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.