The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in Colombia
On 23 March 1997, a group of small farmers coming from various hamlets of Apartadó established a Peace Community as a response to multiple and continued aggressions perpetrated by all actors involved in Colombia’s conflict. Tamera has accompanied the Peace Community on their journey for peace since 2005 after 4 years in getting to know each other.
The peace community San José de Apartadó is a rural community of about 1500 inhabitants living in the north of Colombia. They do not belong to any organisation, do not carry weapons, and are bound together through an unswerving ethic of peace. Yet they are in the way of the government and multinationals who want to push forward globalisation, and are therefore being brutally fought by the state. In the past thirteen years they have lost nearly 200 community members who were killed by the military, paramilitary and guerilla.
What was it that gave the community members of San José the strength to persevere? It was the decision to set an example for peace under any circumstances and to create a model for the possibility of survival for all threatened peoples. Furthermore, a deeper friendship between them and the peace village Tamera in Portugal had developed. Members of San José say that through the community that lives in Portugal they have rediscovered their own vision of community.
General Context of Uraba
Inhabitants Colombia: 42 mio
Inhabitants community San José (in whole): 2,800
Inhabitants peace community San José: (who joined the charter of the peace village): 1,350
Inhabitants San Josesito village (the inner core of San José): 400
Inhabitants region Apartadó: 100,000
Result of the 40 years civil war:
3 mio refugees inside of Colombia, most of them in the slums of the big cities
4 mio exile Colombians, 1 mio of them politicalrefugees
3500 “disappeared” persons
3500 persons kidnapped
70,000 murdered in the last 20 years, most of them civilians
“Not because there is war are there displaced people, there is war because people shall be displaced.” Hector Mondragon, persecuted Columbian economist.
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is situated in the north of Colombia, in one of the most violent regions of the country: Uraba. Not only is the region rich in mineral resources and the land is fertile, agricultural valuable, but also its proximity to the border of Panama is strategically important because it connects Central and South America.
North American and European corporations have plans for big economic projects in this region. They want to exploit and ship natural resources and industrialised agricultural products from here.decades there have been uncounted expulsions and massacres of the peasant farmers, who by their mere existence stand in the way of the plans of the multinationals and the government, and the state offers no protection. The history of this region is an example of the merciless violence with which the globalisation of markets is being enforced in large parts of the world.
The war parties follow “policy of burned soil” and “silence law” and try to make the hard-fought area uninhabitable. They also try to involve the local farmers in their fights through food supply, coca production, information release, hiding materials or fighting on the front. The defenceless farmers in war zones are permanently accused of collaboration with the “other side” and are thereby declared outlaws.
Today, numerous peace initiatives exist in Colombia, amongst them 20 peace communities with about12,000 inhabitants in war zones. The left the killing spiral thereby becoming targets of the death squats of the different armed conflict parties themselves.
A peace community in the war
The Peace Community began as a process of non-violent civilian resistance to armed actors in the conflict; as a temporary political option for a group of displaced individuals who decided to return to their lands and continue resisting in the midst of conflict without involving themselves in it.
The Peace Community is comprised of villages located in the Abibe Mountains in the Urabá region, which is located between the departments of Antioquia and Córdoba. In 1996, several families fled San José de Apartadó, establishing a temporary refuge in the Apartadó coliseum in protest against the violence and repression endemic in the region. A government-sponsored commission negotiated the displaced families’ return, but once the return was complete, protest leaders were assassinated. With few alternatives left to them, some of the survivors of this violence joined together with other families to found the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court were ratified by the Colombian Constitutional Court in sentence T1025, which established that the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and the State should arrange the means by which the Community will be protected.
Struggling to maintain neutrality in the midst of conflict has provoked acts of aggression from all armed actors involved in the conflict. The Peace Community has denounced the assassination of more than 180 members at the hands of State forces, paramilitary groups, and the guerrillas. According to the Peace Community, the State is implicated in more than 90% of these cases. Despite all this, the Community continues to be firm in their determination to resist participation in the armed conflict and to ensure that the more than 750 crimes against humanity that they have denounced do not remain in impunity. Community members commit themselves to participating in community work, to struggle against injustice and impunity, to abstain from participating directly or indirectly in the armed conflict, to refrain from giving information to anyparties involved in the conflict, and to never bear arms. Additionally, the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited within the Community.
