Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Protect Threatened Afro-Colombian and Mestizo Communities in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó

This urgent action is from the Latin American Working Group on behalf of a community I work with. Please take action!

Community leader Don Petro
photo by Charlotte Kesl
Many of the communities living in the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó river basins in Colombia’s northwest Urabá region have come under great threat this past week.

Will you send a message to the Colombian government today to ask for their protection?

After being violently displaced in the late 1990s, the Afro-Colombian and mestizo communities in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó created "Humanitarian Zones," or areas where the peaceful civilians who declared themselves neutral in the conflict could be clearly differentiated from combatants and protect themselves and their families from the violence. Since then they have been working for a peaceful return to their lands, but continue to face often violent challenges from paramilitaries, cattle ranchers and oil palm companies that want control of these territories. Click here to watch a short video about their history and struggle.

National and international courts have ordered the Colombian government to give back the land to these communities and protect them from violence. While almost none of the land has been returned to the communities, the Colombian Army had been providing some important protection around the outside of the humanitarian zones.

But last week the Army retreated from several of their established and agreed upon protection posts. Around the time that the Army pulled back, a group of 20 paramilitaries armed with assault weapons was reported to be near the humanitarian zone of Andalucia-Caño Claro. Within days, paramilitaries armed with machetes tried to stab a community member, who narrowly escaped by running off into a field. And now the communities fear that an attack is imminent. 

Click here to ask Colombian government to protect them now!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Resisting Violence through Sustainable Agriculture in Colombia

This article originally appeared on The Women's International Perspective.

A hand-made sign lists 12 varities of bananas grown in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Photograph courtesy of the author.
In the middle of one of the most fertile regions in Colombia, amidst a five-decade armed conflict, a small peasant community manages to serve as a model of civilian resistance against violence and displacement. But as I saw when I returned in February to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, located in the northwestern province of Antioquia, their sustainable agriculture projects not only defend against violence but also create life.

“These are proyectos de vida, explains Javier, the Community member who manages the Community’s new agriculture center. These projects of life, as the name indicates, are more than an effort to reduce the Peace Community’s ecological footprint, to eat locally, and to reduce reliance on outside food sources. They are called proyectos de vida because they also serve as a survival mechanism against violence and a strategy against displacement.

With nearly two hundred Peace Community members killed since 1997 and thousands of human rights violations committed by guerrilla, paramilitary, and state armed forces, the Peace Community’s survival depends on a constant struggle to defend life. “We have to create our own principles and laws about land, and collectively defend the land,” Javier explains to me on my recent visit. “It is because of resistance, collectivity, and community that we have managed to stay.”

The Peace Community developed the agriculture center in the last year to serve as a hands-on agricultural research and learning facility for the development of food self-sustainability. The center includes a plant nursery, medicinal plant garden, worm bin for composting, and several acres dedicated to experimenting with the various varieties of crops grown in the region such as a banana field with 12 varieties of the fruit. Springs are being protected in order to conserve water sources, some of which feed into fish breeding ponds.

“Many peasants believe that what comes from outside is better than what we have. But no,” explains Javier. “That is why we have been working so hard in the agriculture center…to care for [what we have] and [to learn] how to care for our own resources, including farm animals.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Soccer fever: what's violence got to do with it?

The stereotype of Latin Americans as soccer fanatics is, in my experience, pretty spot on, and members of the Peace Community are no exception. The men, and some of the women, religiously watch national league games, as well as, of course, games in which the national team plays. Many afternoons, kids and some of the younger men gather for pickup games, and periodically a tournament gets organized between teams of the different neighboring villages.

But, claims Raúl (name changed), a community member and avid soccer player and watcher, the soccer fever of today is nothing like in the 1980s.

I am sitting with Raúl, a visitor from a neighboring village named Daniel, and my teammate Jon under the tin roof of our neighbor’s house. It rained all night and is still raining, so most folks haven’t gone to work in the fields and are hanging out under a few porch roofs, passing the time telling stories and jokes until the rain lets up and they can go chop weeds in their cacao orchards or finish up the thatch roof on a new community building.

“In the 1980s,” he says, “La Union had an excellent team, fully loaded with great players from goal keeper to forward. That’s because everyone was very disciplined,” Raúl says Every afternoon, even after working a full day in the fields, guys would meet at the soccer field on the outskirts of the village to practice, rain or shine. And training would start very young so that by the time they were teenagers, boys would be good enough to play on the men’s team.