The peace community of San José de Apartadó is located in the northern region of Urabá, in a region that has been and still is heavily contested by different armed groups because of its strategic location and natural resources.
The peasants of San José de Apartadó came together on March 23, 1997, after being evicted from their lands, losing relatives, or being threatened by various armed groups. They declared to the country and the world that they would not leave their land, but would establish a peace community as an act of non-violent civil resistance. They were supported in this by the Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo and the mayor of Apartadó at the time, Gloria Cuartas, as well as by international human rights organizations. More background information can be found at: https://www.tamera.org/de/friedensgemeinschaft-kolumbien/.
We came in contact with the community in 2001, in 2005 we deepened the cooperation and in 2008 we carried out the first pilgrimage with a subsequent Global Campus in collaboration with the Unicersidade de Resistencia. It is our desire to strengthen their important role as a model and training center for peace, community building and autonomy throughout the country and the world, building protection so that the world takes note of their situation, as well as that of many other groups.
In their journey of resistance, the community realized that the wounds of war can heal and the potential for compassion, forgiveness and cooperation in people can be activated. They made the experience in themselves that healing is possible even in the worst horrors they experienced. Hereby they can and want to set an example for others. To this day, they adhere to the following principles.
Participation in community work
Resistance to injustice
Renunciation of weapons and direct or indirect participation in the armed conflict
No sharing of information with parties involved in the conflict
No consumption or sale of alcohol or drugs
With the disappointing course of the peace agreement under President Santos, and the many losses of leading forces, further murders in the area, under the pressure of the many death threats and the withdrawal of all international forces, many could no longer hold the pressure mentally. We sat together for example with Silvia, 57. years old, whose son was 22 years old when he was found dead in his bed in Apartado three years ago. The paramilitary wanted something from him that he did not want. So they shot him without further ado. This happened exactly at the time when Gildado, one of the leaders of the community was with us in Tamera.
And now we are sitting together with Silvia and all these events come very close once again. She herself hardly dares to go outside the door. These are examples that could fill pages, and of course it is challenging to keep faith under these circumstances.
Many have lost hope, others have grown through the opposition. Among them is Brigida, who has become a beloved figure for many in the international world connected to the peace community. Her great-grandfather, three brothers, three children, four cousins, two uncles, five nephews, all died violent deaths. Some were killed by the guerrillas, others by the paramilitary or even by the military. She had to work through many traumatic layers and has now become a figure of light in the whole village.
Here are some notes from a conversation with her: We ask her what she thinks about the new government with Gustavo Petro. We know that the peace community has never cooperated with any government, because they don’t believe that from a corrupt system can come the change that everyone so longs for. And as a government, one is in a sense forced to adapt to a corrupt system.
In her simple way she answers: Gustavo Petro has a lot of power, but alone he can’t achieve anything.
It is a striking change that is underway. Many say that we have been at war for more than 60 years, but in reality it has been much longer. There has been a war culture here since Columbus set foot in the country. On a certain level, Petro appreciates it because he clearly tells people: you don’t get everything for free, you have to do something for it!
At the same time, one senses that she finds it almost impossible to achieve the desired change under the given circumstances. Far too many stand in the way, the growing poverty, the global crisis, and he has only four years.
“This has to be a miracle,” she says, but is she is open to miracles.
There would have to be something where he can promise people that they can work on the land, stay there, live healthy and without destroying nature.
What the paramilitary does today: they offer people money. They blackmail people into silence by offering them protection money.
She explains the increasing wealth in Aparttado with the drug lords, (Narcotraficantes), but ultimately they also belong to the paramilitary.She describes the situation of German, one of the leaders of the community. He has been ordered by the court not to say anything publicly about the 17th Brigade and the military, (under whose orders an enormous amount of violence has occurred), or he may be arrested. She describes how they organized a joint pilgrimage. They all together got behind the German. They went together to Apartatdo with signs and said: I am Germann Graziano. She tells it with a lot of humor and joy.
At the same time, she also describes the difficult situations. Young people from the community have left the community and joined the paramilitary. This is a painful experience. Andrea asks if they can come back when they realize it was wrong? She shakes her head “It’s hard to answer that because the trust has been so deeply destroyed.
They are really brainwashed. We stand in solidarity with everyone. But not everyone can just come here, here we have to trust people to play by the rules.”
Many are offered money, offered it as a kind of compensation for what they experienced during the war. But for them, there’s much more to it, it’s a kind of hush money. They don’t agree with that. It’s a collective issue. “We want our autonomy to be accepted. And that our territory be aktezpt. That’s actually not much we ask, we don’t want money, we want to be independent! The right to freedom, that is accepted by few.”
She thoughtfully moves her head back and forth, laughs a little, and says, “Life has no price, we’re not like a piece of cattle to be paid off.”
We come to talk about the notion of micro-socialism, a term often used years ago with the idea of guerrillas laying down their arms and joining together to form small communities of solidarity.
“It’s more than micro-socialism. How can we even live together, that’s a big question. We had to learn over the years what solidarity and community means, it doesn’t form by itself. “Life is our school. We only have certain capacities. But we go on and on. Patience, perseverance, persistence, love of life and nature. It teaches us.
We have to digest a bit and we set out for a walk and greet individuals from the community….
Rain rain rain. I linger a while at the small stone circle we built here together many years ago. Together with the members we have worked out the aspects that are important to them. Eduard Lanchero, who passed away a few years ago, co-founder and visionary with whom we did two pilgrimages together, said at a Global Campus meeting in 2010:
“The armed groups are not the only ones who kill. It is the logic behind the whole system. The way people live generates this kind of death. We have made our choice. We have chosen life. Life corrects us and guides us. ”
Today he is no longer among the living, a great loss for the community. We visit the tomb that the community built for Eduard and next to it the small chapel.
The cosmograms developed together were used to design the stained glass windows inside the chapel. Together we sit in the chapel, listening to the rain and singing some songs that connect us with the eternity vibration. It is as if Eduardo is among us. It helps me with the spiritual landing on the spot, because it is not easy to digest what the community has been through in the last years and how much they feel betrayed by the development of the last years.