“Like the Norwegian sun in winter”

Every day, Enrique Cabezas is grateful that he and his family are still alive. He is probably one of the most threatened leaders in the Curbarado River basin. A few days ago, members of the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) neo-paramilitary group threatened him again.[1]  A month ago, the AGC showed just how they make good on their threats when they murdered Duberney Gomez, who was the son of the land claimant Rafael Truaquero, just three kilometres from Enrique’s farm. [2]  In 2012, neo-paramilitaries murdered the land claimant Manuel Ruiz, and his son Samir, also near to Enrique’s home.  The risk is real, and since 2014 Enrique has been walking around with two armed bodyguards assigned to him by the National Protection Unit.  The anguish of knowing that he could be killed at any moment keeps him awake at night.  “The fear never leaves me”, he commented to us during a visit, and his parents and sister nodded their agreement.

Manuel y Samir Ruíz_asesinados en 2012_web
James Ruiz holds the photos of Manuel and Samir Ruíz who were murdered in 2012.

We arrive at his farm on a motorcycle from the village of Llano Rico, and because it is rainy season we had to get off and walk due to all the mud on the unpaved road. Enrique lives with his parents, some of his seven brothers and sisters and the two bodyguards in a humble house with a dirt floor and corrugated zinc roof. In the entrance there are large trees where the turkeys, dogs and pigs find shade during the hot days.

Enrique Cabezas_finca y cerro

“Come, I’ll show you around the farm”, and we agree happily and set off with Enrique at daybreak. The farm is called “El Paraiso” and we quickly discover that the place lives up to its name.  In the background is the mountain of Jai Katuma, home to the spirits of the Embera indigenous communities.

Enrique was born on this plain a little over thirty years ago. His father arrived in the 1980s when the earth was covered in forest, which is hard to imagine, having just spent four days travelling around the area without seeing many trees.  We walk through rice fields, plantain, yucca and squash.  “It’s hard to sell them, nobody wants to buy our products” Enrique complains. We see a little hut and we guess that it is a school judging by the green chalkboard, but at the moment its only students seem to be some lost cows that are standing around in the classroom.  “They don’t belong to our family” Enrique explains.  When they fled in 1996 they lost, amongst many other things, all their cattle, but they made a deal with a neighbour: if he looked after the cows he could keep all the milk and half the calves, and one day they would be able to recover what they had lost.

Enrique Cabezas
Enrique Cabezas

Enrique’s history is same as many other land claimants. In 1997 when some 200 paramilitaries arrived on his land and murdered fourteen farmers during their rampage, his parents packed up their belongings, picked up their smallest children and ran.[3] Enrique was twelve, he remembers how they walked to the Atrato River, crossed it in a boat and kept on walking until they reached the Pacific Ocean. When they finally dared to come back in 2002, they found out that during their absence other people had used fraudulent paperwork to buy their land.  Thanks to the advice of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission, they began legal proceedings at the Colombian Development Institute (INCODER) and were able to recover the title documentation.  Immediately afterwards Enrique began to receive threats.[4]

Enrique Cabezas_2

If you walk around with Enrique you too will fall in love with the land, and now I want to live in the countryside, grow crops and ride horses.  I envy the passion he feels for the earth. His situation is desperate, but Enrique is clear that his only option is to keep on resisting and to bear the wave of violence: “today the paramilitaries are in Llano Rico drinking beer” he comments, unsettled. This means that he will have to stay confined on his farm, and socially isolated from his community.  “I’m living like a recluse” he confirms and adds that “it is difficult to live like this because you stop trusting everybody”.

The war continues in these lands, despite the peace agreements and speeches. The FARC operated here until their demobilisation. Since 2014, hundreds of AGC troops have been regrouping here and since 2015, the Human Rights Ombudsman has been warning the authorities about their expansion.[5]

Enrique Cabezas_su finca

The threats led Enrique to visit many countries in Europe to talk about his case and about the land in Curbarado. When I ask him about his hopes he says: “It is like the Norwegian sun in winter, that’s how I see it”.  Enrique stoically fights for the right to his land, he puts up with the threats, he lives each day in fear and at night he can’t sleep.  That is reality for Enrique, but there is no alternative.  “Imagine us sitting around in a city” he says. Of course, now that I have got to know Enrique, his family and his beautiful farm, it is impossible to imagine him living in a Bogota slum.

Bianca Bauer

[1] Cijp: Amenazan a líder de tierras Enrique Cabezas, 2 July 2017
[2] El Espectador: Hallan muerto a hijo de reclamante de tierras en una carretera de Chocó, 1 June 2017
[3] Rutas del Conflicto: Masacre de Riosucio de 1997
[4] Cijp: Planean asesinato de Enrique Cabezas, 3 August; Cijp: Amenazan a líder Enrique Cabezas al salir del foro sobre víctimas, 6 July 2014
[5] Defensoría del Pueblo: Nota de Seguimiento no. 004-17, 27 April 2017

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