(Translated by Peter Lenny, a CSN volunteer translator)
“…a man needs only six feet of land. But surely a corpse wants that, not a man. And I hear that our intellectuals have a longing for the land and want to acquire farms. But it all comes down to the six feet of land. To leave town, and the struggle and the swim of life, and go and hide yourself in a farmhouse is not life — it is egoism, laziness; it is a kind of monasticism, but monasticism without action. A man needs, not six feet of land, not a farm, but the whole earth, all Nature, where in full liberty he can display all the properties and qualities of the free spirit.”
Anton Chekov – Gooseberries.
The Guajira region has become increasingly important to the interests of the State and big capital in recent years. After a long period of backwardness and neglect, policies implemented since the late 90s have tended to comply with international orders to exploit natural resources and generate infrastructure for international and local trade.
These policies are diametrically opposed to the ways of life of the indigenous, black and peasant communities that live in the area and whose ongoing resistance operates through a variety of mechanisms. This document summarises briefly the situation of peasant struggles in south-western Guajira State between Dibulla and Riohacha.
Despite all that has happened, the communities in opposition have worked without rest to build up their dignity and self-determination. In 1998 the first land adjudication began, that of Los Rosales in the Largalavida hamlet of the Dibulla municipal district. Beginning on 1 June 1998, the ASOROSALES Association of 32 families settled there under a lease contract with purchase option from the then INCORA, later INCODER.
Seven years later, on 29 December 2005, the Los Rosales property was purchased under an agreement between the INCODER and the Guajira government. Since it settled there, the ASOROSALES organisation has been working to improve the quality of life of the community, socialising, monitoring and enhancing its results with other organisations, which include the ones set up for adjudication of the properties, and consolidating a position as a peasant alliance in the area.
All these properties have been acquired for the communities after years of work and mobilisation, until title was obtained legally from the INCODER between 2005 and 2007.
The context of war and threats against the communities.
These organisational processes underway in the Guajira are framed by an intense paramilitary and military presence in the region, including a guerrilla presence in political and territorial dispute in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Also, mega-projects such as ports, ecotourism and exploitation of natural resources have located are being implemented in the region. The paramilitary presence in the zone affects the communities directly and aggression and indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population have continued since the paramilitary “demobilisation” under the justice and peace law.
Human rights violations have continued in the region and are affecting the Lower Guajira zone in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the municipalities of Riohacha, Dibulla, Barrancas, and San Juan del Cesar.
According even to the Observatory of the Vice-Presidency of the Republic, from 2003 to early 2007, while the number of murders declined, the violations of the right to life remained constant in the area. (see table below)
Municipality 2003 2004 2005 2006 TOTAL
Maicao 142 131 97 76 446
Riohacha 123 103 95 83 404
San Juan del Cesar 22 71 23 30 146
Villanueva 24 30 15 10 79
Fonseca 15 27 16 21 79
Barrancas 26 17 17 15 75
Dibulla 16 11 22 24 73
Urumita 16 17 7 18 58
Uribia 9 14 10 4 37
Manaure 4 3 5 7 19
Hato Nuevo 1 15 1 17
Distraccion 7 2 4 4 17
El Molino 3 2 3 3 11
Jagua de Pilar 6 6
Albania 6 6
Total 408 443 315 307 1473
Source: National Police. Processed by: Observatory of the Presidential Programme of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Vice-Presidency of the Republic.
Similarly, according to the same source and over the same period, displacement, both “expulsion” and “reception”, has remained constant in the state:
“the numbers of people expelled from and received in the area follow similar trajectories, although over most of the period the number of people received by the state as a result of violence has remained higher than the number expelled from it. From 2003 to 2006, 25,717 people were expelled from their place of residence in La Guajira and 24,849 were received by municipalities of the state. In terms of expulsions, the municipalities most affected were San Juan del Cesar (8,617), followed by Dibulla (5,588) and Riohacha (5,206). In terms of reception, the towns that most took in displaced people were Riohacha (8,759), San Juan del Cesar (7,837) and Dibulla (3,607)”. Particularly interesting is that the same municipalities expelled most and received most displaced people; that has to be related to the characteristics of the area that have been mentioned in the course of this document.
