Peace for whom?

Even as Colombia starts to implement the peace agreements and the disarmament of FARC combatants, several areas of the country are witnessing a wave of violence like the recent one in the River Calima. PBI has been present in the River Calima, Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca) for several years, through our accompaniment of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP), which itself accompanies and advises several communities in the San Juan River basin.


We start our journey in Lower Calima and from there to the San Juan River, travelling by boat… pure jungle on either side, pure beauty on either side. And, nonetheless, pure misfortune for the indigenous Wounan Nonam community which lives in this territory, because this river, which flows into the Pacific Ocean, is the main drug trafficking route to Buenaventura.[1] This means high levels of violence, and results in a large presence of illegal armed groups, who are taking over areas left by the FARC guerrillas after the peace agreement with the Colombian Government.  Travelling along the San Juan River and Lower Calima, the tension cannot be seen, but it can be felt.

We shared two days with the Wounan community. We passed through the Humanitarian and Biodiverse Refuges of Agua Clara, Puerto Pizario and Santa Rosa de Guayacan, which are the mechanisms they created to be able to return to their territory and try to prevent the illegal armed groups from entering, after they were forcibly displaced for a year to the outskirts of Buenaventura.  The armed actors, however, are not respecting the boundaries.    One clear example is the Humanitarian Reserve of Santa Rosa de Guayacan.  This community was granted precautionary measures of protection by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2011 when they returned to their territory, but the threats have not stopped.

Santa Rosa de Guayacan

Two days after we visited the Reserve, Jose Chamapuro, a member of the community, was kidnapped by armed men who released him seven hours later, but he appeared to have suffered violence.[2] CIJP has publicly denounced several incursions by armed men into the Reserve in recent days.[3]  Faced with this situation, almost all the families of the Santa Rosa de Guayacan Reserve have decided to return to Buenaventura and become displaced again.[4]


How much longer can they defend their territory without guarantees from the State?

In the Santa Rosa de Guayacan community, the murders of Afro-Colombian leader Emilsen and her partner, Joe, a few weeks ago, left profound sadness and concern because these killings and the other incidents mentioned above reflect the violence and lack of guarantees that communities have to face in their fight to remain on their land, and they demonstrate the persecution of community leaders and human rights defenders which is happening around the country.[5] To this community, Emilsen was not just a close friend whom some of them had known since she was a little girl, because she was also a daughter of the Calima River, but she was also a beacon, for the support she gave them to find the Santa Rosa territory when they returned and for her work as a community leader in the area, as a founding member of Conpaz.

Emilsen Manyoma was 31 years old and she was a leading figure in CONPAZ, a project that forms peace proposals that originate from the different territories of Colombia. She was assassinated along with her husband Joe Javier Rodallega on the 17th of January 2017. Photo: Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission

Resisting on their lands

For one of us (Michaela) it wasn’t the first visit to the Santa Rosa de Guayacan Reserve, but for the other (Lara) it was.  The indigenous community nonetheless welcomed us with open arms and open hearts. In the community hut, men, women and children welcomed us with food and drink. The women gave us rice, fish and lemonade.  But there was a sadness in the air. They lit a candle for Emilsen and Joe’s souls and memories. We were very moved that they let us share that moment with them.  Another of many during which we, as PBI, have had the chance to accompany them.

Moved, but also worried, we continued our journey upriver to the Lower Calima Port, where we stopped off to visit Emilsen and Joe’s grave.

A village on the Naya River

Naya: The long road to collective land titling

Our journey continued for two more days on the river Naya. It is impressive to leave the port of Buenaventura for the Pacific Ocean and then be enveloped by the Naya’s beauty, especially with the Naya Community Council’s Governor as our guide.

The Community Councils of the Afro-Colombian communities started being created after Law 70 of 1993, which recognises several rights, including the right to collective property and the use of the land, and established some mechanisms to protect and develop the right to cultural identity. Since then, they have struggled to stay in their territory, and in the past many people have had to be displaced to Buenaventura, where they remain to this day.

Currently, the different communities that live on the banks of the River Naya, like people in other parts of the country, are worried about the build-up of neo-paramilitary structures, which are regrouping and disputing control of the zones where the FARC used to be present, now that the peace agreements between the Government and the FARC are being implemented.[6]  The communities who live in Naya do not want to find themselves in the situation of being displaced like so many of their neighbours and relatives who resettled in the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space.

Michaela y Lara


[1] El Tiempo: La gente está de vuelta a Litoral del San Juan, 20 December 2013
[2] Cijp: Aparece golpeado fuertemente y amenazado de muerte José Chamapurru, 4 February 2017
[3] Cijp: Persiste presencia paramilitar en Resguardo Humanitario, 6 February 2017
[4] Humanitarian Response, Flash Update No. 1: Confinamiento y desplazamiento de la comunidad del resguardo indígena de Santa Rosa de Guayacán, Buenaventura y restricciones a la movilidad de la comunidad de El Guadual, Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca), February 2017
[5] Cpdh: El CPDH rechaza la oleada de crímenes y agresiones selectivas y sistemáticas en contra de líderes sociales, Comunicado N.7, 21 November 2016; El Espectador: Van 70 asesinatos de defensores de derechos humanos en 2016, 20 November 2016
[6] Telesur: Paramilitarismo en Colombia no garantiza una paz sostenible, 15 April 2016

Leave a Reply