Since November 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC Guerillas have been in peace talks to end the more than 50 year long armed-conflict. But peace is not just the silencing of guns. Peace does not live on a piece of paper. For a sustained and comprehensive peace the root issues of the conflict must be addressed. Peace is complex and dynamic, affecting every aspect of your life. To achieve and sustain it there are a multitude of rights and issues that lay the groundwork for real peace. Through this campaign we are broadening the conversation around what is needed for real peace.
“YOU THROW A PLANTAIN PLANT ON THE GROUND AND LEAVE IT THERE AND WHEN YOU GO BACK TO LOOK, SEE, IT’S HUGE. YOU THROW A YUCCA ROOT, AND POOF!; THAT YUCCA HAS ROOTED AND IT ALREADY HAS LITTLE YUCCAS. THAT IS WHY THEY HAVE THEIR EYE ON THIS LAND.” ~ Ligia María Chaverra, a 71 year old “matriarch” of the Humanitarian Zone explains that many powerful interests covet the land because of its tremendous fertility.
Between 4 and 10 million Colombians identify as Afro-Descendants. Historically Afro-Colombians have been marginalized. Afro-Colombian territory is extremely fertile and is some of the most coveted land in Colombia due to its high concentration of natural resources. The rate of displacement of Afro-Colombians is 20% higher than the national average. In 2009, the Constitutional Court recognized that forced displacement in the Afro-Colombian community violates their individual and collective rights, reinforces racial discrimination, perpetuates poverty, and exacerbates the humanitarian crisis. 96.5% of Afro-Colombians living in conditions of forced displacement live below the poverty line. People flee to urban areas when they are forcibly displaced. In Buenaventura 80% of the inhabitants identify as Afro-Colombian. Violence and poverty are rampant in there. Between January of 2010 and December of 2013, 150 people were disappeared in Buenaventura, this figure doubles any other municipality in the country. After years of community outcry about the existence of “chop-up” houses, the world finally took notice when a Human Rights Watch Report confirmed their existence. Neo-paramilitary groups dismember and murder people in these houses who violate their rules. Community members know where the houses are, and hear the screams for help in the middle of the night, but out of fear of becoming the next victim they remain silent.
27.8% OF COLOMBIANS LIVE BELOW THE POVERTY LINE
Colombia is the world’s eighth most inequitable country. It’s GINI index is over 53.5 which represents income distribution and indicates large economic inequality (0 represents perfect economic distribution while 100 represents absolute inequality). Of the 27.8% of Colombians who live in poverty, 7.9% live in extreme poverty. In 2015, 8.9% of Colombians were unemployed, although 5.93 million Colombians work in the informal labor sector and lack a dignified salary. Women, children, Afro-Colombians, Indigenous, Campesinos and displaced people are disproportionately affected by poverty.
BUILDING COMMUNITY BUILDS PEACE
Our partners in the San Jose Peace Community construct peace in times of war by building community and working collectively. This sentiment has been echoed by many Colombians we have spoken to. In political strategies such as Peace Communities and Humanitarian Zones, communities join together to create spaces that are exclusively for civilian populations, so that they are able to live their lives with more safety and protection in the middle of a conflict zone.
“IT IS TIME FOR PARENTS TO TEACH YOUNG PEOPLE EARLY ON THAT IN DIVERSITY THERE IS BEAUTY AND THERE IS STRENGTH.” ~ Maya Angelou
Colombians are incredibly diverse, comprising a wide array of cultural, ethnic, sexual orientations, gender, sex, class, race, ability, age and religious identities. Afro-Colombians makeup 10.6% of the population, making them the second largest Afro population in Latin America after Brazil. There are 84 different indigenous groups with 68 different languages who account for 3.3% of the population. Colombia is also one of the most biodiverse countries on the entire planet.
“EDUCATION IS THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPON WHICH YOU CAN USE TO CHANGE THE WORLD.” ~ Nelson Mandela
The relationship between education and peace is complex and dynamic. More education offers people better professional opportunities and can spur social equality and political stability. Only 37.2% of young Colombians continued their studies or training after high school in 2010. In 2013, 93.6% of the population over the age of 15 was literate. Investment in secondary education is used as a strategy to dissuade rebel recruitment. A study done – “Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Recruitment: An Analysis of Survey Data from Colombia”- by Arjona & Kalyvas (2007) found that education levels were the same between paramilitary and guerrillas soldiers, both groups attracted people from the poorest and less educated sectors of Colombian society.
