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Central New York / Movimiento Campesino de Cajibio (Cauca)
The department of Cauca, in southeastern Colombia, is a region of large rural estates that date back to the colonial era. The Cauca is rich in biodiversity and water. Despite this wealth in natural resources, the region has been largely neglected by the government in terms of social investment. A majority of the people living in the Cauca are indigenous, Afro-Colombian or campesino, and live in rural areas raising crops and livestock. Communities in the Cauca have long demanded investment by the Colombian government to provide potable water, electricity, schools, health services, and marketing assistance for selling their agricultural products. Tired of waiting, they decided to create lists of their most urgent necessities and in 1980, began organizing themselves on a grassroots level in order to demand their rights. In 1990 communities around Cajibio demanded that the Municipal Council and the Mayor’s Office hold an open meeting so the whole community could participate in a debate about the distribution of resources. The mayor responded by jailing 24 community leaders. The democratic resistance continued and, in 1998, a community leader was elected to the mayor’s office but then assassinated. In 1999, 90% of the region’s inhabitants participated in a mass demonstration that resulted in an agreement signed by the national government to address the needs of the population.
In the year 2000, 687 leaders, among them teachers, health workers, women, youth and farmers, attended a meeting and decided to produce a document created collectively to state their needs and desires to create a better future. Nine rural communities came together and committed to develop strategies to prevent the incursion of multinationals, which were often accompanied by violence perpetrated by military and paramilitary groups, into the region. The document produced, called “Plan de Vida Digna,” conveys a message that considers human beings to be the fundamental actors in the development of a country, and that it is they who should decide how communities should interact with one another, with the government, and with nature. The “Plan de Vida” has 8 strands: education, health, culture and identity, agriculture and environment, territorial authority, political organization, the protection of human rights, and infrastructure. The communities decided that the most important were political organizing and territorial authority. Its founders called the community organization the Movimiento Campesino de Cajibio (MCC). The idea is that the people through collective organization will work to improve their life circumstances.
The CSN Central New York Chapter (CSN/CNY) composed of CSN members in the cities of Syracuse, Cortland and Ithaca, is the sister community of the MCC. The chapter has carried out a substantial number of educational activities, and the city of Ithaca declared itself the sister community of the MCC.
One of the goals of this Colombian community is to maintain the campesino culture, especially among its youth. The community wants its young people both to receive an education and to hold onto their campesino roots. To help achieve this, they wanted to acquire land to open a community center where youth could carry out cultural activities and cultivate organic vegetables for local consumption, while also teaching their skills to children in the community. CSN-CNY helped them obtain funds from a local fund in New York, which was also founded on the belief that it is important to share and protect the land for future generations. The campesinos of Cajibio have always seen the land as the source of culture and spirituality, and have believed in using it to produce food in a sustainable way. In addition to working with youth, the community center has also facilitated training of women in health-related issues and increasing women’s participation in the community’s decision-making processes, as well as developing a school for youths to produce organic foods and to rescue their own seeds.
In addition CSN’s national office in December 2007 coordinated a high-level meeting of community representatives with officials of the multinational corporation Smurfit-Kappa, including the company’s chief lawyer in Colombia. Smurfit, through its paper box Colombian subsidiary, Carton de Colombia, is creating environmental problems and damaging MCC’s water sources with its extensive pine and eucalyptus tree farms. Leaders of the community, who had received threats for filing complaints, were able to express their concerns, with the support and international presence of CSN/CNY.