“My pretty Casanare, beautiful enchanting land…”.
The bus has barely left, and already the traditional melodies from Colombia’s plains, the Llanos, are accompanying us on the ride. We are leaving Bogota for Yopal, and Ninfa Cruz of COS-PACC gives us the heads up with a smile: there is no better way of learning about the traditions of struggle and resistance in the Llanos than to hear its traditional music. We’ll fill the seven hours of the bus journey by getting to know, through the songs, the painful history of social mobilisations in this region on Colombia’s border with Venezuela.
It is a fact that since the 1980s, Casanare’s history has been marked by the large oil companies. Ninfa tells me how oil production doesn’t just deplete the aquifers and other water sources, but every day it destroys the local ecosystem a little more and this has forced many farmers off their lands. Many leaders of social movements who dared in the past, or who today oppose the multinational oil companies and their allies, have been threatened and killed. In November 2015, Daniel Abril, a leader in the family farming community from Trinidad (Casanare), paid for his commitment with his life. He was murdered on 13 November in the city of his birth.
In homage to him as an environmentalist, farmer and social leader, the organisation COS-PACC decided to give his name to the Daniel Abril school of environmental and popular education, which started in April 2015, for farming, indigenous and civil society organisations and communities, who are struggling to protect natural resources, their food sovereignty and their forms of production. The Daniel Abril school’s objective is to teach leaders from the Casanare social movement how the economy around the extraction of primary resources works, the distribution of financial resources which that entails, and help the communities to organise themselves to build concrete alternatives for sovereignty, dignity and well-being.
We accompanied Ninfa Cruz, COS-PACC’s treasurer, for four days during the preparation and realisation of the second session organised by Daniel Abril school, this time in the district of El Morro, a village near Yopal.
As a grassroots social organisation, COSP-PACC is dedicated to defending human rights; it accompanies communities who have been the victims of human rights violations; it supports processes by family farmers to guarantee their food sovereignty, promoting organic models of agriculture; implementing actions to reconstruct the social fabric between these communities by strengthening solidarity processes and organising a permanent school of human rights.
In spite of the many difficulties, around fifty representatives from grassroots organisations in Casanare came together at the Daniel Abril school during two days, to learn and exchange during the many workshops that were organised. COS-PACC’s members have worked hard to organise the event, the first of the ten to be held in the following months and Ninfa considers that the workshops in El Morro were a success.
During the two days, smiles and good humour were always with Martin Ayala, COS-PACC’s director, because for the first time the school didn’t just bring together farming organisations from Casanare, but also urban and neighbourhood organisations, including women and displaced persons’ groups.
Based on what we could hear outside the class room, (because PBI’s mandate prevents us from participating in the activities of the organisations we accompany), there are many intense discussions and a common desire to learn how to build collective proposals. The “students” we spoke to were unanimous about the importance and need to organise a space for a popular organisation, which enables them to know their rights and their political, economic and judicial surroundings, to be able to transform and improve daily reality through collective actions, and how to reach ideals through reality.
This accompaniment to El Morro is the second one I’ve done as a volunteer. For the first time, I have been able to plant the PBI flag, with some emotion, at the entrance of the primary school where the event is celebrated. As a new volunteer, I’m not just discovering a new work context, but also new professional practices that I had not known until now. I learn to be aware of suspicious people following us, which are noticed by the defenders, whether it is in their ordinary day to day life, like going shopping at the supermarket. It is a new lesson: when suspicious attitudes are repeated 1, 2, 3, …. 6 times, it cannot be a coincidence. Understanding and observing the risks which the defenders who are accompanied by PBI are living every day, convinces me even more of the need to be present on the ground, protecting their spaces of work.
PBI’s accompaniment is not just physical, it is also emotional: a smile, a glance, a hug. So many gestures which are almost more important than the physical presence. Of course, there is frustration about not being able to participate more actively during the activities we accompany: our mandate is clear and it is not allowed. But with our presence, the protection and capacity for dissuasion which it implies, it seems that we are where we are supposed to be.
At the end of these two days of training, the Daniel Abril school is over, until the next session in just a few weeks. I realise how the school reflects llanera culture, what the songs sing of, what Ninfa helped us to discover. They also symbolise the past and the present of the struggle and resistance of Casanare’s communities, a historic land where different indigenous communities and Colombia’s colonial past come to mix. “My pretty Casanare, Colombia’s wild plain, in my memory I’ll always bring you with me, for your landscapes, your people, for your folklore and your history…” 
Laeti, french volunteer with PBI Colombia
 Mi Casanare, song by Orlando “Cholo” Valderrama.
 Mi Casanare” , song by Orlando “Cholo” Valderrama