Mapiripán: Defending Land and Memory

Meet our new accompanier: Enrique

Enrique is a social leader, human rights defender and member of the victims’ network Communities Constructing Peace in the Communities (CONPAZ). In 2017, he was selected the Human Rights Defender of the Year in the national awards for human rights, granted by Diakonía and the Swedish Church.

His mother and father were campesinos (small-scale farmers). His father was disappeared, after which his mother was motivated to become a leader for her community and a member of the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union) despite great personal risk, as the movement suffered what some term a political genocide, with an estimated over 5000 members killed.

He says:

“My path in human rights defense, social work and community organizing began more than 30 years ago as part of the Catholic church, with whom I did pastoral and missionary work for seven years in different regions of Colombia, such as Santander, Boyacá, Antioquia and Cundinamarca. For over 23 years I worked in the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Comission, accompanying communities in processes of civil resistance and the construction of peace in the midst of  armed conflict. I worked in Chocó, Antioquia, Meta, Putumayo, Cauca, Valle de Cauca and Huila.

My family and I are victims of the conflict who have become leaders of a process of memory, truth-finding, and the search for disappeared persons, as well as advocates for environmental protection and conditions for no-repetition of the violence we experienced.

I am grateful for the opportunity to continue building a culture of peace and human rights with FOR Peace Presence as part of the Colombian field team, supporting community processes that affirm their rights to build sustainable peace, which includes social and environmental justice.”

 

Meet our new accompanier: María Eugenia

María Eugenia is from the outskirts of Popayán, in the department of Cauca. She studied ethno-education at the University of Cauca. Her family member was a victim of  an extrajudicial execution, which motivated her to get involved in peace-building work. She is a human rights defender and victim advocate.

She says:
“My work with communities began in the comunidades eclesiales de base (grassroots church communities) in the poor neighborhoods and rural areas around Popayán. Between 1991 and 2001, I was a volunteer with the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission, and was a member of the collective Human Rights, Life and Dignity of Popayán.

I’m part of the network CONPAZ, on behalf of which I was invited to Havana to participate in roundtable discussions for the proposals for victims and the inter-ethnic focus of the Peace Accords between the FARC and the Colombian government of then President Juan Manuel Santos.

I have also been part of a group that witnessed the early Acts of Recognition and Responsibility, public ceremonies that recognize the harm done by violent events that occurred in the mark of the conflict. I have witnessed Acts of Recognition and Responsibility in Bojayá (Chocó) and La Chinita (Apartadó, Antioquia).

Between 2001 and 2018, I accompanied Afro-Colombian, indigenous and small-scale farming communities who are victims of the social and armed conflict, and are building models of humanitarian protection in rural and urban areas in the departments of Chocó, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca and Meta.

FOR Peace Presence is an organization with whom I can continue to support peace-building in the territories of Colombia, accompanying communities and strengthening their protection and non-violent action.”

 

Mapiripán: Defending Land and Memory

After a steep descend from the Andean mountains, we enter the Eastern Plains of Colombia, the department of Meta. We follow the newly paved road into the heart of the plains. Soon after leaving the main road, just before crossing Guaviare river (to get to San José de Guaviare), a reddish dirt road appears in front of us, like a thin, slightly tilted snake taking a sun bath between different shades of green. Following the road, first the shades of greens turn out to be grasslands for cattle or monocultures of palm oil trees. Some of them have been planted only recently. Getting closer to Mapiripán, the holes in the road become more frequent, the journey more uncomfortable. At the same time vast grasslands with endemic savanna-grass, which shimmers gray, appear. In slightly lower parts, the scenery is completed by ribbons of the natural moriche palm trees of the area. They coexist with cristal clear water pools. A few kilometres before entering the city of Mapiripán, a newly paved road reappears out of the nowhere, and even street signs appear. Soon we reach the main square of Mapiripan, which has a new sports complex alongside with some old impressive tree. The banks of the Guaviare river are only a few meters away. It connects the region with the Orinoco river and the rainforest.

During our trip, we talked with various community leaders and organizations in the region to better understand the context and what a potential accompaniment could look like. We met with the Council of the Mapiripán Association in Defense of the Environment (known as Asodeamapi). We also met with two indigenous communities: the leaders of the Jiw community, who have been displaced and currently live in Mapiripán, and the Sikuani people, who were forcibly displaced and have been living in a settlement on the Guaviare river for over 10 years.

We also listened to the leaders and spokespeople of the Asentamiento Humano (Human settlement) collective, lead by 302 families who are victims of the armed conflict and demand dignified living conditions in the central settlement of Mapiripán. Finally, we went to the department of Guaviare to visit the Territorial Space of Training and Reincorporation (ETCR), in the rural town of Charras de San José de Guaviare. This space is for the reincorporation of ex-FARC combatants, as part of the Peace Accords. We were guided by CONPAZ leader William Aljure, who along with his family has been advocating for an Act of Recognition for the 11 families whose loved ones were attacked and/or disappeared in acts of violence committed by the public forces, paramilitaries, and the FARC guerilla.

 

Visiting with members of Asodeamapi, the Mapiripán Association in Defense of the Environment.

Visiting with members of Asodeamapi, the Mapiripán Association in Defense of the Environment.

Visiting the settlement of Sikuane indigenous community in Mapiripán, who were displaced here.

Visiting the settlement of Sikuane indigenous community.

Traveling on the Guaviare river to the Territorial Space of Training and Reincorporation

 

Inside the Territorial Space of Training and Reincorporation in Charras de San José de Guaviare: “Victory in Peace” is written on the building on the opposite bank.