It’s an emotional moment, as a member of the Peace Community, to be able to unroll and put up this large white banner on which are written the names of more than 350 family members, friends, and neighbours who have been killed by the Guerrilla, the Army, or the Paramilitaries since the Peace Community was founded on 1997.
Personally, I find it difficult to fully grasp the gravity of these tragedies. I look around me and count those (some 50, more or less) participating in the commemorative mass held by the Father Javier Giraldo. On the banner there are so many names, each one corresponding to a mother, a son, a brother, a friend… All of them campesinos who grow cacao, yucca, bananas, sugar cane, and rice and, unfortunately for them, live on the lands richest in resources in Colombia. As such, they find themselves in between many economic interests. All of this moves me deeply and reminds me of precisely what brought me here: to help in whatever way possible that in the future lists of names such as this will not have to be written.
At the same time, I admire the courage of these people, despite the pain, the harassment, and the constant threats, in their perseverance to stay out of the armed conflict between the soldiers and paramilitaries on one side and the guerrilla on the other.
The Peace Community was created in 1997 out of the necessity for the civilian population to not be declared guerrillas or collaborators with the army and, in consequence, be persecuted by one side or the other. The members of this community committed themselves to not bearing arms or giving information or logistical support to either side of the conflict. In this way, they hoped that the terror and murders would stop. Unfortunately, this wish never materialised as their right to maintain their neutrality has not been respected by either side. Even today, members of the community continue to be threatened and killed. One of the worst massacres occurred in 2005 when paramilitaries and the armed forces murdered two entire families, amongst those one of the leaders of the Peace Community and three children of 11 years, 5 years, and 18 months.
The memory of these massacres was still present during this solemn act of remembrance. Various witnesses spoke of the cruelty they had lived through and Doña Brígida, an artist and one of the founders of the community, had painted a large painting. They all pushed those present to relive, in one way or another, these tragic events.
At the same time, this was also a celebration evoking joy for what had already been achieved and the hope for a better future. The venue had been decorated with balloons, garlands, and banana plants. The community had also baked 18 cakes using ingredients they themselves had produced, each one representing one year since the community’s birth.
“It’s beautiful to see how we, humble campesinos, without the use of arms, have managed to remain in our territory and defend it” declared Gildardo Tuberquia, one of the community leaders, “and we will continue to do so as long as we remain organized”.
I hope he’s right and that the community continue celebrating many more birthdays to come.
– Tanja Vultier