Celebrating 26 Years of Resistance: The Peace Community’s Struggle to Protect Water and Land
On March 22, 2023, while the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was preparing to go to the river under intense heat, a member of Community reflected:
“Without water, we are nothing.”
“We need to plant more naceros (plants that help prevent streams from drying up) in the springs and take care of the forests on the hills and sides of the rivers.”
March 22nd marks International Water Day, and in the Serranía de Abibe, located in the northwest of Colombia between the Caribbean and the Pacific, water is one of the most important resources. For 26 years, the Community’s anniversary has been celebrated on the following day, March 23, and during that time, they have been exercising non-violent resistance in the midst of the armed conflict.
In recent years, the conflict over the region’s natural resources has intensified. Licenses to extract coal and construction materials, as well as the decrease of native forests and the interests for water as a marketable product, are putting the rivers and creeks of the Serranía de Abibe at risk. Integrally protecting life and habitat is at the heart of the resistance of the Peace Community. This is a life-threatening excercise in Colombia, where the Peace Community has lost over 300 members in its 26 years of existence.
The Peace Community has tried to preserve the waters of the Serranía de Abibe as part of its campesino identity. This includes a fight for the lands that the Community has worked and taken care of from the beginning, such as the finca La Roncona, which is next to the Mariano or San José River, the river that receives a significant portion of the waters of the creeks of San José de Apartadó. The titling of the farm, which is under land restitution, is facing multiple obstacles, including institutional ones. Recently, an audience for the titling of Finca Roncona, which was postponed for the fourth time since 2021, was finally held on March 30 after strong international pressure.
Several trucks have been observed several times lately removing construction material from the San José River. The trucks have also entered without permission through the finca La Roncona. Despite several public denouncements made by the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, the removal of material from the river continues to be observed.
Left: Fishing dinner in the Serranía de Abibe. Right: A truck illegaly extracting construction material from the river.
Therefore, the Peace Community dedicated a significant part of its 26-year resistance celebration to call for the protection of the water, specifically the Mariano or San José River. On March 22, they marched along the river, demanding the protection of the waters on their own land.
On March 23, Peace Community members marched through the main village and down the riverbed back to the main settlement of the Peace Community. During the march, Jimmi A. Tuberquia, a young man from San José de Apartadó who was allegedly killed by paramilitaries on September 22, 2022, in the riverbed, was commemorated at the site of his death. The defense and appreciation of life have been a cornerstone of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó for 26 years.
For the Peace Community, cherishing, respecting, and protecting life means honoring and protecting life and habitat jointly: “Without water, we are nothing.”
We accompanied the conmemoration of the 26th anniversary and the march for the protection of the water. Hear the voices and reflections from Peace Community members. (Make sure subtitles are on)
Author: Michaela Soellinger, FOR Austria and FOR Peace Presence team member