Accompanying a threatened leader for a week

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is about to celebrate its anniversary. It has spent 20 years resisting and demanding that their neutrality be respected in a conflict that they don’t form a part of. From the beginning of its existence the members of the Peace Community have not had a single day without tormenting over the risks that they face or the lack of respect for their territory. Since September 2016 leaders from the Peace Community have denounced the increase in presence of neo-paramilitary groups in the area; the neo-paramilitaries have entered into communities, making themselves clear to the inhabitants that they are going to take control of the territory.[1]

They have also entered the hamlet of Mulatos, where the Peace Village Luis Eduardo Guerra is located. Peace Brigades International often accompanies leaders to this hamlet, and recently its visits have increased due to the death threats that members of the community have received.

Gildardo Tuberquia

This is where Gildardo Tuberquia lives, he is one of the founders of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and has been a member of the internal council for 18 years. After the massacres in Mulatos and the Resbalosa, in February 2005, the majority of the peasant farmers abandoned their land. Only Gildardo and Germán Graciano stayed and they built the Peace Village in memory of Luis Eduardo Guerra, a leader who was assassinated during the massacre.

Gildardo has been living there for eight years. He loves his land; and openly shows this love and his willingness to keep struggling to defend his territory. He is a wonderful man; he is funny and he is always laughing. In December 2016, he received death threats on behalf of neo-paramilitary groups; they were annoyed because the Peace Community reported about the presence of neo-paramilitary groups in the region, according to what they said to some peasant farmers from the area, they were looking for Gildardo to “tie him up and take him away”.[2]

Jesus Emilio con su hijo Alberto CDP
Jesús Emilio Tuberquia with his son Alberto, both are leaders of The Peace Community. Jesús Emilio has also received death threats in the past.

Last week I travelled for the first time to Mulatos to accompany Gildardo; it was an adventure.  The journey from La Holandita to Mulatos is hard work but spectacular. The peasant farmers who live in the area need about five hours to get there, however because they were with me and I am not used to these types of journeys it took much longer.

The trail was very muddy because it had been raining a lot. We travelled by mule, in fact, PBI has its own mule to use in these types of trips, she is called Tostao, she is dark and beautiful.  Sometimes she gets scared when you approach her, but then if you stroke her she calms down.  She is also stubborn, sometime she refuses to go down the right track and chooses another.

Nathalie with Tostao
Nathalie with Tostao

I soon realised that riding a mule is something that needed a bit practice. The beasts (as the mules are referred to in these parts) know when you are not an experienced rider, Gildardo laughs I we tried to make the mule go on by whipping it feebly with the reins, he said that it looked more like I was stroking her. I think I hit myself more than I hit the mule. But later, with only a swift cry from Gildardo the mules ran. It was impressive.

I also have to admit that on the way there I fell off the mule three times (well Gildardo said I was good at jumping off). The first time was because the mule loves going under the trees and as there were some low branches I was forced to jump off. The second time was because she went to close to a tree and unfastened the saddle, and that made me fall in the mud. The third time was while going downhill and navigating through the mud and the rocks the mule became nervous, I leaned forward to look over and that is when I fell for the third time. I learnt that it is best not to lean forwards when the mule is going downhill.

Gildardo's house
Gildardo’s house

My adventures were definitely more fun than traumatic and we eventually arrived at the hamlet at 6 in the afternoon. Gildardo’s family welcomed us with a delicious meal.

The hamlet is beautiful, it has a school, a library and a solar panel that powers the lights at night. The panorama is amazing, there is river that runs by… One feels tranquillity and disconnected from the city and the modern world, it is very pleasant. While there we receive several visits from peasant farmers that live in the area and we shared stories amongst us.

Marina with her grandchild
Marina with her grandchild

Marina is also a founding member of The Peace Community and she returned to Mulatos five years ago. Here she is with her grandchild.

At night, from my hammock I could hear the concert put on by the different animals outside, little by little I got used to the noise. We stayed with Gildardo for a week, accompanying him in his work for the community and spending time with his family.

We were lucky that throughout the week it didn’t rain, so that on the return journey the trail was dry and we could even gallop. We arrived at La Holandita much quicker than before, with a lot of energy and willingness to carry on with our commitments to open up paths to peace.

Nathalie (Belgian brigadista) PBI Colombia


[1] Peace Community of San José de Apartadó: Paramilitaries occupy our community spaces. 6th of September 2016

[2] Peace Community of San José de Apartadó:  The tolerance and unity between the security forces and the paramilitaries is still out of control, 10th of January 2017

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