Care Is Protecting Life: A gathering of women defenders

Between 24 and 27 February, PBI Colombia held a Gathering of Women Defenders in La Vega. Women leaders and defenders participated from throughout the Colombian territory.

The women are active in peaceful resistance with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (Antioquía)they are leaders from the Peasant Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC), the Humanitarian Action Corporation for Coexistence and Peace in Northeast Antioquia (CAHUCOPANA), the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), and the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COSPACC), all of which are emblematic organizations that work for the rights of the peasantry and communities affected by the armed conflict in the Magdalena Medio, Northeast of Antioquia, and Casanare. They are women involved in the struggle and relatives of victims of forced disappearance from Buenaventura, with the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), and from Bogotá the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (FNEB). As well as women human rights lawyers from Bucaramanga, Bogotá, and Medellín—from the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP), Dh Colombia, and the Corporation for Judicial Freedom (CJL), Ties of Dignity (Lazos con Dignidad) and the Feminist Scheme for the Protection of Human Rights (Esquema Feminista de Protección de Derechos Humanos)—which defend victims of state crimes and police violence and they accompany initatives that propose peace from the regions. All of them, diverse women, came together in that diversity and united their struggles and protection tools in a collective, transformative effort that called collective memory into the present.

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Call for applications: PBI Colombia Training

PBI Colombia would like to announce a call for applications to our 2022 Training Encounter

Applications will be accepted until June 5th, 2022.  All applications (with references) received until this date will be considered for the training and selection process leading to a training and selection encounter to be determined at a future date,  which will take place in Spain.

More information here (Spanish language only)

“We Returned and Here We Are: We Are Genesis”

Operations Genesis and Cacarica: In the face of terror, a resistance story

The Bajo Atrato region, in northeastern Colombian, has been particularly hard hit by violence and the armed conflict. According to the Victims Unit, the registry for this area includes close to 429,820 victims of forced displacement, dispossession, selective murders, and other victimizing acts.[1] One of the cruelest events that marked forever the history of the Atrato River’s Afro-Colombian communities occurred in the Cacarica river basin. Between the 24 and 27 of February 1997, Operation Genesis was executed. It was an offensive led by General Rito Alejo del Río, then commander of the Army’s 17th Brigade, in coordination with the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Elmer Cárdenas Bloc) paramilitary group, and under the pretext of taking back control from the FARC-EP guerrillas.[2] In parallel and through joint operations with  Military Troops,[3] the paramilitary group called the Peasant Self-defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU), initiated Operation Cacarica, crossing the Atrato River until they invaded the Salaquí, Truandó, and Perancho river basins.[4]

 

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Protecting the Essence

“As women we are diverse and today we come together amid that diversity.” Those were the opening words at the Gathering of Women Defenders organized by PBI Colombia, held in La Vega this past 24 to 27 of February. Colombian women, from their Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and mixed-race ancestry of resistance have taught us something essential about protection: it is also necessary to protect our spirit, our sense of being, our center, our essence.

This protection is not as visible as a fence or armored car, but it sustains organizational efforts as roots hold up a tree. Many scientists now talk about the importance of roots in primary forests, how they are intertwined with the roots of other trees as a greater community that accompanies the forests, from underground.

We have also been shown how these roots, thanks to mycorrhiza, transmit information that keeps the forest healthy and favors growth in the smallest and sickest trees. This paradigm shift is still pending within the western perspective; an understanding of the connection between humans and nature (the nature that we carry inside us and the external nature that cares for us). This language reaffirms what women, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombian peoples have been saying for so long: there is so much beyond what our eyes see.

Protecting our roots is protecting what remains invisible yet sustains us. Roots sustain the trunk, hold the earth in place, and maintain the forest even when it is burned. “If the forest burns, let it burn, that same vine will sprout again,” as a song states. This also happens with protection, strong and collective roots are part of the protection that we provide as individuals, communities, and organizations.

There are many ways to protect our essence, depending on our world vision and culture, depending on our history. Through the many spaces that PBI Colombia has shared with women leaders, defenders, and organizations we have identified the importance of once again asking ourselves: What keeps us united in our efforts? What are our values?  What connects us to life and the defense of rights and the territory?

Sociopolitical violence and abrupt and unexpected transformations, such as the pandemic, can lead us to lose sight of the horizon we are moving towards and where we came from. It can put us in a state of emergency, reacting to events. And over time we can lose that profound “why” in the essence of what we do and our connection to life.

We want to highlight three paths to protect that essence, which we identify as powerful, necessary, and inspirational

First, a coming together of the generations to dialogue on how we understand the values that sustain us as a community or organization and that connect us to the defense of human rights; second, the space for and vindication of our own culture, with the symbols, rituals, songs, languages, or education that comprise it; and third, a collective and creative construction of memory.

This dimension of protection, at times invisible, is fundamental, and like all the other dimensions it must be taken care, even when it is underground. For that reason, today on 8 of March, the international day for the rights of women workers and girls, we ask ourselves once again: Why do we continue accompanying after 27 years in Colombia?

Perhaps, as is reflected in the etymological meaning of spirit, it is because it helps us breathe. After all, it gives us air to walk the path of constructing spaces built on solidarity, peace, and friendship. Breathing in collective, with other women, allows us to recognize ourselves in others, to strengthen the invisible network of which we are a part, constructing safe spaces out of vulnerability and interdependence. Today, 8 of March, we do not want to forget all of the contributions made, day in and day out, by women leaders and defenders to understand protection from a holistic lens, understanding that protection and care always go hand in hand. A very special thanks to all the women, women leaders and human rights defenders, who inspire us every day.

PBI Colombia.

The massacre that transformed the Peace Community for ever

On the 21 February 2005, the fields of Mulatos and La Resbalosa in Antioquia were the scene of a horrific crime which once again targetted the local population. The rural division is an area located around five hours from the Peace Community’s main village, la Holandita. Eight people, of whom four were minors, were killed, dismembered and buried in a mass grave. Among the eight victims, seven were members of the Peace Community: Luis Eduardo Guerra, historical leader and founder of the Community, Bellanira Areiza, his partner and Deiner Andrés Guerra, his 11 year old son; Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia Graciano, the coordinator of the Humanitarian Zone of La Resbalosa, Sandra Milena Muñoz Posso, his wife and Natalia and Santiago, their two children aged 5 years and 20 months.

The massacre was carried out by a commando of around 60 paramilitaries from the Heroes de Tolová Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) alongside soldiers attached to the Army’s XVII Brigade[1]. These events, which deeply marked the path of resistance of the Peace Community, exposed the viciousness of a war that, rather than combating those who had taken up arms, was waged against small farmers and peasants who were striving towards peace in the midst of so much violence. The militaristic actions against the Peace Community were not new, nor would they cease after the massacre. According to Brígida González, founder and historical leader of the Community, with that massacre they wanted to reaffirm, “once again, that there should be no social organizations” [2].

Brígida Gonzáles, who in addition to being a leader is an artist recognized with the Award for ‘Creativity of Women in Rural Areas’ by the Women’s World Summit Foundation, painted this story, which is now in the National Museum of Bogotá. Her objective through her art is to never forget and to try heal what happened.

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making space for peace