By Silvia Corredor Rodríguez, EL ESPECTADOR,
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
She has a history of 43 years of social, environmental, and community work in Putumayo. The nomination, she says, means recognition of the work of campesino women. For 12 years, she has been the President of the Association for the Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Amazonian Pearl (ADISPA).
At the end of one of her morning walks around the tree nurseries that are part of a project to reforest in the Amazon, Jani Silva got a phone call and found out that she had been nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor that has been awarded by Norway for more than 100 years.
“I got a call from someone at Amnesty International; he told me that I had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. And at the time I didn’t really realize the value of a nomination of that kind. They told me that there were more than 300 nominations from more than 200 countries. Being nominated is a very great recognition of the actions and the work that we have been doing,” said Jani Silva in an interview with COLOMBIA+20.
Silva was 16 years old when she began her social efforts in the Amazon region of Putumayo, where she had arrived with her family from Leticia. She worked on different community and campesino actions, and after 12 years, she became the President of the Association for the Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Amazonian Pearl (ADISPA). The Association has developed agricultural and reforestation projects with international organizations like the United Nations Development Program (PNUD).
For this leader, the nomination not only recognizes the social efforts she has carried out for more than 40 years, but also the role of so many campesino women who, like her, have worked for their communities and have resisted the violence in the countryside. “I feel excited, and I look on this as an opportunity for us as a process, but also as a possibility that people are beginning to spotlight the work of the campesino women of Putumayo, because there have been efforts here that have been muted by the violence. There are women here that are really warriors but have not been able to continue this work because the violence, the threats, and the discrimination are so strong,” she explained.
According to the Institute for Development and Peace (Indepaz), since the signing of the Peace Agreement, 188 women leaders and human rights defenders in the country, ten of whom were from Putumayo, have been murdered. The majority of the cases were indigenous and campesina leaders.
The fight for the land and for environmental conservation
Around the end of the ‘90’s, Jani Silva was organizing with her community, and in the year 2000 they were able to consolidate the Campesino Reserve of the Amazonian Pearl, which joined together 24 towns (veredas) in the Municipality of Puerto Asís (Putumayo Department). One of their objectives was access to land and creating an equitable rural development, but the violence came quickly.
Because of pamphlets declaring them to be “military objectives”, the leaders who had worked on the project abandoned the fight, and the only one that stayed was Silva. “I was looking for a way to be protected, of being careful so I would be able to continue, but it wasn’t easy,” she recalled.
Silva also pointed out that the arrival of the oil wells and the presence of illegal armed groups changed the dynamic of the territory, generating ruptures in the social and organizational fabric. That situation resulted in a ten year pause in the projects in the Campesino Reserve Zone, until 2011 when they legally constituted the Association for the Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Amazonian Pearl (ADISPA).
In spite of the threats and the health problems they caused for her and the members of her family, Silva kept going with the project because she fervently believes that it’s possible to transform the countryside and to live a decent life in a rural area.
“We have a countryside that’s rich in diversity, we have our children and grandchildren, we have a future and besides that, we have a development plan that was put together with all of the communities; it’s our road map. What it tries to do is to improve the living conditions of campesinos and their families, because after living in the country, we deserve to live in peace in our territory, to have hopes, to have dreams, and to live a settled life and with dignity,” she stressed.
After the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016, ADISPA supported the process of substitution of crops for illegal uses in the region, through the Integrated National Program for Substitution of Illegal Crops (PNIS). However, the failures of the government and the lack of economic alternatives generated a fragmentation in the community.
Silva recalled what that time was like: “The families that signed the substitution agreement did it because they believed in us as an organization that was facing PNIS on behalf of the community. We pulled out our coca plantings, but the government didn’t follow through, and the people started calling us dirty words; they blamed us, that was really ugly because these were our comrades and our neighbors. We didn’t have even a panela (sugar water), and we had pulled out everything, but the people were venting at us and blaming us for the government’s failure.”
Even though the community work has not been easy, Silva, speaking clearly and emphatically, said that she would hold out as long as she could and ever since then, she is working to strengthen the leadership skills of the young people so that the future generations will be able to take over the organizational systems in the region.