For immediate release
October 19, 2010
GLORIA ISABEL CUARTAS MONTOYA: A MOST COURAGEOUS DEFENDER OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR ALL
For the past 22 years the Colombia Support Network (CSN) in Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin has had a sister community relationship with Apartado, Colombia. During that time numerous delegations of United States citizens have gone to our sister community and several visitors have come from Colombia to visit us here in the United States. Among those who have traveled to Apartado with us is Tammy Baldwin, now a member of the United States House of Representatives. Among the Colombians who have visited us here in Wisconsin was Apartado Mayor Gloria Isabel Cuartas Montoya, who was accompanied on her visit by Father Francisco Jose de Roux, now the Provincial (head) of the Jesuits in Colombia.
We were able to observe first hand the extraordinarily courageous and effective leadership of Gloria Cuartas as Mayor of Apartado. She governed without bodyguards, saying she did not wish to have the presence of armed men deter her constituents from speaking frankly and openly to her. When paramilitary forces under the command of brothers Fidel and Carlos Castano carried out attacks in the vicinity of Apartado, leading a large group of persons displaced by the violence to leave Colombia for Panama, Gloria agreed to receive them back in Apartado, when no one else offered to help them. And when paramilitary forces killed some men on the road from Apartado to the town of San Jose and buried them in a shallow grave along the roadway, and government officials whose job it was to retrieve and examine the bodies of the men refused out of fright to do so, Gloria accompanied the men’s widows to the area where they were buried and helped dig them out, at incredible personal risk. When officials of her municipal government were murdered and their bodies dumped on the lawn in front of the City Hall, Gloria took care to see that those murdered and their families were properly attended to, and carried on with her honest, effective municipal government.
This extraordinary woman is the Gloria we know and revere. She is not and has not been a member of any guerrilla organization. Before becoming Mayor of Apartado—as a consensus candidate, selected at the suggestion of Bishop Isaias Duarte Cancino (later Archbishop of Cali, where he was later murdered)—Gloria was a social worker engaged in helping the poor and dispossessed. When as Mayor she found her city beset by paramilitary groups, she asked the Governor of Antioquia Department, Alvaro Uribe Velez, to inform her which of the paramilitary-style units created through his influence, called Convivires, were in her jurisdiction and for what purpose, Mr. Uribe refused to provide the requested information. Instead of responding himself, he had his right-hand man, Pedro Juan Moreno, send a curt, dismissive letter to Mayor Cuartas.
All of this information can be found in our archives, since we followed closely Gloria’s stewardship as Mayor. And when the residents of San Jose de Apartado decided in March 1997, with the support of Bishop Duarte, to form a Peace Community in which arms would not be permitted, Gloria supported this important initiative for peace. We at CSN have also given our wholehearted support to the Peace Community and are proud to join with Gloria and with Father Javier Giraldo, S.J. in continuing to back the efforts of Community members and defend them against baseless attacks by Alvaro Uribe Velez, General Rito Alejo del Rio and others whose personal and political interests caused them to criticize Gloria, Javier, and the Peace Community.
After her term as Mayor of Apartado ended, Gloria became a national figure in support of progressive policies to benefit the poor and the voiceless. We followed her activities as she joined the Polo Democratico Party and have had the pleasure of meeting with her often with our delegations from the United States to Colombia. We know she is honest and committed to good government in benefit of the people. And we celebrate her defense of human rights and her fearlessly speaking the truth about General del Rio and others who would frame false charges against her.
Understand this, those who invent false claims about Gloria’s activities: We know your allegations are untrue. Gloria is not a guerrilla supporter, nor has she ever had anything other than the good of Colombian society as a goal. We stand with her in defense against the scurrilous false testimony some have given against her.
John I. Laun
President, Colombia Support Netwok
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Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
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