El Río Sumapaz – Un Río en Crisis

Fall US Speaking Tour with FOR Peace Presence and Tierra Digna

FOR Peace Presence is excited to announce our Fall US Speaking Tour in collaboration with our partner organization Tierra Digna:

People, Profits and the Planet:
Prospects in the face of corporate supremacy

Download (PDF, 76KB)

Human rights defender Johana Rocha and FOR accompanier Kaya Allan Sugerman will be traveling throughout the Northeast and Bay Area October 20th through November 16th to talk to audiences about environmental extractivism and human rights.


Email us at info@peacepresence.org to set up an event with Johana in your city (scroll to bottom to download a flyer for the tour). 


Colombia is at a crossroads—with ongoing peace talks between the FARC-EP and ELN guerrilla groups and the Colombian government and efforts by the government to begin restoring stolen land to displaced communities, there is definitely hope in the air. Nevertheless, violence continues  — over 40% of Colombia’s national territory has either been granted or asked for in a mining concession, and 2013 had the highest murder rate of human rights defenders and local community leaders in the last decade, precisely because people are reclaiming that stolen land and speaking up more for justice. FOR Peace Presence and Tierra Digna respond to this urgent reality.

Tierra Digna

Tierra Digna is a Colombian collective of lawyers working with rural communities that face being forced off their land by armed groups, the Colombian state and multinational corporations. These companies, driven by profit, pillage the world’s finite resources contributing to global climate change. In the face of these threats, Tierra Digna and these communities are developing strategies to create alternatives. Through legal aid, research, capacity building and advocacy, Tierra Digna is pioneering a path to hold the Colombian state and multinational corporations accountable to protect these communities and our environment.

Our Work Together

The FOR Peace Presence team accompanies Tierra Digna in Colombia’s coastal region (particularly in Cesar and Magdalena). This area is highly paramilitarized and in the last 20 years has been subject to the arrival of various large coal-mining companies (US-based Drummond Co. Inc, Anglo-Swiss mining and commodity company Glencore Xstrata, and even US investment banking company Goldman Sachs own and operate mines in these regions). These companies practice open-pit coal mining, almost entirely for export to coal-consuming countries such as the United States and in Europe. Open-pit coal mining is one of the most environmentally destructive forms of mining. Unfortunately, there are not many NGOs working in the coastal region, leaving it more vulnerable to human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

FOR Peace Presence is working closely with Tierra Digna to hold these corporations accountable for the devastation and abuse they’ve ravaged on Colombian communities and the environment. We recognize the present threat of mega-projects on rural and indigenous communities in one of the most bio-diverse and resource-rich regions in the world. Tierra Digna has a parallel commitment to that of FOR Peace Presence – they seek truth, justice, and holistic reparation. They do this not only through Colombian and international legal systems, but also by harnessing and supporting community processes and engaging in nation-wide debates and discussions, taking a stand against policies that have allowed and continue to allow for the displacement of communities. Some communities they work with are seeking fair and equitable re-settlement, complete with collective discussions, decision-making processes, and prior, informed consent. Others are hoping to acquire resources or reparations from a state that they feel has deserted them in the prospect of development profits. All of them are seeking social, cultural, political, and economic inclusion and rights. 

Tierra Digna is made up of human rights and environmental attorneys who confront and challenge powerful multinational corporations seeking rights to land and resources. This puts them at risk, especially at times of travel and around the meetings that take place within the communities in danger of being displaced.  What we provide is a physical, international presence as observers on these travels and during these processes. Both during accompaniments and after they take place, through written articles and meetings with authorities in the region, we represent international concern for irresponsible mining and other development practices in Colombia and stand in solidarity with citizens of those countries most distressed by environmental, economic, and cultural destruction. While maintaining a separate organizational and political identity, Tierra Digna and FOR Peace Presence collaborate to raise national and international awareness of damages inflicted on marginalized communities.

Download (PDF, 127KB)

FOR Peace Presence Monthly Update – August 2014


August was a month full of movements. In the midst of a move into a lovely new apartment in Bogotá, team member Gale transitioned from our team in the Peace Community to our team in Bogotá. There she will work with Michaela and Kaya, while Isabel and Nikki continue FOR Peace Presence’s permanent accompaniment, living in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó.

Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

As of late there has been an increase in militarization of the area surrounding the Peace Community. Most notably there have been numerous firefights between the mobile 24th military brigade that commonly operates in the Urabá region, and the FARC guerrilla group. This has put the civil population in heightened danger, including members and leaders of the Peace Community, where FOR accompaniers also live and work. See the Peace Community’s latest communiqués for further updates. Our team has been present to respond to the community’s movements and stand in solidarity with their political work.

