Tag Archives: Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado

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.

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

WALKING THE PATHS OF PEACE: COMMUNITY WORK AS LIFE AND RESISTANCE

Every Thursday, community work is carried out in the villages of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (CdP).  This guarantees the food sovereignty of the members of this community, through the cultivation and care of the collective land.  Some of the products grown are typical of Colombian farmer culture: rice, maize, yucca, bananas and cocoa. The cultivation, as well as the process of harvesting and subsequent processing of the product, is carried out in a natural way, without the use of machinery or chemical products that are harmful to the environment. This community work stands out for its deep connection with and respect for nature and the territory.  Even the animals are protagonists and faithful companions in this process.  Donkeys, mules and horses are the favourite means of transport because of their strength and endurance on the paths immersed in the vegetation of the region. The human being, the land and the animals are therefore elements of the same circle that strengthen each other.

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Between hope and hopelessness: commemoration as dignified presence

On 8th July 2021, PBI accompanied the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in the commemoration of the massacre of La Unión.  As every year, the Community honoured the memory of its victims, tended to the memorial and reaffirmed its commitment to  its resistance in the territory.  The ceremony took place despite acts of intimidation perpetrated by a group of people drinking liquor and playing loud music.  In the face of this attempt to silence them and in the midst of anguish and pain, the members of the community made memories in order to continue building a dignified present and the peace they deserve.

21 years ago, PBI also accompanied the families of the victims in the village of La Union.  The day before, on July 8th, 2000, members of the Peace Community, Rigoberto Guzman, Elodino Rivera, Diofanor Correa, Humberto Sepulveda, Jaime Guzman and Pedro Zapata were assassinated in the village by paramilitaries.  This massacre took place three years after the creation of the Peace Community and was aimed at destroying an important organisational site for the process.  According to Father Javier Giraldo, who has accompanied the community from its beginnings, this massacre was not the product of confrontations in the midst of the armed conflict, nor was it a war crime.  This massacre was planned and carried out with a single and indisputable objective: to wipe out the Peace Community.1

According to the testimonies narrated by Father Javier, around 20 hooded men entered the village, entering first through the Missionary Sisters to cut the telephone.  At that moment, a helicopter from the XVII Brigade flew over the village.  Some of the villagers managed to flee, while others remained in the village.  The hooded men summoned all the villagers, asking them for the whereabouts of the leaders, while separating the women and children from the men.  They then began to shoot at the men, sparing the life of only one of them on the grounds that he was very young.  They threatened the community, giving them 20 days to leave the area.  On leaving the hamlet, they set fire to the community house where there was a public telephone.  As a result of this event, 63 families from the hamlet of La Unión and inhabitants of Arenas Altas were forcibly displaced.

Father Javier Giraldo adds: “After the massacre in La Unión, some government officials came with an energetic attitude, assuring us that they were going to take action immediately. They were going to create a government commission, but this promise never materialised. As a result, people in the Community quickly lost faith”.2

The sole survivor of the massacre remembers that day as if it were yesterday.  It seems as if time has stood still, the dismay at the lack of response and the hopelessness is still palpable. Injustice and impunity were present not only on 8th July 2000, but also in 2021 when the ceremony was not respected and was even mocked by the people on the pavement.

Today, more than twenty years after its creation, violence against the Peace Community has not diminished.  In 2018, 320 people were murdered, countless threats, torture, forced displacement, sexual outrages, looting and armed robbery perpetrated were registered by all the armed actors present in the area for decades: guerrillas, paramilitaries and the National Army.  Because of these acts of violence against them, the community no longer believes in the state’s will to protect them.3

Commemoration is a way of moving forward despite the threats that continue against them.  The members of the Peace Community focus their energies on the memory of their martyrs, remembering with gratitude the gift of life and presence of their assassinated leaders as well as the people who have accompanied them and who are no longer with them, such as Eduar Lanchero.

They speak of “energising memory”.  That same strength we feel in remembering people like Liza Smith, who left us in February this year.  She was hugely committed to peace and social justice and spent many years with PBI and other organisations, accompanying communities in resistance, human rights defenders.  In her writing “The practice of no success”, published in 2016, Liza questions the trap of hope and the difficulties of continuing to struggle when longed-for changes fade as we move forward.  For her, one response is to step out of the binary of hope and hopelessness and seek that broad territory of moral integrity.  One could also refer to the dignity of the present, a space of freedom where we can agitate for dignified everyday action.4

The Peace Community of San José de Apartado is the materialisation of this reflection because it teaches us the value of shared time, the joy of resistance in its hymn, the genuineness of a conversation and the dedication and solidarity within its fabric. It is an example of the power of social bonds, of community.  In the Community the humane struggle for life that reaffirms itself in a dignified present is embodied.  PBI will stand by the Community in this dignified struggle until they have security guarantees and the life they long for and deserve.


  1. J. Giraldo Moreno, “Denuncia sobre San José de Apartadó”, Desde los márgenes: página oficial de Javier Giraldo Moreno, S. J., Noviembre 2003
  2.  J. Giraldo Moreno, “Denuncia sobre San José de Apartadó”, Desde los márgenes: página oficial de Javier Giraldo Moreno, S. J., Noviembre 2003
  3. J. Giraldo Moreno, “Ataques a la Comunidad de San José de Apartadó durante el gobierno del presidente Iván Duque”, Desde los margenes: pagina oficial de Javier Giraldo Moreno, S. J.
  4. L. Smith, “La práctica de ningún éxito”, Arrow Developer, Septiembre 2016

“The right to freedom of expression is the most essential right in a democracy” Father Javier Giraldo

At the end of last year, in the context of Christmas celebrations, PBI-Colombia met with Father Javier Giraldo, a recognized human rights defender and political and spiritual advisor to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.[1] During a coffee break in La Holandita, brigadistas from the PBI team in Urabá took advantage of Father Javier’s visit to talk about Constitutional Court ruling T-342/[2]020 that directly pertains to the Peace Community and, indirectly, to the defense of human rights throughout the country.

Continue reading “The right to freedom of expression is the most essential right in a democracy” Father Javier Giraldo