ONE IN TEN CHILDREN IN COLOMBIA SUFFER FROM CHRONIC MALNUTRITION, YET IN 2011 THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT DESTROYED 70 TONS OF RICE THAT DID NOT COMPLY WITH FREE TRADE LAWS.
The national child malnutrition rate in Colombia is 13.2%, but in some regions in Colombia, particularly in Indigenous communities, this rate jumps to as high as 34.7%. At the same time, free trade agreements (FTAs) pose major risks to food security and food sovereignty. One of the requirements to passing the FTA with the US was the implementation of Law 9.70, which made it illegal for Colombian farmers to store seeds. What happened in 2011 in Campoalegre, Huila highlights the disastrous effects of neoliberal policies. The Colombian Government seized 70 tons of rice from Campoalegre farmers and destroyed it in a garbage dump. The small-scale farmers there were criminalized for engaging in a practice that they’ve used for generations – saving seeds from their harvest to be replanted. The free trade agreement however, stipulates that farmers instead use certified seeds, in other words, genetically modified seeds purchased from multinationals such as Monsanto and Dupont.
6.6 MILLION COLOMBIANS HAVE BEEN FORCIBLY DISPLACED. LAND CAN BE RETURNED, BUT IN ORDER FOR PEOPLE TO RETURN TO THEIR TERRITORIES AND STAY, MINIMUM SECURITY AND LIVING CONDITIONS ARE ESSENTIAL.
Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law passed in 2011, opened a path to restore millions of acres of land that have been stolen or abandoned for safety during the conflict. However, in order to return and remain on their land, Colombians need safety and minimum guarantees from the government. The Pitalito Community in Cesar is an emblematic case for land restitution. These small-scale farmers were displaced from their land in the late 1990’s, again in 2010 and again in 2013. Currently, the land is occupied by a large-scale oil palm plantation (oil palm is used to make bio-diesel), and neo-paramilitary groups use violence to protect the economic interests of businesses claiming ownership over the land.
29.1 % OF COLOMBIAN FAMILIES DON’T HAVE ADEQUATE HOUSING
Poverty compounded with forced displacement exacerbates an already challenging situation. As people flee violent conflicts informal settlements proliferate in cities. 3.8 million households don’t have adequate housing and 5 % are homeless.
INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, WHO OFTEN LIVE ON TERRITORIES RICH WITH NATURAL RESOURCES, ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY FORCED DISPLACEMENT. SINCE INDIGENOUS ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL PRACTICES ARE SO INTRICATELY CONNECTED TO THEIR TERRITORY, FORCED DISPLACEMENT NOT ONLY TEARS INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES FROM THEIR HOMES AND LIVES, IT THREATENS THEIR VERY EXISTENCE.
There are 84 different Indigenous groups with 68 different languages who account for 3.3% of the population. While the national average of chronic malnourishment among children is 12%, this figure skyrockets to 90% in indigenous communities along the Pacific Coast. Historically indigenous communities have lived on land that is rich in natural resources and subsequently, their land has been targeted by multinational corporations seeking to profit from those natural resources. Indigenous communities have autonomy over their territory and by law are entitled to what is termed “previous consultation,” meaning that multinational corporations must seek the community’s permission before implementing projects in indigenous territory. Often times this law is not observed. Indigenous communities are disproportionately displaced from their territories. According to ONIC 18 of the smaller Indigenous groups are at risk of disappearing all together. April 10th, 2016, 466 Wounnan Indigenous displaced from the community of Pichima Quebrada, Chocó because of military operations against the ELN guerillas.
“INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
9 OUT OF 10 MURDERS IN COLOMBIA REMAIN IN IMPUNITY
The Colombian Military has one of the worst human rights records in the Western Hemisphere. Between 2002 and 2008 the military systematically murdered at least 3,000 civilians in what became known as the false positive scandal. These civilians were murdered and then dressed as guerrilla fighters in order to be recorded as enemy combatants and to subsequently inflate the success rate of the fight against the counter-insurgency. 98.5% of false positive cases are in impunity. A negotiated end to Colombia’s armed conflict between Colombia’s military and the FARC is an incredible step forward following more than 50 years of armed conflict; nevertheless, justice requires that the underlying structures causing widespread and unchecked human and environmental atrocities be dismantled.
