Irene Ramírez is president of the Peasant Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC), an organisation that has the objective of defending the human rights of the farmers of the Magdalena Medio region. PBI has accompanied the ACVC since 2007, in all the aspects of work that have to do with the defence of territory and peacebuilding in the region.
PBI: What has been your personal journey from being a farmer to becoming president of the ACVC?
IRENE: I have always been a small-scale farmer, and I was born in the countryside. I think that my path has been one of humility and learning how to coexist with others in the region. I grew up, I had my children in the countryside, and I helped with the creation of the Peasant Farmer Reserve Zone (ZRC) as well as the construction of the models of how to live side by side in the countryside.
PBI: What is the situation like today for the small-scale farmers of the Magdalena Medio region?
IRENE: Today there is tranquillity, despite the fact that 2007 was a very hard year for us, but now we live in tranquillity waiting for the signing of the peace agreement in Havana. For us as farmers, this is one of the advances we have achieved. We believe that with the signing of the peace agreement more work will arrive, for men and women alike. We helped to create it, and we continue supporting it so that there are advances, because we ourselves form part of its many productive processes. This has helped us remain in the region, not being displaced and from there we have a footing for the principle of remaining in the territory and a base for agreements of the implementation of how we will develop the peace agreement in our own peasant farmer region.
PBI: What are the models of peace that the ACVC is implementing in these regions?
IRENE: We have a peace model with a buffalo project; at this current moment in time there are 48 members involved in the project. This was born of the idea that every small-scale farmer should have his/her home and an estate that forms part of his ability to feed and maintain his family and so he can plant more roots on his land.
The buffalo project is fulfilling all these initiatives, for us it has been a very productive project which has allowed us to change the model of the way we feed ourselves as well as changing the quality of life of farmer families.
PBI: What would the signing of a peace agreement mean for the Magdalena Medio region?
IRENE: I think that the task for us, as small-scale farmers, is to keep providing support from the foundations that have already been created with all these projects. We have to start to generate spaces for everyone who formed a part of the conflict and eventually will be living in our territory. Our work is basically to keep putting pressure on the government so that it will show its commitment to peasant farmers. Because we have to work on social issues, on political issues, on economic issues, on cultural issues and work with the social organisations that are working on the matter of peace. So that the peasant farmer is recognised for what he/she is and that they are given the right to have land, because the problem with rural regions, and with Colombia as a whole, is always going to be the land issue.
PBI: We know that the figure of the Peasant Farmer Reserve Zone is an important tool for the ACVC, can you explain what a ZRC is?
Irene: The Peasant Farmer Reserve Zone has been constructed in the four municipalities of Remedios, Yondó, Cantagallo and San Pablo. What have we wanted to achieve with this ZRC? First of all, that the Colombian government recognises juridically that in that part of the country there is a population of farmers, and that there is a law that we have gained, that was authorised by the government and fortunately the farmer population has taken advantage of this law.
First we embraced Law 220, which is a law that was born in 1994, and from there we started to see that within the context of the ZRC it was possible for us to create our own productive projects, to form a part of this project of peace, a peace that sincerely we yearn for so much. The ZRC’s supposedly also have engrained in them the right to individual land titling, therefore instructing INCODER to title each farmer as the owner and possessor of the territory. All this is in order to stop the work of the multinationals, to create a region where there are no more multinationals or mega-projects that, day-by-day, they are advancing against the farmer population.
The ZRC fulfils the principles of non-displacement, of the right to land, of putting an end to the model of mega-projects and of multinationals exploiting our economic resources. This is what a ZRC does. In other words it is a figure that we created, and we have organised ourselves to defend it from these same foundations.
PBI: What impact would the signing of a peace agreement have on the ZRC?
IRENE: Signing a peace agreement, well it is actually only the FARC and the Colombian government who are signing. There is one factor that has not been talked about; this has to do with the ELN and all that lot, as well as the paramilitaries, who form a part of everything that has gone on. We are also demanding things and we are prepared to say that the struggle as an organisation goes on. It goes on because we, as small-scale farmers, feel that everyone has a commitment to keep demanding that they feel these factors, so we can keep going forward in what will be needed in a postconflict Colombia. Because we consider that the postconflict will continue, that there will remain the roots of people who have not understood the true peace that we want, and that one way or another there exist factors that are still doing harm to the people who are saying that they want peace.
We are still being threatened because we speak of peace, we speak lots about peace, but I think what is lacking is that we speak about peace in the same language and in the same dialogue; this is why we think that we should keep constructing this.
PBI: Thank you very much Irene, it has been a pleasure speaking with you today. It is an honour to accompany the ACVC, it is something that fills us without a lot of happiness.