by Tom Power
When we arrived in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó for Christmas, former accompanier Emily and I didn’t really know what to expect. Neither of us had been there for some time, but we were excited that the Peace Community was going to have their Christmas celebration in the new “aldea” (small village), a 45 minute walk from La Unión.
The new “aldea” that the Peace Community has constructed is amazing. About a dozen families live in the newly constructed homes that overlook the Gulf of Urabá, building community through shared projects such as a flourishing garden. This “aldea” is named after Rigoberto Guzman, one of the Peace Community’s leaders who was killed in the massacre of 2000. He is one of many leaders whose bravery and commitment to the Peace Community motivates them to continue moving forward. I was inspired at their new space, and the way they have created rebirth amidst ongoing armed conflict.
Unfortunately, they need this continued resistance because the conflict in Urabá is far from over. While the FARC demobilized following the 2016 Peace Accords with the government, paramilitary groups continue to grow more powerful in San José. In the short time we were there, paramilitary groups issued death threats to the Peace Community and extorted butchers who live in the main village, just a half mile away from San Josecito- the biggest Peace Community settlement. Paramilitary groups are also charging a fee for each head of cattle owned by the residents of San José, making cattle ranching prohibitively expensive.
Of course, the Peace Community refuses to be extorted, putting them at even higher risk.
Furthermore, the 17th brigade has placed a writ for the protection of constitutional rights against the Peace Community. The 17th brigade alleges the Peace Community has damaged their “right to a good name” for saying the army is working with paramilitaries. After this alarming step taken by the 17th Brigade, various entities and organizations came out in support of the Peace Community, highlighting their right to denounce paramilitary activity and human rights violations in their region. Nonetheless, if this judicial process is successful, the Peace Community could lose their legal status in the country.
Despite these challenges, the Peace Community still celebrated Christmas, honoring how much they have accomplished. They are no strangers to these types of threats from armed actors and have over 20 years of experience resisting them. Grassroots movements such as the Peace Community are facing a difficult year, but they will not be intimidated.
The following piece and pictures were originally published in Spanish by our Accompanier Dianna E Almanza.
When I see the sunrise,
I see how mother nature awakens around me,
As if time stood still,
As if this very precise moment that I am living, were to last for a long time,
In which I am caught in a moment of profound tranquility, completely consumed by the grand beauty that surrounds me.
The earth itself that I walk on emits a profound energy, which I can’t even begin to describe,
The energy evokes many emotions within me,
I feel an immense force, an innate connection between the earth, and the guardians of the earth.
I observe the way in which the community takes care of its earth, treating it with such delicacy,
This is the same delicacy I see shown in the looks, caresses and embraces between parents and their children.
Here, I began to understand, with my own flesh and blood, the true meaning of living a life in peace, without hatred.
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, (Antioquia), Colombia, is a collective of small scale farmers, founded in 1997 in order to resist in the midst of the armed conflict. The small scale farmers declared themselves neutral (they do not interact with any armed group), they practice nonviolence, they don´t allow any arms in their territory and they have to participate in collective working groups. In order to receive more information, in their own words (in Spanish), visit their homepage www.cdpsanjose.org or follow this link for an introduction to the Peace Community of San José the Apartadó on our homepage in English.
The following pictures represent a selection of the very beginning of a photographic memory, which, in my opinion is the most convincing representation of the incredible force, unity, beauty and above all, resilience of the community, from my perspective as International Observer and Accompanier.
 The whole collection can be found in the original publication.
During the last months we have been repeatedly alarmed about the dramatically increasing rates of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia. Since the start of 2018, over 100 Human Rights defenders have been killed. Seemingly, the situation has become even more violent, during and after the presidential elections, with the new president coming into office this week. 24 human rights leaders were killed just between the months of June and July, averaging almost one human rights defender per day. The number even spiked in the first week of July with nine Human Rights Leaders killed in only four days.
These developments have impacted our work on the ground. We have received a steady increase of general and emergency petitions to walk with and advocate for the safety of social activists and communities, who receive threats, or even attacks. During a visit to Colombia last week, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst expressed his concern about these increasing assassinations of Human Rights Defenders, and highlighted their crucial role in constructing peace in Colombia. Alberto Brunori, the Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) in Colombia, also stressed that the situation for human rights defenders is very serious.
These human rights defenders are our hope for peace in Colombia! We would like to share at least a few lines about some of them, who do stand for many, knowing that their doings can never be resumed so shortly.
On May 11th and 12th, FORPP participated in a humanitarian mission to the Naya River, along with our partners the Intereclesial Commission of Peace and Justice and CONPAZ, as well as the other accompaniment organizations PBI and Witness for Peace. We went to observe the current threats faced by the communities along the Naya River.
“A human rights defender is someone who consciously acts on their profound sensitivity for life, and who does it in act of love and commitment for the lives of others.”
Since 2014, FORPP has accompanied Human Rights activist Enrique Chimonja Coy, member of the Intereclesial Commission of Justice and Peace. We accompany him to the city of Buenaventura and in the rivers of San Juan, Calima, and Naya, home to indigenous and afro-descendent communities who are survivors of the armed conflict.