By Óscar Arnulfo Cardozo Cardozo, EL ESPECTADOR, June 13, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator )
An hour and 30 minutes south of Cartagena de Indias, one of the Colombian cities best known by tourists, you find two municipalities, each with a heavily armed and violent past: María la Baja and San Jacinto (Bolívar Province). Together they accumulated some 11 massacres, 102 murders, and 168,000 people displaced between 1980 and 2014.
But their present doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Today there are 54,758 hectares planted in oil palm in the territory, new armed actors connected to networks of drug traffickers, and threats to social leaders by the former members of paramilitary groups. However, in the midst of so much chaos, it’s the women who have created the networks that permit a new wind to blow in their own areas, even though they live with the scourge of violence, of the multinationals, and of the government’s neglect.
The women that use looms to weave memories in Mampuján
About ten minutes from the urban part of the municipality of María la Baja is found the District (corregimiento) of Mampuján. There, on March 10, 2000, a paramilitary bloc led by Commander Juancho Dique displaced most of the population. They were not able to come back for ten years.
The return brought with it a lot of pain, but also reconciliation at the hands of the Association of Women Weaving Dreams and Tastes of Peace, a group of 15 women whose work was recognized in 2015 with the National Peace Prize, awarded by the Colombian Government.
“After living in María la Baja for a long time, the women got the idea of getting together to do something productive that would help them get over the trauma and the stress they had been experiencing because of the displacement. It was when, with the help of a friend, a textile artist who was also a psychologist arrived, and she has helped us a lot, in starting to work with this technique. And it was the art of weaving tapestries or carpets where we could reflect our life stories,” says Gledys López, a member of the Association.
This tireless woman, and another 50, the current number of women that belong to the Association, not only weave tapestries, but they also weave memories and true peace: “For us, the word memory means not forgetting what happened, but it also means that we are able to go forward. I have always thought that when you are hungry, you can’t feel peace. And that besides being a therapy, this is a work with which we can mend the rifts left by the war.”
However, the recent threat to Juana Alicia Ruiz, also from Montes de María, has raised the women’s concern about the imminent return of illegal armed actors to their territory. The group seen the most often may be the so-called Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. (The government calls them the Clan del Golfo.) According to the people who live there and to the authorities, they have been prowling around the houses belonging to Association members in Mampuján, and have made intimidating phone calls.
For now, in the midst of the economic crisis brought by the pandemic, the weavers of Mampuján are making face masks they designed, to make some income and manage some support and food for the neediest communities in Montes de María. Now they are waiting for the day when the current confinement and the sight of the armed men are things of the past.
Women are spinning hammocks for peace in San Jacinto
On the west side of María la Baja, right in the central part of Montes de María, there is the municipality of San Jacinto (Bolívar Province). They are world famous for being the home of the winners of the Latin Grammy Award in 2007, with the Gaiteros (Pipers) de San Jacinto. But along with their music, San Jacinto is also known for having had seven of the worst massacres perpetrated in Bolívar (Cerro Maco, Las Palmas, Arenas, Cruz de Mayo, Bajo Grande, Finca Alemania, and La Sierra).
For a while, San Jacinto was haunted by silence. Men and women, in fear, just kept silence in the area where the singing and the dancing used to echo. In fact, there is an original piece of music from there, known as “The Hammocks”, which tells, unintentionally, the history of the women of this municipality who fought, by means of the Association of Women Victims of the Armed Conflict of San Jacinto, to position the weaving of those hammocks, and unite the women who had lost everything after the war for one sole purpose: to get back to their land.
Luz María Plaza Romero, the legal representative and guide of the women who belong to Asomuvica (Association of Women Victims of the Armed Conflict of San Jacinto), told about the hard days of the war and the importance of fighting for peace today: “The logo of our Association has two hands and one dove, because we want it to show that the dove is seeking her freedom.”
Right now there are 49 women who belong to the Association, which generates dividends for nearly 400 families. And in these times of pandemic, Luz María describes excitedly how they are going to be part of a work laboratory, in an agreement with the Bolívar Laboratory for Innovation and Design, part of Artesanías of Colombia. Even though the situation is very critical, because she says they have not received any support from the Governor’s Office or from the national government in this crisis.
This is how they have found a way to subsist, making memories and creating strategies for peace, even though it looks as if the winds of violence are going to return to the region. “We haven’t had any threats. But our context, our community, is not unaware of those events. Our social leaders, our leaders who are reclaiming land and defending human rights in San Jacinto indeed have been affected by these kinds of actions. A while ago, one of the women who had a kiosk in the town (vereda) of Patio Grande, on the highway that goes from San Jacinto to Carmen de Bolívar, they burned up her business and intimidated her in a really nasty way. It’s these things that make us vulnerable in one way or another, and we have no accompaniment whatsoever from the government,” she said.