The FOR team in San Jose de Apartadó recently accompanied the Peace Community in their Assembly in the settlement of Mulatos. Assemblies are an opportunity for members who are spread out over large distances to come together and meet, plan, and discuss the various issues facing the community. A permanent concern of the Peace Community (PC) is the presence of armed actors in the area, both legal and illegal. They have seen and felt the effects of these violent groups year after year, living amidst a conflict that has disregarded the lives and property of civilians.
Just as PC members and accompaniers were arriving in Mulatos, the flags of the international organizations being hung to wave in the breeze, the sound of distant bombs and gunfire pierced the air. Military planes and helicopters were soon flying overhead, circling between Mulatos and where the attack took place, which locals had quickly estimated by the sound and strength of the firearms. It is a skill they have all but perfected over the years. Then the guessing game began…Who was the military attacking? Were civilians or livestock injured or killed? Would this lead to a ground combat nearby?
However, the air strike and uncertainty of continued combat were met by the resilience that has come to define the Peace Community. Food was prepared and shared, children played, members enjoyed the company of those they don’t often see, and the assembly continued as planned.
Mulatos is the same settlement where PC leader Luis Eduardo Guerra, his son, and female companion were massacred in a joint operation by the Colombian military and a local paramilitary group in 2005. Their bodies were left to be found in the river that flows just feet from where members gathered each day of the assembly. The same massacre also took the lives of four more in the neighboring settlement of La Resbalosa, two of which were young children.
It is not only the violence of the past that the PC must overcome. Colombia’s bloody conflict is the reality they are still forced to live each day. Seventeen years since its creation, the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó continues its struggle to be free of armed actors, free from their violence, and free to live in peace as rural farmers.