· No cooperation/interaction witharmed conflict parties
· No information, no support for neither conflict party
· Peaceful, non-violent resistance
· No gunmen in the peace village
· No drugs (no cultivation, trade, use in the community)
· No alcohol in the peace village
· Mutual support (production, health)
· Transparency in the community
Yet, they keep ongoing. They live in simple wooden huts between chicken and pigs. They work hard on cocoa and banana plantations. They face the armed forces in rubber boots and with bare hands. The only thing they have is their power of vision, their solidarity and the power of community. With this they have been able to resist many threats to date.
The constant threath as made the inhabitants realize how essential it is to trust each other and to rely on each other. Careless conduct with information may cost lives.
There is nobody in San José de Apartadó that remember times of peace. Their urgent wish is to offer the youth a perspective that goes beyond the illusion of a wealthy life in the cities and that supplies them with peace knowledge.
The Peace Community was awarded the Aachener Peace Prize in 2007 and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year. International attention is their protection. Networks of solidarity were formed in Italy and Spain. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Peace Brigades International, Fellowship of Reconciliation and Operazione Colomba have been constantly present for years and offer as much protection against attacks as they can.
International accompaniment and recognition
The peace village is accompanied and supported by some international and Columbian NGOs and human right activists. The most prominent are Gloria Cuartas and Father JavierGiraldo.
This accompaniment is truly valued by the Peace Community which has stated that «as long as there is international solidarity, the Peace Community will continue».
Both the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights have recommended that the Colombian State take measures to ensure adequate protection for the Peace Community.
Rebuilding Community: current projects
Fair trade crops:
Currently, the Community distributes bananas to Germany, which are then sold through FairTrade networks. They are also currently organising the distribution of organic cacao by way of Fair Trade networks. Additionally, the Community is working ona project of Agricultural Research and Production Centers focused on community production and preservation of native flora and fauna found in several villages.
The Campesino University:
In September 2003,indigenous, black and peasants communities from all around Colombia formed a Network of Communities in Resistance at a meeting held in San José de Apartadó.
Of the thirty communities and organisations that comprise this network, twenty of these decided to found the Campesino University, which works to develop community autonomy and self-sufficiency through the study of traditional agricultural methods, nutrition, politics, and human rights.
The Peace Community Foundation: March, 23, 1997
in attendance of representatives of different Columbian NGOs and a representative of the European Parliament. Ceremonial adoption of the charter of the peace village.
First banishment by military and paramilitary: March, 28, 1997
Since its founding164 inhabitants of San José have been murdered. There were eleven massacres and numerous selective murders. In each case witnesses who testified were the next victims.
In 2004 alone there were 530 assaults (murders, rapes, robbery of food, robbery of money, threats and wrong accusations).
The last massacre: February, 21, 2005
8 dead people, amongst them the speaker of San José, Luis Eduardo Guerra, his 17 year old companion, his 11 year old son and two children at the age of 6 and 2 years. All victims were slashed and fragmented cruelly. The children’sextremities and heads were partly missing, likewise the adult’s.
«These twelve years have been about hope built upon a solid foundation, about real life plans and alternatives that have been blinded by the terror of assassins.
And despite all of this, the 185 assassinated members of our community are today more alive than ever in those of us who believe in justice (…) we are a clear example of the annihilation that has and continues to be carried out against communities engaged in pacific resistance to the conflict in our country. But in spite of all the acts of terror, lies, baseless prosecutions,
deaths, violations, crop destruction, and threats, we are full of hope because these are not twelve years of solitude; they are twelve years warmed by the lives of many people who believe in our new humanity, and with them we have never been alone. Quite the contrary: they walk with us each and every day.»
PEACE COMMUNITY OF SAN JOSÉ DE APARTADÓ
«Peace communities have the right to exist in Colombia thanks to the rights accorded by our political system. But they cannot, as is practiced in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, obstruct justice, reject the armed forces, prohibit the sale of licit items, or restrict the freedom of the citizens that reside there. In this community of San José de Apartadó there are good people, but some of their leaders, sponsors, and defenders are seriously accused by people who have lived there, of being auxiliaries of the FARC and of utilising the community to protect this terrorist organization.»
PRESIDENT ÁLVARO URIBE VÉLEZ
(Collected: Institute for Global Peace Work, Tamera / Portugal)