“PEACE DOES NOT MEAN AN ABSENCE OF CONFLICTS; DIFFERENCES WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. PEACE MEANS SOLVING THESE DIFFERENCES THROUGH PEACEFUL MEANS; THROUGH DIALOGUE, EDUCATION, KNOWLEDGE; AND THROUGH HUMANE WAYS.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV
Grassroots communities have local knowledge. The peace process in Colombia is an agreement at the highest levels between top commanders and leaders on both sides of the armed conflict. In order to create a real and lasting peace from the bottom up, the country’s leaders must take the lead from those who have local knowledge as on-the-ground experts creating solutions that work for their communities and territories.
THE CONFLICT IN COLOMBIA IS OVER LAND
Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet. This abundance of natural resources has fueled an internal conflict for over 50 years, as powerful elites vie for control of the territory to profit from these natural resources. Forced displacement in Colombia is not a consequence of the conflict, rather it is an intentional economic strategy to accumulate land. As of December 2013, 6.5 million hectares of land had been violently stolen. Colombia has the world’s second largest forced displacement crisis, with 6.6 million victims. Colombia has one of the most unequal land distribution in the world, 52% of the farms in the hands of only 1.15% of the landowners. “If the land is redistributed, it’s a condition for the possibility of peace.” ~ Abilio Peña (Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission)
“IT’S CLEAR TO ME THAT WE ARE GOING TO CONSTRUCT PEACE FROM THE COMMUNITIES.” ~ Wounaan Indigenous Leader
“Colombia is a country characterized by always having voices that are raised against injustice.” ~ Abilio Peña. With a myriad of grassroots and community organizations, some regard Colombia as having one of the strongest and most organized social justice movements in the world. Historically, Colombia has also been a country in which people are assassinated who challenge the status quo. The Patriotic Union was a political movement that emerged from the peace process between the government and the FARC guerillas in 1985. Following the creation of the Patriotic Union, a genocide was committed, and some claim as many as 5,000 members were assassinated. However, despite the risk it poses to their lives, Colombians continue to struggle for a different world. In 2010, the Congress of the People brought together 17,000 delegates from 200 organizations from across Colombia to legislate around issues of territory, the economy and governing.
“NON-VIOLENCE IS NOT INACTION. IT IS NOT DISCUSSION. IT IS NOT FOR THE TIMID OR WEAK…NON-VIOLENCE IS HARD WORK.” ~ César Chávez
50 years of armed conflict in Colombia has resulted in “7.8 million victims of the conflict, including almost 6.6 million victims of forced displacement, more than 45,000 enforced disappearances and around 263,000 conflict-related killings; the vast majority of victims were civilians.” History has shown this conflict can’t be ended with arms. Social movements across the country call for a peaceful negotiated end to the armed conflict. Communities in Colombia have creatively used nonviolent tactics and ideas to build their own safety and visibility in the face of atrocious violence. They are incredible current-day examples of active nonviolence being employed under extremely difficult circumstances. FOR Peace Presence accompanies communities who embrace active non-violence to defend life, land and dignity.
“IN A FEW DECADES, THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND CONFLICT MAY SEEM ALMOST AS OBVIOUS AS THE CONNECTION WE SEE TODAY BETWEEN HUMAN RIGHTS, DEMOCRACY AND PEACE.” ~ Wangari Maathai
Taking care of the environment, being conscious about consumption and the use of natural resources may be a green trend for some, a political conviction for others, but yet for others their lives, livelihood and cultures are so closely intertwined with land, that ravage use of natural resources and contamination can mean existence or extinction. The Colombian government has pushed aggressive mining policies to grow its economy. The extractive industry has severe environmental degradation impacts. More than 40% of Colombian land has been awarded to mining concessions or is solicited.
