Tag Archives: PBI Colombia

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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DEATH THREATS PERSIST AGAINST ENVIRONMENTALISTS IN MAGDALENA MEDIO

The region of Magdalena Medio, home to 6% of Colombia’s armed conflict victims, has historically suffered serious impacts from the extractivist economic model. Today, once again, its environmental leaders and human rights defenders are under serious threat and at risk of displacement. For more than a century, communities have been victims of the expropriation of their lands, the expansion of agribusiness and the exploitation of hydrocarbons, severely affecting the region’s diverse fauna and flora within the countless water sources, rivers and marshes. Oil extraction has caused irreparable environmental damage, and has seriously affected communities’ ancestral fishing economies. Moreover, the enclave economy of the Magdalena Medio region has not generated benefits for the communities that protect it, where communities suffer limited access to clean drinking water and energy services.


Recently, through their constant denouncement of serious human rights violations, human rights and environmental organizations such as the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) have succeeded in getting the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to turn its attention to the region and to prioritize the investigation of crimes committed by the security forces during the armed conflict. In spite of the importance of this recent decision by the JEP to prioritize the Magdalena Medio region in relation to the severe impacts suffered by the population within the context of the armed conflict, members of CREDHOS and allied organizations such as the Committee for the Defense of Water, Life and Territory (AGUAWIL) and the Federation of Artisanal, Environmental and Tourist Fishermen of Santander (Fedepesán) continue to be exposed to alarmingly high levels of risk. It is essential that these serious allegations are investigated and clarified to ensure true guarantees of non-repetition in one of the regions most affected by the armed conflict.
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HUBER VELÁSQUEZ: “Today we marched to call for respect for life and so we can live in our territory.”

The 17th of December 2021, social leader Huber Velásquez was murdered in the rural community of La Balsa, township of San José. The incident occurred in “La Batea,” a place that is just a few meters from what was at one point his brother Iván Velásquez’s estuary. Iván was murdered on 2 January 2002 after refusing to participate in a food blockade imposed by the army as a strategy to pressure the Peace Community.[1]

Just like his brother, Huber sympathized with and had a close relationship with the Community, supporting its cacao commercialization. He also belonged to the peasant oversight board in his municipality and at the time of his death was participating in the inspection process for the paving project for the road between Apartadó and the township of San José. This project has generated major protests from the population due to delays in its execution and the damages caused to the surrounding homes and roads, among other issues. This situation led him to make several public complaints against the municipal administration, laying out how they were not taking steps concerning the irregularities.[2]

For years, Huber had been attacked because of his role as a community leader and he underwent an attempt to expel him from his land. However, in recent months, and due to his complaints about the paving project, he had mentioned a significant increase, to the point of receiving death threats from the paramilitaries at his house.[3] It should be noted that in addition to the intensification of violence and reconfiguration of the armed conflict that occurred nationally after the signing of the Peace Agreement, Otoniel’s capture has also marked an increase in the paramilitary presence and actions in the region and the township of San José. This has been reflected in denouncements made by the Peace Community with their public statements,[4] which refer to an increase in practices such as the forced recruitment of minors, death threats, murders, and territorial and social control, all amid a strong presence from the state security forces.[5]

According to data from Indepaz, including Huber, 165 leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered in 2021 and 1,280 since the Peace Agreement’s signature.[6] The Ombuds Office had warned of of systematic human rights violations and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) infringements in its December 2020 Early Alert.[7] Within this complex context of insecurity, the members of the Peace Community have decided to once again show the bravery and dignity with which they have been characterized throughout their history, convening peasants from all corners of San José to firmly condemn Huber’s murder. Thus, early in the morning on 23 December, dozens of people congregated in front of the Community to walk to the home of social leader Huber Velásquez, in a march for life and the defense of the territory.

People of all ages attended: children, youth, adults, and seniors, some on foot and others by mule. Everyone demanded respect for life in honor of the murdered gentleman, but they also marched as one more example of active resistance to those who today continue attempting, in vain, to silence their voices with violence. And they did this by filling the morning with colorful posters of protest, which they showed to neighbors along the way and then placed at the entrance of the house where Huber was murdered.

Despite the pain, there were also words of hope and fraternal solidarity because, as was stated by those who spoke at the event, even though today it is a place of emptiness and desolation, it was always a house inhabited by a smiling family that believes in the possibility of building a more just world, and there is no greater tribute than “continuing this journey to defend life, to fight against the silencing of truth, and for the memory of those who dared to defend the principles of justice and solidarity.”

Uraba Team, PBI Colombia.


[1]Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó: Se reconfirma pena de muerte contra denunciantes, 20 December 2021.

[3]Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó: Se reconfirma pena de muerte contra denunciantes, 20 December 2021.

[5]Comunidad de Paz: Constancias de la Comunidad de Paz Diciembre, December 2021.

[6]Indepaz (@Indepaz): Tweet, 18 December 2021.

[7]Defensoría del Pueblo: ALERTA TEMPRANA N° 051-20, 14 December 2020.

The path of women in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, located in the region of Urabá Antioqueño, was formed in 1997 amid the violence generated by the armed conflict. Peasant farmers from different villages signed a declaration that identified them as a Peace Community which rejected the different armed groups present in their territory by proclaiming their active neutrality[1] and through the concept of distinction of IHL. After almost 25 years of peaceful resistance, it continues to be an inspiring model of community life that has also promoted the incorporation of perspectives on gender equality allowing for an evolution in the political and social participation of women. It is this perspective that we analyze together with Sirly Cerpa, who was a member of the Peace Community´s Internal Council for six years.

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