Between 15 and 18 February, 25 women came together in La Mesa, Cundinamarca. Women from different Colombian territories and PBI accompaniers from several countries: San José de Apartadó, Cali, Vistahermosa, and Puerto Rico in Meta, Bogotá, Catatumbo, Remedios, Sur de Bolívar, Barrancabermeja, Puerto Asís, Portugal, Spain, and the United States. The youngest woman among us was 24 years old and the oldest was 72. We came from organizations such as ACVC, ADISPA, ASCAMCAT, CAHUCOPANA, CAJAR, the Peace Community, CSPP, CREDHOS, DH Colombia, Karisma, LIMPAL, MOVICE, NOMADESC, and PBI. Each with our stories, our dreams, and our pain.
Eighteen years ago, an event took place that profoundly impacted the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó: the Massacre of Mulatos and La Resbalosa, during which eight people, three of them minors, were cruelly murdered. This massacre, perpetrated by the XVII Brigade of the Colombian Army together with the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the paramilitary group that existed in the territory at the time, marked a milestone of separation with the State due to the lack of security guarantees and its responsibility for the impunity of these and other acts of violence that the Peace Community has faced since its creation. The community, which declared itself a Peace Community on March 23rd 1997 as a strategy of resistance and survival in their territory in the midst of the armed conflict, has not ceased to be the target of acts of violence by both legal and illegal armed actors.
Now, with the strength and determination accumulated over years of resistance and struggle, the Community paid tribute to the 8 people murdered, 7 of whom were members of the Peace Community: Luis Eduardo Guerra, Bellanira Areiza, Deiner Guerra, Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia, Sandra Muñoz, Natalia Tuberquia Muñoz and Santiago Tuberquia Muñoz. In this commemorative and solemn act, the children of the Peace Community sang songs to remember their lost family members. Each member, physically absent, yet inevitably present in the collective memory to continue defending the land and demanding justice, was remembered.
“Land of Joy” or So Bia Drua, in Embera, are the words used by the Indigenous communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Humanitarian and Ecological Reservation to refer to their territory, located in the municipality of Carmen del Darién, department of Chocó.
The reservation has two separate plots of land and is home to eight Ember Indigenous communities. The first lot is inhabited by the communities of Alto Guayabal (125 families with 365 individuals), Bidόkera Ancadía (26 families with 90 individuals), and Jaibía Coredocito (24 families with 75 individuals). The second is inhabited by the Dearadé (18 families with 59 individuals), Ibudó (25 families with 107 individuals), Padadó (12 families with 43 individuals), Chansodo (31 families with 128 individuals), and Urada (60 families with 230 individuals).
The reservation’s main bodies of water are the Ancadía, Jiguamiandó, Urada, and Tamboral rivers, all of which are tributaries of the Atrato River which flows through the department of Chocó in the Pacific region of Colombia. The rivers are an important source of livelihood for the communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Reservation, as they fish and use the fresh water for their daily activities.
The communities of the Urada-Jiguamiandó Reservation have a close and harmonic relationship with the natural world that surrounds them, collecting the medicinal plants they need to cure illnesses, fishing in the river, and taking care of their surroundings, which they have kept free of pollution.
In reality, the Indigenous communities are the only protectors of the land and environment. Even though they coexist in harmony with their natural surroundings, there are other interests in their territory that continue to prevent them from living in peace on their ancestral lands.
The threats faced by the Embera people, victims of numerous human rights violations in the context of the armed conflict, also include mining megaprojects. The communities—who have opposed the extractive projects for decades—know that mining will damage the aquifers, pollute the soil, water, and air, in addition to destroying the biodiversity. As a result of all this, there is a serious risk of displacement and cultural uprooting.
The communities who live in So Bia Drua are represented by the Embera Major Council – CAMERUJ. Argemiro Bailarín is a member of the Major Council, the Indigenous authority and an emblematic leader from the Uradá-Jiguaminadó Reservation.
Argemiro is well known for his defense of the territory, peace, and the protection of their culture and cosmovision. In November 2021, for the fifth anniversary of the signature of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP, the Embera leader participated in the radio program “Voces de la Tierra.” During the program the Indigenous leader highlighted that the communities continue to experience violence due to the armed conflict, while living amid the actions of large-scale mining and agribusiness projects, which see their territory as a business opportunity.
With support from the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP), since March 2020 the communities of Jiguamiandó, along with many others from different areas of Colombia, have been calling for a Global Humanitarian Agreement, which signifies a ceasefire amid an intensification of the conflict and an increase in combat operations. To date, there has been no government response to the 42 letters sent by over 150 communities.
1“Voces de la Tierra” led by the journalist Laura Casielles, in collaboration with Peace Brigades International, is a spot of the online radio program “Carne Cruda,” where defenders, social and Indigenous leaders talk about their reality from the territory.
The people of Buenaventura have been experiencing an escalation of the conflict since 2020. Today, all eyes are on the port city, because since last December 30, the lives of 170,500 people are at risk due to clashes between “Los Shotas” and “Los Espartanos”, two factions of “La Local”, a group inherited from paramilitarism. So far in 2021, according to the Pacific Regional Ombudsman’s Office, due to more than 38 confrontations that have taken place in the urban area of Buenaventura in January, 907 families – around 2186 people – have had to be forcibly displaced from their neighborhoods and 22 people have been killed, mostly young people between 16 and 35 years old who have refused to be recruited by these groups.