In this document, we have extracted statistics from the Observatory of the Vice-Presidency for the municipalities that most interest us:
Municipality 2003 2004 2005 2006
Expulsion Reception Expulsion Reception Expulsion Reception Expulsion Reception
Barrancas 439 366 68 93 137 85 164 106
Dibulla 394 293 809 665 1975 1507 2410 1142
Riohacha 743 2133 809 1752 2314 2944 1340 1930
San Juan 2.546 2359 4666 4508 960 755 445 215
The case of Campana de las Vegas
In this context, the EBENEZER peasant association located on the Campana de las Vegas property was harassed and displaced by paramilitary groups in the presence of the army. On 6 December 2007, a group of heavily armed men from the “Aguilas Negras” [black eagles] arrived at the property by motorcycle and car with guns, knives, grenades, radios and military jackets, asking for the woman who leads the grassroots organisation. They claimed that 40 paramilitaries were involved in the campaign, and that there were 400 in all of Rioancho and 2000 in the region.
They forced the community to plant coca and to submit to their demands. Between 6 and 14 December the community decided to move out. On 12 December, when 4 families were still on the property, there was a clash between members of the army from the Matamoros battalion under the command of Sergeant Ariza and the aguilas negras, which culminated in the displacement of the community.
The Campana De Las Vegas property was taken over and used by the paramilitaries as the headquarters for its operations in the zone during the 90s, until 2004. When it was adjudicated by the INCODER, the community found traces of blood in the ranch house and elsewhere on the property. There are unconfirmed reports of mass graves on the property. In December 2007 the EBENEZER organisation, and especially its president, Dairis Mejia Montenegro, were the target of threats, pressure and persecution.
The community filed the appropriate complaints with national and international institutions regarding their displacement and the lack of a guaranteed return for the community. After several months, the indigenous chief TUGUEKA, who was living in an area with a full view of the situation in Campana de las Vegas, decided to occupy the property with approximately 30 Kogui indigenous families.
After resuming the legal process of claiming land title and filing complaints with international oversight and solidarity organisations, the indigenous and peasant communities agreed not to differentiate between themselves as regards land in the region and to move ahead together in coordinating efforts to find and defend solutions for peasants and indigenous people. Accordingly, the indigenous leader TUGUEKA and the EBENEZER organisation coordinated a return of the land to its owners, and coordinated actions after their return.
The CIC-ANUC-UR peasant coordination in the Guajira, along with other grassroots organisations, has also faced other pressures and difficulties since September. These include displacement of the CIC-ANUC-UR regional coordinator, Homer Ochoa Tapia, and the leader, Rosmey Ochoa, and their families, pressure on grassroots organisations on properties such as Rosales, and pressure on and threats against leaders and their relatives.
In our opinion there is a policy with an interest in renewed despoilment and domination of the communities in the region. In a reaffirmation of our principles of defence of life, territory and the struggle for land, we called for a return to the Campana de las Vegas property.
A first return was carried out on 23 January with the support of various social organisations and, although facing numerous difficulties, has been sustained with dignity. Today we are calling for a second return, which entails not just the arrival of our comrade, Homer Ochoa and the leader, Rosmery Ochoa, with their respective families, but also the resumption of all that was proposed for the territory and the substantial appropriation of the land.
For that purpose, we need the support of all the organisations that can contribute to this process in their various particular ways, in order to dignify the return to the land and to fight for the food sovereignty of this community affected by the dirty war in Colombia.
For these and many other reasons, we are called on to dignify this return, to join in solidarity with a people, a region and a problem. The new generations of the Campana las Vegas property in Dibulla, the organisations that sustain themselves there, the Caribbean area that has been so severely stricken over recent decades, they call on us to make this initiative a living memorial, an alliance of causes and a motivation to social and peasant organisations.