LAW 70 PROTECTS THE RIGHTS OF AFRO-COLOMBIANS AND GIVES THEM THE POWER TO DECIDE WHAT GOES ON IN THEIR TERRITORIES
“That Indigenous and Afro communities can live according to their traditional practices in their territories. The question is if the development model is capable of [allowing] this. I do not believe so. We have seen in many press releases, even of the president himself saying that [Indigenous and Black communities’ right to] Prior Consultation [about projects in their territories] is an obstacle to development. When Prior Consultation, for us, is what permits us to guarantee that we as people can continue to be, that we can continue to be here.” ~ Francia Márquez Mina of (PCN, Black Communities Process)
Afro-Colombians face a higher risk of forced displacement. Law 70 “officially recognized Afro-Colombians as a distinct ethnicity and provided a legal foundation for the defense of Afro-Colombian territorial rights.” Additionally it gives them the right to collective property and the right to prior consultation so that they have the autonomy to decide which productive projects can be implemented in their territory.
QUALITY OF LIFE
COLOMBIA IS RANKED 97TH OUT OF 188 COUNTRIES ON THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX, WHICH IS OFTEN REFERRED TO AS A MEASUREMENT OF QUALITY OF LIFE.
This index takes into account health, education, income, inequality, gender, poverty, employment, human security, trade, mobility and communication, environmental sustainability, demography. When people lack life quality and have to witness the suffering of their families, they become desperate for options. When options are limited, some people feel enormous pressure to join armed groups that entice people by offering financial gains.
“THE PRACTICE OF PEACE AND RECONCILIATION IS ONE OF THE MOST VITAL AND ARTISTIC OF HUMAN ACTIONS.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
“WITHOUT IT PEOPLE HAVE NO SENSE OF SAFETY, NO TRUST, NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE.” ~ Desmond Tutu
“Reconciliation is the process of addressing the legacy of past violence and rebuilding the broken relationships it has caused.” Although the line between victims and victimizers is rarely black and white, in the aftermath of a war societies are often divided between victims and victimizers. However, to move forward, to heal, to become whole it is paramount that societies find a way to live together with respect to all of its members. Communities Constructing Peace in Territories (CONPAZ) asserts that a big obstacle to achieving peace in Colombia will be the society’s willingness to accept ex-combatants back into the community. Demobilized guerrillas are often murdered, as was clearly illustrated in the Patriotic Union genocide. Constructing an inclusive political platform where all can freely participate is necessary in the construction of peace.
SMALL-SCALE FARMERS WANT TO BE ABLE TO LIVE THEIR LIVES WITHOUT WAR, ORGANIZE AND DETERMINE THE FATE OF THEIR COMMUNITIES WITHIN THEIR TERRITORIES.
“The state wants to be in control of everything, to maintain people in a relationship of dependency. What we want is: to not depend upon the State…We are autonomous. We want to have our own crops, food, and our own education. And we have them: alternatives, of life …We have a peace amongst ourselves. If we unite, struggle, plant food, work, and have our daily bread, then there will be peace, even if we are attacked by the State.” ~ Member of Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Five out of six victims have been civilians in Colombia’s war. Colombians, particularly in rural communities, are literally caught in the crossfire: pressured to collaborate by various armed groups and threatened with violence or displacement if they don’t. Against all odds, communities and leaders at the local level have taken a stand to protect their territories, defend their rights and demand space to create autonomous communities in their own vision, work, life and organize themselves according to their own principles.
“IN SOUTH AFRICA WE HAVE TRAVELLED A LONG WAY DOWN THE ROAD OF RECONCILIATION…FOR US, TRUTH WAS AT THE HEART OF RECONCILIATION: THE NEED TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HORRORS OF THE PAST, THE BETTER TO ENSURE THAT THEY NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.” ~ Desmond Tutu
According to Álvaro Villarraga, Director of the Truth Accords of the Historic Memory Center, during a radio interview March 24th, 2015 commemorating the International Day to the Truth relating to grave human rights violations, “In Colombia the challenge of truth is very big, in the first place it’s a right of the victims, but also of the whole society. Truth doesn’t refer to just any circumstance; above all it’s to shine light on grave violations against the civilian population, violations against human rights and humanitarian law. In the historic Colombian context impunity and inefficiency of justice has been prevalent.”
