Interview: The economic and the political – complementary struggles from the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado

The peasant community of San Jose de Apartado has for decades lived in the midst of armed conflict. Economic interests in Uraba (northwestern Colombia) and its geostrategic (1) position converge to make this region one of the centers of the armed conflict. Since the 1970’s, there have been numerous incursions by the guerrillas, and in 1996 paramilitary groups began an escalation of the armed conflict, manifesting itself overall in attacks on the civilian population. (2)  Nevertheless, instead of joining the thousands of displaced people in the country, in 1997 this farming community established a pioneering experiment in the Uraba region: the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, a community which declared itself neutral in the conflict and rejected the presence of all armed groups in its territory.

The Peace Community, starting with its ethical principles of neutrality in war, is dedicated to resistance in its territory, demand for land rights, non-participation in the conflict, and the fight against impunity for crimes committed against civilians.

PBI: What are the objectives of the Peace Community?

Jesus Emilio Tuberquia. CDP SJA
Jesus Emilio, legal representative of the Community.

Jesus Emilio Tuberquia: First of all, there must be respect for the lives of civilians. We ensure the integrity of the members of the Peace Community but also of other farmers living in the area. Beyond this, we continue the struggle for the right of peasants to land tenure. The struggle for life and strength in the territory of the Peace Community has been able to prevent the displacement of many farmers so far. Without this fight, the peasantry would be already displaced in the cities. A displaced farmer living in the city ends up living as a disposable individual, like garbage, doing whatever they can to survive because no company will hire us, because we never had the right to education. A landless peasant is like a child without their mother. Hence, I think the right to land tenure is a very sacred right to fight for.

Another struggle of the Peace Community is that someday there will be justice or at least symbols of justice for all the crimes against humanity. Our analysis is that these crimes aimed to expropriate the peasantry and acquire land so that it can be then controlled and exploited by the perpetrators.

PBI: ¿What are the current economic interests in the territory of the Community of Peace?

JE: The area has oil, coal, a water source, the meeting of rivers, many minerals, as well as an agricultural pantry. Moreover, there are many coca and marijuana production interests [by illegal armed groups]. This zone has been used strategically for drug trafficking. It is a very productive area, suitable for what one wants to cultivate. This leads to the trade of weapons and other businesses that evolve around drug trafficking. These economic interests cannot only be found here in the village of San Jose de Apartado, but in the surrounding three departments of Chocó, Antioquia and Cordoba as well. We live within the boundaries of these three departments.  Here in this area, those interests are centered, leading to all this violence that has been brought about, an ongoing confrontation over 30 years that causes most affects our citizens. This is because the interests are expropriating the peasantry, displacing them in the process.

Photo: Charlotte Kesl

PBI: ¿What is the fair trade project for the Community of Peace?

JE: We have been exporting organic cocoa with GEPA to Germany, and LUSH of England. Within the vision of the Peace Community, idea is of food ​​autonomy. The marketing side is more a strategy of creating allies.  This is not only about the commercialization of the product, but also, sending a message on what the Peace Community is all about.  A person who markets a Peace Community product does it not only to generate income for the family, but also because it makes political sense.  As far as we are concerned, these two issues are linked, and hence economics and politics are the same. Indeed, those who purchase our products also provide political support to us.

PBI: ¿Why does the Peace Community bet on another model of marketing which is not the capitalist model?

JE: In fact, capital is handled in the commercialization model.  Nonetheless, there is a market that is more conscientious, more political, and more critical.  That is why we are interested in fair trade; managing the economics along with the politics of it.  The importance of the marketing is providing a deeper political knowledge to every consumer.  The policy of the Peace Community is more a sense of equal pay, and the capitalist system is more individualistic. The difference is not about making a concentration of money, but rather a fair redistribution to people.

PBI: ¿What is your project at the University of Farmers?

JE: This is a proposal of the Peace Community, a way to exchange knowledge between communities. It has a base that runs counter to the education of the capitalist system: official universities work buying and selling knowledge. Our proposal consists of learning to serve all other human beings, not for business, not for profit, but to serve humanity. For example, in formal education, if you learn to be a doctor, and you know what disease someone has, you might let that human being die because you did not get paid and there is no money. You can kill for money, or leave a person to die. Within the Peace Community, things are entirely different. Within the alternative education that we have been working on at the University of Farmers, the vision is to focus exactly on what education is and what it should be for human beings. Formal education teaches that you must have money to be a person of importance in the world.  We believe that this is dehumanizing.  To the contrary, education should be humanizing.

PBI: ¿Can you explain the principle of community work in the Peace Community?

JE: It is work more for dignity than money, where you acculturate, and where you break away from the capitalist system. You do not work for money, but for the good of the people. We will build a school, we will fix a neighbor’s house, we will fix the roads – these are the needs of humanity, we will make things better with no money involved. That a man cannot live without money, that’s a lie. That you have to work for money – that’s another lie. So we have made the practice of community work, and it is a reality. Community work, and all that is the Peace Community stands for, is a reality we are living. But the capitalist system is against this, because it goes against all its interests, instilling in people that a paper is what counts. A human being is worthless. This gives rise to a degradation of humanity because it creates a society with a concept of money and not of life. The struggle of the Peace Community is for life, in all its senses.

PBI brigadista CDP SJA
PBI has accompanied the Peace Community since 1999.

PBI: ¿What does the international accompaniment of PBI mean to the Community of Peace?

JE: The importance of the international community and volunteer companions, in short is the safety of us. Without the accompaniment, they would kill us.  It is the protection that enables us to move, advance, grow, farm and live. It’s like a walking stick for us in order to go on walking.

[1] Uraba poses an important geostrategic interest because of its proximity to the Panama Canal and its natural resources. PBI Colombia: Uraba: violence y territory in contemporary history, September 2010

[2] Hernández Delgado, Esperanza: Civil resistance artisan of peace. Javeriana University, 2004

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