By René Ayala, Agencia Prensa Rural, December 14, 2023


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

President Petro was present as SAE (Special Assets Society) delivered parcels of land to Afro-Colombian communities. The land had been seized from paramilitaries.

This is the first time that a President is visiting Cauca without being accompanied by a military deployment to repress some action by the communities, as Feliciano Valencia recalled. And perhaps the first time in which a President gets tangled between sincere hugs without any fawning and “Vivas!” from a community that had been doomed to obscurity, exclusion, and war. It’s the beginning of agricultural reform in Cauca, as the President said to Prensa Rural in the midst of the bedlam of a community that now has some hope.

On Wednesday, December 13, the town (vereda) of San Miguel in the Municipality of Buenos Aires in Cauca Department was overrun with the contagious happiness of the Afro-Colombian people. In small buses, on motorbikes and on foot, with their singing and drumbeats, hundreds of Afro-Colombian families started arriving in the early morning at the former San Carlos ranch, now the Salomé farm, landlocked in the mountains of northern Cauca. San Carlos was the ranch where, in bygone days, barbarous incursions were organized by the infamous Calima Bloc of the paramilitaries.

Information collected by the Truth Commission and human rights organizations reveals that this was a place where they tortured, murdered and disappeared hundreds of Afro-Colombian, campesino, and indigenous day laborers and social leaders, and they planned the cruel and brutal Naya massacre in 2001. Here they operated the command center of the paramilitary organization, led by José Ever Veloza, better known as “H.H.”, responsible for 119 massacres and for causing more than 3,000 displacements, according to the registry in the National Center for Historical Memory.

There, where fear and death were camped, threatening and subjecting the communities that lived here, thanks to the central government’s political decision to re-orient the Special Assets Society (SAE) that administers this seized property since August of 2023, the families who had been victims of eviction and terror are returning with joy to reclaim what should never have been taken from them, and to promote, from this place, a productive initiative that, according to the beneficiaries themselves, will bring productive agricultural reform to Cauca Department.

It was a day for celebration, because in one simple but symbolic act, the government headed by President Gustavo Petro will deliver to the community, organized as the Community Council of the Teta and Mazamorrero Rivers Micro-Basin, a property containing 387 hectares. There is also some poultry infrastructure available, with nine sheds and room for 400,000 chickens to be fattened, and a dairy with capacity for 190 cows, which will benefit more than 1,500 families in the organization.

In the midst of the music, the flavors, and revelry that belong to the Pacific communities, and with a deployment of security guaranteed by the Cimarrón Guards, together with military forces, police, and presidential security, with the presence of a considerable group of reporters from the national and international media, the Historic Pact Senators Isabel Zuleta and Carlos Benavides, Rodrigo Granda, who signed the Peace Agreement, Gloria Cuartas, responsible for implementation of the Final Peace Agreement, indigenous, campesino, and social organizations like ACIN, Fensuagro, and Pupsoc, officials and local and departmental authorities, the unusual and transcendental act got under way. According to the Special Assets Society (SAE), this is the beginning of an agricultural revolution in southwestern Colombia.

The Afro-Colombian peoples’ traditional music, conversations, talks by officials and representatives of the organizations of the Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Cultural Council of northern Cauca took turns using the main platform that governs a space that is big enough to protect the communities themselves from the burning sun under a cloth banner that doesn’t reduce the heat, and much less, the emotion that you can feel in this environment.

The talks by the government officials were received with acceptance and applause by the people attending. The president of the Rural Development Agency, Luis Alberto Higuera, explained the extent of the inter-governmental alliance between SAE and the rural sector to guarantee the advance of the campesino agro-industry project. Martha Carvajalino, Vice Minister of Agriculture, showed emotion as she recalled the communities’ struggles, and she characterized this moment as an act of justice. “Agricultural reform is in the people’s hands,” she said. The indigenous leader Giovani Yule, Director of the Land Restitution Unit, emphasized the indissoluble unity of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples of Cauca, and how they were victimized by the infamy of the paramilitary organizations and by the war that took place in the countryside. “Today this true act of restitution is the path to peace,” he stressed.

Collective enthusiasm took over the space, while the people were singing the ancestral songs of the Afro-Colombian peoples. In the midst of the contagious rhythms of the marimba and the drumming, the President was arriving and the jubilation exploded into the embraces of the matronly, the shouts of the boys and girls adorned with their beautiful braids, and the families that were singing out the name of the President.

Petro stepped up to the dais, received the gifts from the communities, ate the yuca doughnuts produced in the region, and after the greeting by Mayor Armando Caracas, who recalled how his community had been victimized and what this act of reparation means, came the heartfelt and dignified presence of Adriana Bandera of the North Cauca Regional Association for Campesino Development (ARDECAM), and the forceful voice of Daniel Rojas, President of SAE, who, amid applause and “Vivas”, declared, “These are honest shouts, the shouts of workers, the shouts of the men and women who are building a new history,” and also shouts declaring the unity of the indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino peoples that Feliciano Valencia heralded in his welcome, the President commenced his speech. With a profound historic reflection, he declared this moment to be a truly transformative event. “Peace is only possible if we transform the excluded territories, and we are here to tell you how the territory will be transformed in the physical and in its essence.”

Petro denounced the structural racism of the elites who had condemned the people of the Pacific to war, poverty, and death. All of the Pacific shore is powerful, rich, and here we have a power that has been excluded because of skin color, he said.

The President spoke severely to the armed groups in the region, warning them not to continue what he called “fools’ politics”, not to continue killing each other so that foreigners can get rich. Peace is right here. Come and join in with this project. “It’s time to let go of your weapons. The people are the best weapons.”

The President of Colombia closed his presentation by calling on the communities to demonstrate their capacity for administration along with this popular alliance being promoted by the SAE in this project, a transformative capacity that intends to put together a project that will fortify the region as an agricultural powerhouse. “We have to demonstrate that, yes, we can . . . (At this moment the crowd began to chant the slogan ‘Yes, we can’, ‘Yes we can’) We have to demonstrate that transformation is possible,” he emphasized.

This is the first time a President visits Cauca without a repressive military deployment, and after an action carried out by the communities, as Feliciano Valencia had recalled. And it might be the first time a President joins in with the sincere hugs that aren’t meant as flattery and “Vivas” with a community that had been doomed to oblivion, exclusion, and war. This is the beginning of agricultural reform in Cauca, as the President told the press in the middle of the bedlam of a community that now has some hope.

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