2016 marks the fourteenth year that FOR Peace Presence has been accompanying communities and organizations dedicated to social justice and non-violence in Colombia. January was a month filled with anticipation. We reflected upon how we can support our partners as the country begins to shift its discourse in light of the peace negotiations happening in Havana, Cuba. We also welcomed new accompaniers Tom and Sandra to the Bogotá team. Even as the Colombian government and the FARC draw closer to a peace agreement, our partners continue to face threats and harassment.

A community member speaks at the public hearing in Cesar

On January 20th 2016, the members of Tierra Digna discovered that unknown persons broke into their office and stole the computer of one of their organization’s founders. Despite having access to other parts of the office, the robbers’ actions were specifically directed at taking the computer in which Tierra Digna stored important information necessary to their work. This theft added to a chain of irregular events that include followings, communication interceptions, and other robberies of the Tierra Digna team. FORPP reached out to our local, national and international networks to share Tierra Digna’s denouncement of the robbery and the organization’s demand for security and protection from state authorities so that they can continue defending human rights. Click here to read the full public announcement.

Despite the significant blow caused by this theft, Tom and Sophie accompanied the members of Tierra Digna as they continued the month of January with a public hearing about the environmental impact of coal mines owned by U.S. Company Drummond in the department of Cesar.  This hearing was a follow up to Tierra Digna’s recent report and video about the impact of coal mining in Colombia. Affected communities from Cesar demanded the hearing to know more about the project and its environmental impacts. Open air mining in the region has led to air contamination from powder rising out of the coal mine, as well as pollution in the water and soil that led to an order of resettlement for three communities in Cesar including Boquerón which Tierra Digna has been accompanying for 5 years. The public hearing  was an opportunity for community members to express their concerns to the national environmental authorities about this project, concerns which include a redirection of the San Antonio River. Given the current drought, caused partly by mining exploitation, this redirection could have a dramatic impact on the local ecosystem.

New acompanier Tom reflects on ASOTRACAMPO’s displacement, “It’s incredible that in spite of everything the people continue their fight and retain their hope.”

After the public hearing, Sophie and Tom travelled to Barranquilla to visit community members of El Tamarindo after the devastating evictions in December. Since the creation of a duty free zone of Barranquilla in 2007, the community of El Tamarindo has been subjected to severe harassment from the government that culminated in an eviction just two days before Christmas. More than 80% of ASOTRACAMPO members are victims of Colombia’s armed conflict, most of them have been displaced several times, and many families had nowhere to go.  Though the state did not provide any support to the community during the eviction process, the international support from our networks, as well as international observation from FOR Peace Presence and the United Nations Office of Human Rights on the ground, helped ensure that the process happened without physical violence. Some of the members of ASOTRACAMPO received two months of renting in Barranquilla or a small amount of money; others received a piece of land one hour away from Barranquilla; and others did not receive anything. Many members have been stuck in precarious living conditions after the evictions without sustainable solutions of relocation- a responsibility of the Colombian National Unit of Victims.

FOR Peace Presence continues to stand with our partners demanding that the state fulfill its role in defending the rights of communities impacted by the armed conflict and economic development in Colombia. In January FORPP accompanied 15 days and had one meeting with multiple international institutions.

Thank you for your continued support, stay tuned for more!