A Racial Analysis of Colombia’s Peace Plebiscite

Blanquita-Murrí and a Plan for Life

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 roundtable, which is an initiative of the different communities of the region to strengthen interconnectedness and construct peace. The interethnic roundtable 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 roundtable sent an open letter to the governor with the following demands:

  • Stop stigmatizing the communities of Blanquita-Murrí
  • Faithfully commit to the construction of peace in their territories and, as a result, implement the Final Peace Agreements (with the FARC-EP)
  • Respect and acknowledge the communities, who continue to fight day in and day out with unity and words to construct peace.
  • Complete guarantees for a dignified life for their communities.

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.

Neoparamilitaries- what’s so new about them?

Para la versión en español, haz click aqui.
Written by Thomas Power, international accompanier of FOR Peace Presence.

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AGC grafiti on the poster with the Peace Community’s principles.

I currently live in a village called “La Unión” as an international accompanier and observer in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, located in the mountains of northwest Colombia. Normally, mornings consist of me making coffee while reading the paper and greeting campesinos (small scale farmers) on their way to work. On the morning of September 6th however, there was a tense apprehension behind the “buenos días”, as the community had received news that armed neo-paramilitaries had entered the neighboring village. The neo-paramilitaries were threatening the people living there, including Peace Community members, so the community was organizing volunteers to go verify the situation and make their presence felt.


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Neoparamilitares – ¿qué más de nuevo sobre ellos?

For the English version, click here.

Escrito por Thomas Power, acompañante internacional de FOR Presente por la Paz.

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Grafiti de Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) sobre la valla con los principios de la Comunidad de Paz, abril de 2016.

Actualmente vivo en la vereda La Unión como acompañante y observador internacional en la Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó, ubicada en la región montañosa del Noroeste de Colombia.

Normalmente mis mañanas consisten en hacerme un café mientras leo las noticias y saludo a lxs campesinxs en su camino hacia el trabajo. Sin embargo el día 6 de septiembre, se sentía una tensa preocupación detrás de los “buenos días”, ya que la comunidad se había enterado que neoparamilitares armados habían entrado a la vereda colindante. Los neoparamilitares estaban amenazando a lxs habitantes, incluyendo miembros de la Comunidad de Paz. Decidieron entonces organizar a voluntarixs para ir a verificar la situación y mostrar presencia.


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Public Apologies and Reconciliation: FARC Take Responsibility for La Chinita Massacre

Para la versión en español haz click aqui

Written by Tom Power, FOR-PP accompanier, who was present at the September event. The article was also published by Global Voices.

A few days before the national plebiscite vote that rejected the peace accords, two of the most famous FARC guerrilla leaders Ivan Márquez and Pastor Alape arrived to the northernmost region of the country, the Gulf of Uraba, to participate in a public ceremony of recognition and forgiveness, as it was requested by the Apartadó Municipality Victims’ Association during the negotiations.

The crowd rose to its feet, stretching to look at the famous FARC guerrilla leaders Ivan Marquez and Pastor Alape, as they made their way to the stage. The ceremony on the 30th of September was attended by more than 500 people. The relatives of the 35 victims of La Chinita massacre sat in the front row, wearing matching t-shirts reading, “Sí Perdonamos” (yes, we forgive), anxiously awaiting what Ivan Marquez had to say.

“As an organization, as a collective, we recognize the many good people who weren’t able to achieve their dreams […] the deaths of La Chinita are also our deaths,” said Ivan Marquez in his intervention, “We want to reestablish a relationship. Peace is in the heart; we’re going to construct a future with hope. We’re going to fight for rights, and change, and transformation.”


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A Racial Analysis of Colombia’s Peace Plebiscite

written by Chris Courtheyn, FOR Peace Presence Board member

I offer the following analysis of the recent Colombian plebiscite as a political geographer from the United States, currently working in Colombia, who has worked in solidarity with Colombian human rights organizations since 2008. On Sunday, October 2nd, 2016, a slim majority of Colombians, 50.2%, voted to reject the peace accord between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas. Written to end 50 years of armed conflict, it included agreements on rural development, political participation of opposition parties, illicit drugs, victims, and disarmament. Signed by both parties in September, the accord was the outcome of five years of negotiations and reflected concessions from both sides, especially by the FARC, who eventually agreed to disarm and face potential prison sentences for their crimes against humanity.

Click here to read the entire article