For years, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó has been publicly denouncing activities of the (neo)paramilitary group AGC or Clan de Golfo in the Serranía de Abibé.
The Serranía de Abibé is one of the most biodiverse regions in northwestern Colombia, overflowing with natural water sources born from the fertile mountains that run through it. In 2023, an increase in AGC presence, along with the “forced involvement” of civilian society was reported, specifically in the hamlets Mulatos and Resbalosa, where the Peace Community has collective farming lands. Recent death threats against council members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and specifically against the work coordinator in La Resbalosa have risen concern, given the presence and control of (neo)paramilitary groups along the paths that lead to the collective land. The Peace Community released a report detailing the situation, which can be found here. In an attempt to better understand the situation, we spoke with Peace Community members living in La Resbalosa. You can find our interview below.
The FOR flag is hanging, the chickens are asleep, and the stove is on. A gentle wind blows through the Serranía de Abibé, where the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is located, in the northwest corner of Colombia. While on accompaniment, we interviewed a member of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó about La Resbalosa, in hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the region, its importance, and recent threats that have plagued the area.
La Resbalosa is a small village located between Córdoba and Antioquia, about 6 to 7 hours away from the urban area of San José de Apartadó, Antioquia and, on the Córdoba side, about 7 hours on a mule track to Frasquillo, the closest town. It is one of the most remote villages in the Peace Community.
How did the Community of San José de Apartadó arrive to La Resbalosa?
The Peace Community arrived to La Resbalosa many years ago. After the 2005 massacre, they began to visit La Resbalosa on a regular basis. There was a lot of fear from the people living there who had their farms in La Resbalosa, working them only when they could enter them, because there were a lot of threats and a lot of disappearances. It was on this farm, La Cabaña, where we are conducting our interview, where the paramilitaries committed the massacre together with the military in 2005.
Before the massacre, there were many members of the Community living in La Resbalosa. Luis Eduardo Guerra and others came before the massacre, and were living on their farms. After the massacre, they returned to the urban area of San José. At that time, A. Bolívar was the humanitarian zone coordinator of La Resbalosa. There were organizational spaces in the villages for local resident. Not all of the participants were from the Peace Community, but they were part of the humanitarian zones – areas where there was a house, a kiosk, where there was also a place to take refuge in case of combat. There was a lot of fighting, clashes between paramilitaries, army and guerrillas. A. Bolívar was killed on his farm in the massacre of La Resbolasa in 2005.
It was years after the massacre that the Community managed to acquire La Cabaña as a collective farm. After the purchase of the farm, the Community maintained a more consistent presence. Today, there are several places in La Resbalosa where there is a presence of community members, as well as several collective spaces.
What spaces are there and what activities are carried out in them?
We have this farm, La Cabaña, which is actually in Cordoba, as we are right on the border between Cordoba and Antioquia. There is also the Villa Nueva farm and the La Roblera farm. With the community on these farms, in particular Villa Nueva, we carry out community work, including planting crops like corn and beans, and we have cattle for subsistence, and to generate income. The Peace Community also has a family living in La Roblera. There are pastures with cattle and corn and bean crops. Here at La Cabaña we also have a cocoa crops, and we plant corn, rice, beans, cassava and the community has planted sugarcane. We also have a room to grind the cane and we produce honey almost every 15 days for families. What we do most every day is grow food. Because we have a lot of animals, we plant enough corn to sustain them.
You talked about creating funds, how does this work?
We have some space on the farms to have some cows that are for the benefit of the entire Peace Community. We call them “funds” because they’re used for emerging things, for example, if someone gets sick, you can sell an animal to cover the costs of the treatment. It is also used to support the farms themselves, for issues of fences, plating of pastures, organizing houses, buying tools, etc. The cattle fund is worked collectively. Between Mulatos and La Resbalosa, we have a fund of cattle that compiles about 17 head of cattle.
What does La Resbalosa mean for the Peace Community today?
La Resbalosa is a space in which we try not to “lose” our presence. In La Resbalosa we have struggled to maintain the presence of the Peace Community. Beyond our farms, it is a space of remembrance of the 2005 massacre. It is because of this memory that we try to stay. Since it is a village where a lot of food is produced, one of our ideas is to encourage people to use the spaces that the Peace Community has here.
It is important to remember that, right now, there is a high paramilitary presence in this area. This region -between Córdoba and Antioquia – is very valuable for the Peace Community. We try to cheer each other up. We – those of us living in La Resbalosa and Mulatos, our closest neighbor – try to keep resisting violence and threats, and continue to work the land communally.
What are the current challenges?
The challenge is to try to deal with all these big problems that exist because of the paramilitaries. They don’t allow us to work or to plant crops because we, as a Community of Peace, are threatened. We challenge ourselves to try to survive and to show that the Peace Community will always be here with an alternative proposal. Our goals are to try to maintain this for future generations, to watch these spaces that we are taking care of, because we are trying to preserve them for our children, so that when our children grow up they will want to continue caring for these lands. It is also a goal of ours to convince the government to recognize our collective lands, and to formalize them in the name of the Peace Community. It’s one of our greatest challenges.
What does taking care of farms mean to you?
It means living on them, working them, and planting everything we need for survival. Protecting it is not simply taking care of it so that it is not taken from us, but it is a way of survival, because we need the earth to survive. What we do is inhabit these lands, so that families can survive and have food.
Our farms only take up a small portion of the land here. We have food and some pastures for cattle, but another part of the land is jungle, reserves that the community tries not to damage. We have identified spaces to work and spaces for the reserve and clean waters. We want to leave those spaces alone, to protect them, protect the air, and the animals. Many of these natural spaces are running out in the area and the animals tend to die or to migrate elsewhere, as we have seen recently. Therefore, there are many animals of all kinds in the forests where we are because we try not to harm them. It’s another important goal we have at La Resbalosa: taking care of the forests for the animals, for the water and, in the end, for us – the people – too.