Marking fifteen years since the military operations “Genesis” and “Black September” in Lower Atrato, Colombia
The Fourth Ecumenical and Ecological Walk in Curbarado and Jiguamiando, Department of Choco, Colombia
The massive forced displacements in the River Basins in Curbarado and Jiguamiando took place 15 years ago, but the memories of war haven´t dissipated. I´m walking next to Maria Ligia, community matriarch and one of the resisters—people who stayed hidden in nearby forest and jungle resisting displacement during the 1997 military and paramilitary operations, enduring nearly inhuman conditions. Maria Ligia describes her life during this time: “eating without salt, washing without soap, sleeping on the mountainside, laying your ribs on top of where the snakes live.”
The resisters hid from paramilitaries and evaded Military bombardments fifteen years ago. Today we walk together, Maria Ligia and me, commemorating the forced displacement.
Together with the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP) the communities organized an Ecumenical and Ecological Walk in their territory. Delegates from other communities—peasant, indigenous, and Afro-descendant—came to walk with them. All of them have suffered the same or similar problems: they have known war or persecution from different armed actors. All of them have chosen to resist displacement and to develop an alternative life project—a project that guarantees respect for their political, economic, ethnic and cultural rights.
PBI accompanies CIJP in the walk. They are a human rights organisation that PBI has accompanied for the past 14 year. CIJP, in turn, accompanies these communities in the different aspects of their struggle.
The goal of the Walk is to remember and commemorate but also to observe that the war has not ended. In 2006, communities in Curbarado and Jiguamiando began to return. Last year, the land restitution process began. However, the communities remain concerned because the armed groups and the people that displaced them remain in their territory. They fear that what they are receiving as restitution is really a Pandora´s Box. Because of this, one aspect of the Walk is to verify the presence of coca crops and denounce this before the international community, represented by delegates from close to ten international organisations participating in the event.
The mood of the Walk has become tense as we approach the areas where the verification of illicit crops will take place. We cross a cleared area that has been sown with coca plants and I can see the look of worry on the Matriarch´s face. We hear the drone of a helicopter. There are small things that change inside you when you begin to know the reality of the armed conflict: the sound of a helicopter, for example, no longer has the same meaning for me. For Maria Ligia it means terror: bombardments, death, and pain. When she hears the helicopter she begins to regret that we have come and to worry about the people who have stayed behind: “Why did we come here? And those people…Why did they stay there?” I can feel the terror that the sound alone provokes in her. “Don’t worry Maria, don’t worry. They´re gone already. They´re not coming here. It’s over.” I try to make her feel better but she only regains her calm when the sound has disappeared.
Even so, fear and terror have not been able to suppress the courage and resistance in these communities. After bearing witness to the different problems that affect the security of the community today and after remembering the atrocities of the past, the communities sit down together to formulate their vision of a collective future supported by their shared experiences.
The role of PBI is what it has always been: accompany human rights defenders so that their proposals for peace will not be drowned out by violence and repression; walk beside them to protect them, give visibility and confirm the legitimacy of their projects; and put a supportive hand on someone’s shoulder when fear threatens to overwhelm her.