Transforming fragility to strength

Julia is a woman that commands respect through her dignified presence and authoritative manner.  She is the president of the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers Collective (Ccalcp), and a beacon of hope for many communities in the Magdalena Medio region as well as Santander and North Santander.  Her fierce demeanor could fool you into thinking she was invincible, that nothing could break through her determination to defend the rights of the most vulnerable.  But having accompanied Julia personally, I feel I see through her exterior to the heart of a woman who is undeniably strong and defiant, but also acutely aware of the risk her work implies.

Julia, alongside her colleagues in Ccalcp, is a lawyer committed to the application of the rule of law in the territories traditionally abandoned by the State, where economic interests have always overruled the rights of communities.  She presents legal actions against companies who have systematically denied the communities their constitutional rights to be consulted before an economic project is initiated and to participate in its development.  Julia is the voice of suppressed populations who seek nothing more than to remain on their territory and exercise their right to self determination.

Seeing her in action addressing crowds of campesinos with rousing words that motivate and inspire, or in workshops as she diligently explains complex parts of national mining legislation to communities at risk of being forced from their land, displaced by economic projects, I watch her in admiration, proud to accompany her and support her in any way I can.  The communities respect her and look up to her, as leader and ally.

Photo: Bianca Bauer

For this brave and seldom-recognised work, Julia lives in a state of constant vigilance and paranoia which derives from her experience over recent years of threats, persecution, intimidation and stigmatisation.  Building a relationship of trust with Julia is not easy as this constant persecution has forced her to be suspicious of anyone and everyone.  Yet once you have gained her trust, Julia is an exceptionally loyal and reliable friend.

Julia brims with a wealth of information, amusing anecdotes and wry analysis.  It is a privilege to be in her company and to stand beside her as she takes on the Goliaths and defends the Davids.  She has sacrificed a lot for the work she does, but she wouldn´t have it any other way.  Her commitment and solidarity shine victorious over the challenges and difficulties she faces.  An inspiring woman that will never give up her fight for social justice.

Hannah Matthews

Cover photo: Tom Laffay / Cajar

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