A Great Example of Courage and Commitment

The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, with which the Colombia Support Network (CSN) has had the privilege of establishing a supportive relationship, has shown a strength of will and a firmness of purpose that we have come greatly to admire. The Peace Community today celebrates the 15th anniversary of its founding. This remarkable place, where firearms are not permitted and where community leaders are devoted to peace in the midst of conflict, has survived with its principles intact. Those who wish to claim these lands for commerce or mining or hydroelectric plants falsely charge the community with being “guerrillas” or “terrorists”. During the deeply flawed presidency of Alvaro Uribe Velez from 2004-2010 the Colombian Army’s Seventeenth Brigade collaborated with paramilitary forces in murdering numerous Peace Community members, most notably one of the Community’s founders, Luis Eduardo Guerra, his son and his companion, as well as four members of another Peace Community family and a farm worker in a hideous massacre on February 21, 2005. Dozens of Peace Community residents have been killed in the 15 years of its existence. Although Juan Manuel Santos succeeded Uribe as President in August 2010, violence against the Community has continued. A paramilitary camp is located not far from the Peace Community and harassment of Community members by paramilitaries at informal checkpoints on the road between Apartado and the Community continues. And in January the registered representative of the Community was shot at as he walked through the public market in Apartado, where only a few days earlier he had walked with members of a CSN delegation which visited the Peace Community. The police and the Army ignore the acts of the illegal paramilitaries.

Yet the courageous residents of the Peace Community refuse to abandon their lands or their principles. When after the 2005 massacre the Uribe government insisted in locating a police station in the town of San Jose, the Community relocated to a nearby farm rather than accept arms in their town. They have built a new town on nearby farmland they owned, while the government has encouraged interlopers to repopulate the old town, where liquor now flows freely and guns are omnipresent.

Where most people and most communities would give up, the Peace Community and its residents have continued to build up the new town and have developed new crops to market, supplementing the bananas grown there with cacao, which they now export to Europe. They are determined to stay on their lands and continue to live by the principles which they established as a community 15 years ago. They refuse to succumb to fear of what might happen to them, and tell us they simply put fear out of their minds. If the Santos administration were as dedicated to human rights as it claims—a claim which the United States State Department accepts quite uncritically, as each year it certifies the Colombia government’s progress on human rights, a requirement for disbursing funds to the country—it would pursue the paramilitary forces and dismantle their base of operations. But it seems to value more multinational corporations’ plans to develop mines in the Abibe mountain range near the Peace Community and to proceed with a giant dam project, Urra II, which will flood the croplands of numerous small farmers ( campesinos) not far from the Peace Community. In this context the paramilitary forces play a significant role in support of the government and multinational corporations’ plans by forcing campesinos to leave their lands. In this context the support of international organizations is very important. CSN is proud to have provided support to the Peace Community through annual delegations from the Wisconsin sister community, by bringing Peace Community leaders to this country to educate audiences here on their principled struggle, by issuing urgent action messages detailing the threats against the Community and carrying this information on the CSN web page, and by sponsoring an annual charitable activity in our sister community for the benefit of the Peace Community. In a world where people look for a cause to which they can devote their time and energy, there is no more worthy cause than that of the Peace Community. John I. Laun March 23, 2012

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