It’s 7 in the evening when the Uraba team get a call from a member of the Internal Council, the San José de Apartadó Peace community’s executive body, urgently requesting accompaniment for a humanitarian commission from the community to a village close to which a military camp is located. According to what the Peace Community tell us, a local young man had been detained by members of the army and the community wanted to verify the reasons, legality and conditions of his detention.
Our mission was the following: ensure the Community’s security in order to enable them to carry out their legitimate, non-violent work in the defence of human rights. Next we hold a meeting to evaluate the Peace Community’s request. By 11 at night we have finished our analysis of potential risks in the area and we decide to accept the request. We write up letters to notify the relevant civil and military authorities, embassies, and international organizations of our mission and request that they be available if necessary.
It’s midnight! We quickly pack out bags, grab the PBI flag, the satellite phone, a fist aid kit, rubber boots (of outmost important for the waterlogged paths), and a copy of the letters we have just sent. We search for a clean t-shirt and then to bed; tomorrow we’ve got to be out of the house at 5:30AM!
The next day we head up to La Holandita, the main village of the peace community located just ten minutes walk from San José de Apartadó, where they are finalizing the preparations for the trip. We leave La Holandita at 8:30 without knowing that a very difficult journey lies ahead: we must cross streams and rivers, wade through bogs, avoid thorns and snakes, climb steep hills on bumpy tracks… one step forward, two steps back, but always forward! At least we have brought a mule, the main means of transport in this mountainous region. We take turns to ride the mule until we get hold of another allowing us to move a little faster.
Alter four hours of walking we come to a hill in front of the military camp. We present ourselves to the commander of the battalion and then the members of the Community talk with the army. The relations between the Community and Army have been tense due to the history of the region. One of the events that most affected the Community was the 21st of February massacre in 2005 in which 8 people from the villages of Mulatos and Resbalosa were murdered and their bodies chopped up, amongst them 2 children and the Community’s long time leader Luis Eduardo Guerra. In March 2010 Capitan (Retired) Guillermo Gordillo confessed to and was sentenced to 20 years of prison for the crimes of aggravated homicide, barbarous acts, and aggravated conspiracy to commit a crime.
The Community try to get the captured youth released by promising the Army that they will assure his safety and security but this time with no luck as he is transferred by helicopter to a military base.
Returning downhill, we’re able to move much quicker, but nevertheless night falls upon us. Rivers, bogs, slippery rocks, spiky plants and snakes (although these couldn’t be seen as all that was visible were shadows and the stars). Those with torches are lucky but the majority must feel their way. Again, the mules come to our rescue as they are able to make out that which we can’t see.
By eight o’clock we’re back at la Holandita, exhausted, dragging our feet, covered in mud, but happy to have overcome the challenges of accompanying the Community in such a difficult area and pleased to have been beside men and women with an immensely important role to play in the search for peace and justice in Colombia.
We feel lucky to have gazed upon such beautiful landscapes, to have enjoyed an exceptional view of the majestic Golf of Urabá and the river Atrato that from the heights of the Serrania de Abibe looks like a thread snaking through the river basins of the afro Colombians’ collective territories. We feel lucky to have enjoyed the crystal clear water that springs from the mountains, and above all to have shared so much with such fantastic people.
A few days later we hear that the Army have freed the young man, leading the community to consider their mission accomplished.
– Kate y Miriam