Building Peace in Colombia from the Bottom Up
Decades had passed since the last massive small-farmers mobilization took place in Colombia. This is not surprising, considering the level of violence that Colombian small farmers have had to endure, particularly leaders resisting forced displacement and struggling for getting their land back, twenty-nine of whom have been assassinated in the first semester of 2011.
Over twenty thousand people mobilized from August 12-14, 2011 in the “Gathering for Peace and Land, Dialogue is the Path to Peace”.
Small farmers, Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombian, and grassroots delegations from all over the country, many of whom who took over 24 hours bus rides came together to make their voice heard demanding a peaceful solution to the ongoing armed conflict. It was truly a bottom-down mobilization, and even though international and national figures joined, it was led by the bulk of Colombians that have had to endure the cruelty of the war. Indeed, it was convened by the recipients of 2011 national peace award ACVC (Small Farmers Association of the Cimitarra River Valley). Proceeds of the National Peace prize and lots of volunteer work funded the massive mobilization: “to fund the peace gathering, women raffle even chickens. Tickets, priced from US$0.30 to $0.60 were gone in one day” IPC journalist Constanza Vieira, who attended the gathering, quoted from her twitter account one of the ACVC organizers saying.
The gathering was held in Barrancabermeja, one of the Mid Magdalena River towns that had seen the worst of political violence in Colombia, but also a town where labor unions have been historically active, and, in the organizers’ own words,“a fertile land for people’s imitative”. The city was the venue of the Women Against War mobilization, exactly one year ago.
Both the FARC and the ELN guerrillas sent messages to the gathering expressing their willingness to engage in peace negotiations. Alfonos Cano, the head of the FARC, in a four-minute video stated “”the FARC-EP want today to reiterate one more time that we believe in a political solution, we believe in dialogue, we believe the viable central slogan of this event, we consider it fair, ‘dialogue is the path’”. Nicolás Rodríguez, of ELN in turn, in a letter to former Senator Piedad Córdoba of Colombians For Peace, expressed the group’s desire of negotiated solution to the conflict.
The weekend long gathering culminated with a clear statement calling for a negotiated solution to Colombian armed conflict: “The history of the conflict in Colombia has shown that military solutions do not lead to peace. Therefore, we can no longer be trapped by the prospect of an escalation of the war and a growing foreign military intervention. We do not want to continue our lives with the constant threat of bombs and bullets. It’s time to end the war. The political solution is a necessity.” Thus, the people gathered rejected a military approach to resolve the armed conflict that Colombian government has obstinately implemented over the past five decades. Such model has been a utter failure, at a very high cost in terms of human lives lost, rights curtailed and scarce resources wasted (Colombia allocates 3.4%, the highest percentage of its GNP to military spending in the region).
Participants also stressed the need to address the underlying causes of the armed conflict:”We reject government policies that promote and economic model that promotes intensive exploitation of our land, natural resources, favoring transnational companies and economic groups aggravating land conflicts and struggle for territory, stimulates new expropriation proceedings, dispossession and force displacement… This economic model destroys small farmers’ economy and the territories of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and promotes escalation of the armed and social conflict dynamics”. The groups demanded to be granted an active role in the drafting of laws and policies pertaining land tenure, victims rights, mining.
Finally, the international community was assigned a very important role in supporting peace building: “all this effort has a greater chance if it can be accompanied by the international community”. It’s our responsibility to answer their call.
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