MORE THAN HALF OF ALL UNION ORGANIZERS MURDERED WORLDWIDE ARE COLOMBIAN
3,000 union members have been assassinated over the last 30 years in Colombia. To address concerns that a free trade agreement would further intensify violence against union organizers, the Labor Action Plan (LAP) was implemented. Among its many provisions, the LAP aimed to improve the safety of labor leaders and outlaw subcontracting. Not only does the practice of subcontracting continue with a different name, “since the signing of the LAP three years ago, 73 unionists have been killed, 31 more have seen attempts on their life, six have been forcibly disappeared, and 953 death threats have been issued.”
THE VERY SENTIMENT AT THE HEART OF THIS CAMPAIGN
“It is good for the guns to stop for our work to continue, that the armed groups find reconciliation. But peace does not come from them. For there to be peace, communities need to be prepared to receive the guerrillas that will demobilize in order to make the peace agreements a reality.” ~ Ricardo Esquivia (Executive Director of Sembrandopaz)
“Peace will not be constructed with the laying down of arms. It must be constructed by making life more equal in this country. (…) I speak about the construction of a social fabric with schools, highways, health centers, all those things that would make life easy for the campesinos.” ~ Carmen Palencia (legal representative of the land restitution organization Tierra y Vida)
Over and over our Colombian partners have repeated to us that the negotiations are happening in Havana Cuba, but they are concerned about the peace process because the voice of their community is being left out.
“THE NEXT WAR WILL BE OVER WATER.” ~ Community Leader, La Esperanza
“THE WAYUU ARE [LITERALLY] DYING OF THIRST.” ~ Wayuu Indigenous Leader
“More people die of drought and dirty water in Colombia than from the armed conflict.” Access to safe water in communities across Colombia is impacted by corruption, overuse of water supplies by the large-scale mining or agro industry and contamination by multinational corporations. Some of the hardest hit communities are Indigenous. “The Ranchería river has run dry after three years of intense drought, decades of overuse and a lifetime of public corruption in the province of La Guajira, [home to Colombia’s largest Indigenous population], one of Colombia’s poorest and most forgotten regions.”
XENACIOUS: FILLED WITH YEARNING FOR CHANGE.
AFTER MORE THAN 50 YEARS OF WAR, COLOMBIANS ARE READY FOR A DIFFERENT WORLD.
“I TOLD HER THAT I’M A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR, THAT I DIDN’T WANT TO BE THERE BECAUSE OF MY CONVICTIONS AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND BECAUSE I AM AGAINST ANY KIND OF MILITARY DISCIPLINE. I DON’T BELIEVE IN GOING TO WAR OR HAVING A GUERRILLA FIGHTER OR ANOTHER PERSON IN FRONT OF ME…I’M NOBODY TO JUDGE BETWEEN THAT PERSON’S LIFE AND MY OWN.” ~ Jose Luis Peña Rueda, speaking about his experience as a victim of an illegal street round up in Bogotá.
Colombia is the only South American nation where military service is obligatory. Our Colombian partners, Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors (ACOOC), advise young people who are victims of illegal recruitment practices by the military and are working towards the recognition of conscientious objection by the Colombian government. Committed to nonviolence, ACOOC also works towards demilitarization of society by using creative means such as films and street theatre to help youth successfully challenge the militarization of their bodies, minds, and Colombian society. Recently, young conscientious objectors leveraged creative nonviolent actions and litigation to obtain the first official recognition of a conscientious objector for non-religious purposes. At the end of 2015, they won a long-battle to finally be guaranteed the right to graduate from university without completing obligatory military service.
FROM THE OUTSIDE COLOMBIA MAY SEEM TO BE A COUNTRY RIFE WITH WAR AND OVERRUN BY DRUGS.
However, as you begin to “zoom in” on the country, the details and nuances begin to reveal themselves. You start to see the highlands and lowlands, the mountains and deserts, the coastal areas and cities. As you continue to “zoom in” you open a window to see the communities that make up those geographic areas; their struggles, achievements, and dreams. You create space to understand the reality of how peace is understood and materialized in their daily lives. You initiate a process of reflection and expand your understanding to allow room for your perspectives to be transformed and a new world to exist.
~Photography by Melissa Cox