Life in La Unión, part of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, can quickly become turbulent. Things have been fairly quiet recently, so most of the disturbances come in the form of a pack of horses blasting by, or trying to locate the chopper overhead, only to find an incredibly loud hummingbird or two. But sometimes the disturbances turn into hurricanes and are a little less delightful.
Last Wednesday and into Thursday struck a whopping storm upon La Unión. Rain fell in sheets on the tin roofs and created a lattice of miniature rivers between all of the houses. Gales tore through the village, picking things up and knocking them over, as lightning hit and struck down at least two of the cacao-drying racks. La Unión now continues without power going on 13 days.
That same Wednesday afternoon, a storm of a different variety arrived when a group of seventeen soldiers from the 24th Mobile Brigade of the Colombian Armed Forces marched through La Unión. Not a few minutes later, more trickled through, and then more. In all, around 50 soldiers passed through the neighborhood.
The Peace Community was founded over seventeen years ago on principles pointedly meant to protect Community members from further involvement in the war. These are individuals from regions near and far that came together with a common goal after having been displaced, persecuted, and threatened. Their principles include not providing logistical help to any of the armed actors, maintaining all Community spaces as zones which are free of the presence of armed actors, not possessing or supporting arms or weapons of any kind, and saying “No” to injustice and impunity. In the middle of one of the hottest, most combative zones in Colombia, the Community came together and declared that they were not going to take part in the war. They respectfully requested that from that moment on, actors from any armed group, legal or illegal, avoid the area. They were first granted precautionary, then provisional measures from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights which protect them and validate this standard. The last time military forces hung out in front of the houses of La Unión was six years ago.
This time the soldiers passed through like just another hurricane. When representatives from the Community and FOR accompaniers, who also live in La Unión, went to speak with some of them, their leaders spoke in respectful tones while acknowledging that although they had seen the Community signs earlier (marking the land and listing Community Principles), they chose to walk through anyway. They said that they were waiting for support for a sick soldier who they had left on the other side of the neighborhood. Never mind the fact that this was land on which the Community lives and works, and that as armed forces, the military were not permitted to be there regardless of the circumstance. When one of the smaller groups of soldiers stopped to rest toward the edge of the village, we again approached them to speak further and reiterate that they respect the Community’s space. Some soldiers excused themselves for being within the bounds of the Community. Others refused to excuse themselves and declared, “This is Colombia!” and “Whatever happens to the sick soldier is your responsibility.” When another soldier started to cross through, after most of his troop had already gone, he was approached by still more Community members and posited, “Well, the rest of them went through this way, so I’m going here, too,” and he did.
The Peace Community means just that – a community space which intends to strive for peace even while surrounded by war. According to the theory of the Community, where there is one group of armed actors, including military, other armed groups are sure to follow. In order to avoid conflict, the Community has chosen to avoid armed actors altogether, and to instead live and work together, constructing their own alternatives to the ever-present conflict around them. After seventeen years of declaring themselves as such and living their principles, there are still violations on their wishes and their rights.