My First Ten Days as an Accompanier with the Urabá Team (PBI Colombia)
I am Itsaso and part of the PBI field team in Urabá. I am 31 years old. Yep… I am one of the oldest team members and am feeling nostalgic, happy and proud of myself for everything I have done over the last almost seven months as a part of the Urabá field team. I felt so many emotions, uncertainty, doubts, fears, and eagerness when I got here that I want to look back, remember those first days, and try to feel them again. So, I will light a bit of incense, make a cup of tea, and give myself a little massage before I start remembering and initiate this trip through time. I think about why I began this new project… to learn up close about the resistance and struggles of human rights defenders and, from my position and work with PBI, to accompany these initiatives to build a more peaceful world.
The Atrato River starts in the Plateado Hills of the western mountain range in Antioquia. This river, which crosses the departments of Chocó and Antioquia before flowing into the Gulf of Urabá, is one of the region’s most abundant rivers and an irrefutable source of life. It is also one of the areas hardest hit by the armed conflict. In particular, the Bajo Atrato, and the Urabá subregion have registered around 429,820 victims of forced displacement, dispossession, and selective murders, among other serious human rights violations.
The actions of the banana, palm oil, and mining industries, tied to armed actors, have contributed to a dispossession of ethnic communities from their lands amid grave state omissions relative to protection guarantees. Dispossession suffered by the communities of the Bajo Atrato has a common denominator, a violation of their ancestral rights and environmental impacts on their lands. Additionally, there has been violence against men and women land claimant leaders, like Mario Castaño, murdered five years ago, on 26 November 2017, on his farm in the Larga and Tumaradó river basins (Bajo Atrato).
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was born 25 years ago, amid violence and forced displacement. Men and women, peasants, from different rural communities in the department of Antioquia organized themselves to create a neutral community as a response to the conflict, and they built a peaceful alternative to preserve life and protect their territory. Since then, the Peace Community has shared its perspectives and experiences with numerous initiatives in Colombia and abroad. In fact, one of the Peace Community’s legacies is the University of Peace and Resistance or Peasant University, created with 20 other Colombian peasant communities.
“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.
December 08, 2017. Hernán Bedoya, was returning to his farm in the Mi Tierra Humanitarian Zone in the Bajo Atrato region of Chocó, when he was assassinated with 14 shots. Along with him, they intended to kill his clear and firm voice,  with which he denounced the progress and impacts of the palm oil and banana agribusinesses that looked to extend into the collective territory of Pedeguita y Mancilla. Hernán wanted to talk about what was happening in the territory from which he had been displaced, and to which he had managed to return despite the presence of paramilitaries. This is how we at PBI came to know him, fighting for his land and dignity, when we accompanied the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP) in Bajo Atrato.