In Colombia, 3.5 million people have become refugees in their own country, and former farmers have ended up in the slums of the cities. San José de Apartadó is a village that resists the violence. Ecovillages from Europe and Colombia have helped them. Leila Dregger reports.
Jesus Emilio, 47, is a farmer. He has fought peacefully for 15 years to stay on his land and to cultivate bananas and cacao, the way his family has always done. However, a civil war has been going on in his country for a long time. “Maybe you can see my sadness”, he says. “I saw so many people die who worked in the field with me like brothers.”
Maria Brigida, 60, is a teacher in the peace village, San José de Apartadó. She cries when Jesus Emilio talks about the murders. Seconds later, however, her face is full of laughter lines when she is asked to sing the song of her village. “In the middle of the war we plant a seed of hope,” she says. “Every seed we put into the soil is a sign of hope that the world of war will be replaced by a world of peace one day.”
The richness of resources, the fertility, and its strategic position, have made the region of northern Colombia a death zone. Heavily armed and – after 40 years of war – merciless bands of soldiers, guerrillas, paramilitary, and criminals, fight for dominance. Not infrequently, the hidden agenda is international economic interest in the region. The civil population is banished. Thousands are kidnapped, tortured and murdered. 3.5 million people have become refugees in their own country, with former farmers ending up in the slums of the cities.
In the middle of the war zone lies the village San José de Apartadó. The 1,350 inhabitants decided at a celebratory ceremony in March, 1997, to escape the dangers of the conflict and to make their community a neutral place, a peace community. They abstain from weapons and drugs and do not co-operate with any of the conflicting parties. But all the same, a few days after that, they were banished for the first time. Again and again they have returned.
Since the founding of the peace village, 200 of its inhabitants have been brutally murdered – children, women and men. No warring party, or government, has protected the campensinos. Their refusal to co-operate with any military unit is a thorn in the side of all parties.
After the last massacre, on 21 February, 2005, which was internationally decried by human rights organisations, armed police units were stationed in San José, resulting in 400 inhabitants leaving in April. They neither felt protected by the police presence, nor could they tolerate armed units in their ‘weapon-free area’. They moved some kilometers away and built a completely new village: San Josésito.
San José and other peace communities of Colombia have founded an alternative ‘University of Life and of Resistance’. They exchange practical knowledge with, and are supported by, prominent human rights organisations, and other people opposed to the war.
Since 2001, the ecovillage Tamera, in Portugal, has accompanied – in brother- and sister-hood – the Community in their search for peace. The aim of this cooperation is to support the Peace Community in its struggles to survive and thrive, and in its important role as a model and educational center for peace and non-violence in the whole region, and for the world.
Several dozen members of the Peace Community have participated in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 educational gatherings in Tamera, and the 2008 and 2010 Grace Pilgrimage in Bogotá and Mulatos. Members of Tamera have visited and collaborated in Colombia several times. Through this contact with the global community, the Peace Community has kept on developing a vision for their process of resistance, learning realistic alternatives for self-sufficiency questions, and co-creating a basic trust between both communities.
This year from October, Tamera will support a group of 9 international peace workers to live in the hamlet, Mulatos, for 8 weeks, being in service for the community in order to connect deeply with the original vision for Mulatos, and for San José as a whole.
Laure Luciani, who has visited San José many times as a member of Peace Brigades International: “By living daily together and widely opening our ears, eyes and hearts, and from the direct and compassionate contact between our group and the Peace Community villagers, we will together identify next steps of cooperation to build a concrete and visible Peace Village in Mulatos.”
“With the local families, and neighborhood members in training, human, material and expertise support will be offered in the basic infrastructure designs, and building with alternative local materials, as well as support in the landscape planning.”
“In parallel, a Youth Peace Camp will be offered to young men and women aged from 13-23 years old, with the topics of reconciliation, trust building, peace visioning, theatre and arts. It will be a social experience, combined with technical, professional training in needed areas of their lives such as gardening, eco-construction, computer/internet, medicinal plants, solar technologies, and biogas.”