This February was a particularly important month for our first and original partner in Colombia, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. One decade ago – on February 21, 2005, the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Armed Forces and paramilitaries acted in a joint operation in the brutal massacre of seven Peace Community members and one neighbor farmer. Among those killed were four young children. In “A Decade Later,” the current FOR Peace Presence Urabá team reflects on legal proceedings and actions that have and have not taken place since the fact. Many of the high-ranking state officials involved in the crimes have yet to be brought to justice. In an incredibly informative article recently published by dhColombia, you can read more about the gaps in the judicial system and where the Peace Community stands ten years later.
For the San José Peace Community’s annual commemoration, team members Nikki and Julia accompanied leaders, members and guests in the trek to the hamlets of Mulatos and La Resbalosa, where the murders had taken place. To our dismay, on the 21st they heard news of a group of soldiers five minutes away to where the commemoration mass was about to begin, near La Resbalosa, on a Peace Community cacao farm. As this land where the Community works and resides is protected by Inter-American System Provisional Measures and the Colombian Constitutional Court, it should legally be free from any armed actors. FOR Peace Presence, alongside two other accompaniment organizations, members and guests, went to confront the soldiers, and a long conversation ensued. At its start, several soldiers were not wearing the obligatory identification tags. One soldier was even hooded, another serious violation, and a terrifying sight to a community as vulnerable and historically victimized by the state as the San José Peace Community. Fortunately, the soldiers eventually retreated and the commemoration continued on, but not without a bitter reminder of the pain and fear that remains.
While the Urabá team accompanied the commemoration, Michaela and Gale were accompanying ASOTRACAMPO outside of Barranquilla, and then Tierra Digna in Boquerón, Cesar, and Don Jaca, Magdalena. A large part of accompaniment is coming to understand the history of the regions where we travel, and in Boquerón, the two had the chance to speak at length with two members in particular. These members each shared their personal creative incarnations of what it has meant to live in this afro-descendent community being displaced due to the coal mining industry. See the lyric piece “Boquerón, a Dream Turned to Nightmare,” and the poem “To my Boquerón” captured on film (with subtitles in English). The history of Boquerón goes much farther back than when the mining companies, among them US-based Drummond and Swiss-owned Glencore, came to Colombia seeking natural wealth. It is rich in the narrative of the African slave trade in Colombia, as Boquerón provided refuge to many who escaped and hid there.
Amongst all of this accompanying, in Bogotá, Kaya welcomed the newest FOR Peace Presence team member, Adilah Nasir, from Malaysia, and they picked up the training process. They attended the first-ever national CONPAZ – Constructing Peace in Communities Assembly, where Adilah had the chance to meet various FOR Peace Presence partners that make up part of this collective of mainly indigenous, afro-Colombian, and small-scale farming communities from all over the country.
Adilah joined the team just in time to join us on the February 27th in congratulating Diego Carreño of ACOOC – Diego is the first person in Colombia to graduate from an institution of higher education without a ‘libreta militar,’ or the military ID card, which had up until now been required to work or graduate after a 1993 law for recruitment entered into force. We all thank ACOOC for their tireless efforts to ensure that there are real alternatives to war and Colombia’s obligatory military service – ACOOC has been key in making this historic achievement possible.
In terms of political work, at the beginning of February FOR Peace Presence accompanied two embassy meetings. In one of those meetings, Juan Martinez, legal representative of ASOTRACAMPO shared about the dire situation of the Humanitarian Space El Mirador, a community struggling to stay on their land long enough to be resettled by the appropriate state entities. We also attended an embassy meeting regarding the death of Carlos Pedraza, educator and member of Congreso de los Pueblos, in order to ensure that the case of his assassination is thoroughly investigated and not left in impunity, especially considering recent waves of threats to human rights defenders.
In numbers, our Urabá team accompanied for 28 days, including a 4 day trip to Mulatos and La Resbalosa. The Bogotá team accompanied in the departments of Atlántico, Cesar and Magdalena for a total of 8 days. From the capital, we accompanied 2 embassy meetings, and published 10 written pieces to our website.
We could not continue doing our work on the ground in Colombia without you. Your willingness to read and learn more about these partners and our work, your sharing these things with networks where you live, and your donations support and help to protect Colombian human rights defenders, and we thank you for that.