however, Urueta has discovered that he is participating in a government program for “repentant insurgents that rewards information leading to the arrest of fellow guerrillas with reduced penalties for past crimes.

Mrs. Urueta, a mother of three, served more than ten years in the public defender’s office in her native Sincelejo before leaving that post in 2000 to form a Christian NGO to assists war refugees. Approximately 70,000 displaced persons, the vast majority of them peasant farmers, are crammed into shanty towns surrounding Sincelejo, a “sleepy cow town, according to Urueta, that has too few resources to accommodate them.

Unable to find work locally, displaced families lack food, shelter, clean water and other basic necessities.

Three years ago, Urueta resigned her public defender position to assume leadership of the Sincelejo chapter of the Commission for Reconciliation, Peace and Life, a community service ministry of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL). Currently, the Reconciliation Commission assists 567 displaced families with meals, used clothing and primary education.

Urueta and her colleagues have also developed an export market for yams the farmers grow on land granted them by the municipality.

Hernando Mercado, a key worker in the yam export business, is among the 156 terrorist suspects jailed by the armed forces. The Commission of Christian Attorneys is defending Mercado against the charges.

“Hernando is a young, full-time yam farmer,” she said. “He grows yams, cleans yams and markets yams. He is totally dedicated to agricultural labors in Sincelejo -- he doesn’t even work in los Montes de Maria. What time does he even have to be a guerrilla?”

Due to anti-terrorism laws recently introduced in Colombia, the defendants have no possibility of bail until their case is resolved by a court of law. Nevertheless, Urueta and her colleagues are petitioning for the provisional release of Carrascal and the other evangelical defendants.

“We have asked for provisional liberty, that we are going to take responsibility for them,” she said. “Because the state recognizes us as an association of experienced attorneys, we could have custody of the men; they are not going to flee.

“However, we have not received a positive answer, as yet, as to whether they will grant them provisional liberty.”