Supporting our team in the field is an important element of the work we do in Bogotá. This has meant telephone and written communication with commanders of varying military brigades, an emergency response intervention, and follow up with national and diplomatic authorities. In these communications, we have shared our concerns about the situation in San José de Apartadó and surrounding areas, and of course that we are in constant communication with our accompaniers in the Peace Community.

Humanitarian Space Puente Nayero, Buenaventura

In August, the Bogotá team physically accompanied for 5 days in Cundinamarca, Bogotá, standing in solidarity with former GM workers organization ASOTRECOL in their ongoing protest at the US Embassy. We also accompanied in other regions of Colombia for a total of 13 days, including accompaniment of a human rights defender from Tierra Digna in Magdalena and Cesar, ASOTRACAMPO in Tamarindo, Atlántico, the Inter church Justice and Peace Commission and Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero in Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca, and the “People’s Consultation – Yes to Life, No to Mines” event in La Guajira.

La Guajira’s ‘People’s Consultation’

Political work has included a joint meeting with the European Delegation and our accompanied partner ACOOC (Collective Action for Conscientious Objectors) regarding the irregularities in Colombia’s army recruitment and illegal roundups of young men, a meeting with the Human Rights Unit of the Colombian Ministry of Defense about the right to conscientious objection and recent escalation of military presence in the Peace Community, and three informative letters sent to national and diplomatic authorities.

We released four written works on our Peace Presence webpage, one of which focuses on the newly formed Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Buenaventura and is published on Upside Down World. It can be viewed here. You can always see what we’ve been writing about in the News section of our website.

Last but not least, we are very excited to announce that we’ve been busy preparing for two quickly upcoming FOR Peace Presence US Speaking Tours!

  • Mario Cardozo will be heading to the Mid-west and East Coast in 2 days for a Speaking and Concert Tour from September 28 – November 1. After receiving the Mohammad Ali Humanitarian Award in Louisville, Kentucky, Mario goes on to travel and connect in other Mid-West and East Coast states. In July of this year, the Colombian Supreme Court announced Mario Colombia’s first conscientious objector for non-religious reasons, and he will be sharing his music and experience.
  • FOR Peace Presence is going on a Speaking Tour with Tierra Digna, a Colombian collective of lawyers, from October 24 – November 14. Human rights defender Johana Rocha and FOR Peace Presence accompanier Kaya will be traveling through various East Coast cities and the Bay Area, California, sharing with audiences the links between multinational extractivism and human rights abuses in Colombia, and how communities have sculpted alternatives in the face of displacement by large-scale development projects. Please contact us at info@peacepresence.org to hear Johana speak in your city!

We are eager to continue beside our partners in their courageous struggle for land, life, and dignity. Your help is invaluable to this cause. If you would like to make a one-time or ongoing donation to FOR Peace Presence and our work in Colombia, please click here.

Thank you,

FOR Peace Presence Team
Candice, Liza, Gale, Isa, Kaya, Michaela, Nikki

Announcing a Speaking & Concert Tour with Conscientious Objector Mario Cardozo

FOR Peace Presence is excited to announce a Fall U.S. Speaking and Concert Tour in collaboration with Mario Cardozo, conscientious objector and winner of the 2014 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award! Mario will accept the award in Louisville, Kentucky, on August 28th, and go on to travel to Chicago, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington D.C. from there.

After declaring himself a Conscientious Objector at 18 years old, Mario began working with Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Consciencia (ACOOC – the Collective Action for Conscientious Objectors), to develop strategies in support of conscientious objection, anti-militarization, and active nonviolence in Colombia. Together, they have created and shared these ideas through theater and music presentations. The Colombian Supreme Court recently named Mario Colombia’s very first Conscientious Objector for non-religious reasons, a huge accomplishment. Mario is hoping to speak to, network and exchange ideas with public audiences, organizations and departments at universities involved with or interested in anti-militarization, music for social change, and youth movements.

You can download the Concert/Speaking Tour flyer below, and contact us at info@peacepresence.org to arrange a concert or speaking event near you!

Download (PDF, 390KB)


Sumapaz River – A River in Crisis

Haz click aquí para ver el artículo en español

The Naranjala Creek, which feeds the Sumapaz River – in June 2014 and August 2014 (left to right)

On September 2nd, 2014, FOR Peace Presence visited the community of Naranjala and Yucala, Nilo, Cundinamarca, only a few kilometers away from the tourist destination Melgar.

