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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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 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.
A few weeks ago we traveled to the interethnic territory of Blanquita Murrí, located in the Frontino municipality of the state of Antioquia, to formally receive their petition for accompaniment. Read more background on Blanquita-Murrí here.
We were invited to a harmonization ceremony lead by the jaibanas, the traditional healers of the Embera Eyábida people. More than 200 people participated including indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and small-scale farmers.
This ceremony of nonviolence is traditional to the local Embera Eyábida indigenous people and is carried out to help establish unity. It uses traditional medicine to harmonize communities affected by centuries of colonial intervention, decades of armed conflict, exclusion by the Colombian government, and the violence brought by the interests of the extraction industry.
During this ritual of restoration and harmonization, FOR Peace Presence received a written petition to accompany the Interethnic Committee for the Construction of Peace, a body of local community members who have designed a Plan for Life that aligns with an interethnic identity and provides concrete steps towards building peace in the territory. Leaders from the Embera Eyábida, Afro-Colombian and mestizo farming communities presented the accompaniment petition.
The harmonization ritual was carried out in response to a recent increase in attacks and threats against civilians in the area. In August of this year, three civilians, including a 16 year-old indigenous boy, were killed by armed groups during a shootout. As part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation network, an international movement for peace and dialogue, we recognize that traditional rituals such as these are a critical part of the construction of peace, invoking acts of reconciliation, restoration, and profound respect for the diversity of life.
In the upcoming months, we will continue to carry out both physical and political accompaniments to Blanquita-Murrí to support their day-to-day efforts to build peace across diversity, both human and biodiversity. We are honored to play a part in their important work. Your donation of $10, $25, $50, $100 or more will help make our accompaninment possible.
After a four-hour jeep ride through thick forest and passing over waterfalls, the valley of Blanquita-Murrí, Frontino, Antioquia opened up in front of us. Wide forests and grasslands surrounded the main settlement of the high mountain plain, which is the hub for the various communities which populate this rural district.
A very diverse area, the total population of about 8500 people includes: thirty indigenous communities grouped into seven reserves of the Embera Eyábada nation, seven Afro-Colombian communities who share a collective land title, and seven campesino (small-scale farming) communities. Throughout these communities, over seventy ex-combatants of the FARC have settled in Blanquita-Murrí since the signing of the Peace Accords between the FARC-EP and the government in 2016.
While visiting Blanquita-Murrí with community workers from the post-agreement project “de la guerra a la Paz” (from war to Peace) we met with the Interethnic Committee for the Construction of Peace, which is an initiative of the different communities of the region to strengthen interconnectedness and construct peace. The Interethnic Committee has met regularly since November of 2018. Lately, its members have been working on a “plan de vida” (plan for life). As a form of community empowerment, this process includes a characterization of the population and the territory so that they can design their own projects for infrastructure, education, and health care and alike. This demonstrates the kind of long term planning which is considered an essential part of the authentic construction of peace.
But on August 8th, 2019, tragedy struck. Three people were killed in a dispute between armed groups over territorial control, one of whom was a sixteen year-old boy from one of the thirty local indigenous communities, who happened to be in the town at the time of the attack.
In response to the attack, the governor of Antioquia Luis Pérez said, ”These areas are full of coca. After the ex-combatants arrived, it started to become an area where even the residents can’t go. They are areas in control of delinquents with a criminal interest.” The governor further mentioned that certain authorities “recommended that Blanquita, where there are demobilized (guerrillas), candidates for elected office should not go, because the situation is complicated.” This is a dangerous stigmatization of the ex-combatants specifically and the civil population of Blanquita-Murrí more generally.
The civilian population of the zone has suffered violence throughout Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict. In 1996, there was massive displacements in which almost everyone left, and some inhabitants never returned. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s they were stigmatized as being part of illegal armed groups, which led to violence and fueled the armed conflict. The community does not want to return to that.
In the midst of fear and anxiety, which we felt during our visit, the Interethnic Committee sent an open letter to the governor with the following demands:
On the last day of our visit, we shared chorizo and arepas with our friends from “de la guerra a la Paz” as people passed by on the way to work. We shared laughs and at the same time we feel a tense seriousness, which we attribute to the challenges they have to face. Despite the challenges, they remain optimistic that the interethnic roundtable and the plan for life – an attempt to sew social fabric in the midst of war – can contribute to a future without stigmatization and violence.