Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reaffirmations, and a bit of history

We had a delegation here a few days ago. These 5 folks from the U.S. came to Colombia to learn about the situation in the current situation in the country and efforts peaceful resistance, like the Peace Community. They spent 4 days with us in the Peace Community; 4 tiring days, to be sure, but it was actually really wonderful for me because it opened my eyes to some truths about my life here and my role in this work.

My first time in Colombia – and the start of my work with FOR – was on a delegation like this one exactly two years ago. Sitting in a meeting the other night with the delegation and some of the Community leaders, I realized how far I’ve come since the similar meeting I attended while on my delegation. Two years ago I was struggling to understand how the Community worked, what FOR’s role was, etc. Now I am here living it. I have relationships with the community members, I eat meals and joke with them, I know the intimate details of the Community-FOR relationship.

I am also happier here than I think I realized until the the delegates arrived. At the start of the meeting the other night, we went around the circle introducing ourselves, and many of the delegates mentioned how happy they were to be here. I was the last to speak, and with a huge grin on my face, said I was also very happy to be here – and of course the implication was different for me than for the delegates, since they were leaving the next day. One of the community leaders, sitting next to me, turned to me and said softly, “sí, se nota que está contenta, se nota” (yes, it’s obvious you are happy to be here). That was a moment of much joy for me, both because it struck me that I really am contenta here, and also because it seems that Community members are noticing my happiness – both because it really must be true if they can tell just by looking at me, and because I do want them all to know that it is a joy and an honor to be here among such incredible people.

Later in the meeting the same leader mentioned the presence and support of FOR over the past 7 years, and said how crucial it has been for the progress, and even survival, of the community. Tears began to well in my eyes as he said he doubts that the Community would have been able to return to areas from which they had been displaced (see below for a little history on the Community's displacement), or even survive as a Peace Community, without the presence and support of FOR. THAT is why I am here.

A little background on displacement:  
Displacement of people from their homes and land has been one of the principle effects on the civilian population of Colombia’s war. After Sudan, Colombia has the 2nd highest number of internally displaced civilians in the world: 4 million. The history of the Peace Community has been defined in large part by the displacements its people have suffered.

In 1996 the 32 veredas of the area known as San Jose de Apartado displaced to the town center of San Jose on orders from paramilitaries. While there, the Peace Community was formed, on March 3, 1997. That same year, many of the Community members returned (repopulated) to the vereda of La Union (where FOR has our house) and a few other veredas, while others remained in San Jose.

After the massacre of February 21, 2005 (which I described in my last post), Peace Community members from La Esperanza, Mulatos, Las Nieves and La Resbalosa, the 4 veredas surrounding the areas in which the massacre occurred, displaced to La Union and the town center of San Jose. A month later, President Uribe ordered a police post placed in the middle San Jose. The Community protested, fearing for their safety because the post, and by extension the entire town center, would become a target for guerrilla attacks. The government refused to move the post outside of town, so the Community members displaced once again, this time to nearby land now known as San Josecito. It soon became obvious that the Community had every reason to fear the presence of the police post, as the guerrilla launched several attacks on the post in the following months.

Over the past year and a half, as areas have become safer, and accompanied by FOR and Peace Brigades International, Community members have been returning to their land in La Esperanza, Mulatos, Las Nieves and La Resbalosa.


Richard Carroll Sheehan said...

Good for you!
Seems I might benefit from a bit more history.
I lived in Colombia for nearly five years between 1961 and 1967 and learned a bit then.
Recently I spent a couple of weeks near Rio Negro and a few days in Bogota.
Lots of changes: arepas are smaller and flatter and I didn't see anyone with a carriel on the corner of Junin and Maricaibo.
I see the whole society muy trastornado, but still very much Colombia. Its hard not to cry?
What happened?? I know a bit about the power of drug money, but this is more.
I have considered returning to live in Colobia in my old age, but need the hope and happiness of reality as well as it sadness.
What do you think about an old man trying to live there again.

JMW said...

Moira this post delights me.