Around 1920, the first families of this community arrived in the settlements of Yucala, Naranjala, and Mesa Baja, all part of the municipality of Nilo, Cundinamarca. Since then, they have tried to make a living raising domestic animals and engaging in agricultural farming and fishing in the nearby Sumapaz River and the creeks which feed it. In 1954, the state converted the community’s land into state property and constructed the military training base of Tolemaida, one of the biggest bases in Colombia today.

In attempts to displace this farming community from what is now claimed as state property, the military has consistently violated the community’s rights in numerous ways. The community of the Yucala, Naranjala and Mesa Baja has been given protections by two sentences from the Colombian state; nevertheless, violations continue. A common grievance is that the community’s attempts to farm and cultivate their crops have been sabotaged by the military – soldiers up-root planted trees and obstruct the entrance of farming or construction materials. Given the expansion of the military base, the community has been forcibly displaced further toward the Sumapaz riverside. It is then no surprise that this river has been and is becoming a crucial element of the community’s identity.

On this recent accompaniment, we headed down to Sumapaz River. Only two months ago, the company “Arenas y Gravas de Sumapaz” (“Sands and Gravel from Sumapaz”) began extracting stones and sands from the riverbeds and banks – and eventually from two islands named after the creeks of Naranjala and Yucala. These islands had been naturally formed at the junction between the creeks and the Sumapaz River. Non-violent interventions by community members have protected the island of Yucala, however there is hardly anything left of the island of Naranjala. The destruction of the island in addition to the dredging up and removal of sands and stones means that the Sumapaz River now runs low — trucks and excavators turn what remains inside out, fish have disappeared as their breeding grounds and the river’s flora and fauna have been destroyed, and the river must consistently find a new through-path, not allowing for recuperation.

We hear from community members about five licenses for extracting more material from the river that have been approved.

How much can Sumapaz River and the community bear?

To see more Before and After shots, see the FOR Peace Presence facebook album 

El Río Sumapaz – Un Río en Crisis

Click here to read the article in english

La Quebrada Naranjala en Junio 2014 y Agosto 2014 (izquierda a derecha)

El 2 de septiembre de 2014, FOR Presente por la Paz visitó la comunidad de Naranjala y Yucala, en Nilo, Cundinamarca, a pocos kilómetros del destino turístico de Melgar. 

Alrededor de 1920, las primeras familias de esta comunidad llegaron a los asentamientos de Yucala, Naranjala y Mesa Baja que hacen parte del municipio de Nilo, Cundinamarca. Desde entonces, han tratado de ganarse la vida mediante la cría de animales, la agricultura y la pesca en el cercano río Sumapaz y los arroyos que lo alimentan. En 1954, el Estado convirtió las tierras de la comunidad en propiedad del Estado y construyó el centro de entrenamiento militar de Tolemaida, el cual es hoy en día una de las mayores bases en Colombia. 

En intentos de desplazar a esta comunidad agrícola de lo que ahora aparece como propiedad del Estado, los militares han violado sistemáticamente los derechos de la comunidad de muchas maneras. El Consejo de Estado ha proferido dos Sentencias a favor de las comunidades de la Yucala, Naranjala y Mesa Baja; sin embargo, las violaciones continúan. Así los militares han saboteado intentos de la comunidad por cultivar sus cosechas; arrancaron árboles y obstruyeron el ingreso de materiales de construcción y materiales necesarios para la agricultura

Teniendo en cuenta el desplazamiento forzado de la comunidad -por la expansión de la base – hacía la orilla del río Sumapaz, no sorprende que este río ha sido y se está convirtiendo en un elemento fundamental de la identidad de la comunidad. 

En este acompañamiento reciente, nos dirigimos al río Sumapaz. Hace sólo dos meses, la empresa “Arenas y Gravas de Sumapaz” empezó con la extracción de piedras y arenas del cauce y de las islas. Antes del inicio de la extracción, dos islas nombradas por los arroyos de Naranjala y Yucala, se habían formado naturalmente por la confluencia de estos arroyos con el río Sumapaz. Las intervenciones no violentas de miembros de la comunidad han protegido a la isla de Yucala, sin embargo casi ya no queda nada de la isla de Naranjala. La destrucción de la isla, además el dragado y la extracción de arenas y piedras ha ocasionado un menor nivel del río Sumapaz, mientras camiones y excavadoras revuelven toda la materia, los peces han desaparecido así como sus lugares de cría, además la flora y fauna del río han sido destruidos, y el río tiene que buscar constantemente un nuevo cauce, que no le permite su recuperación. 

Igualmente, personas de la Comunidad nos informaron sobre cinco licencias que han sido aprobadas para explotación de materia de arrastre en la misma región.

¿Cuánto más pueden aguantar el Río Sumapaz y la comunidad?

Vease nuestro album en el Facebook del FOR Presente por la Paz