Rebuilding community

IssueNovember 2005
Feature by Howard Clark

The settlement that was once at the centre of the peace community of San Jose' de Apartado' is now occupied by police, soldiers and paramilitaries.

However, 15 minutes walk away, the peace community lives. San Josesito de la Dignidad - a new settlement with some 40 wooden houses and around 350 people - has been built up since April as its new centre.

Maintaining daily life

Times have become even tougher since the February massacre. Fire-fights between state forces and the FARC guerrillas often light up the sky at night, with stray munitions landing in San Josesito. Direct threats and harassments, actual violence and frequent theft now seem to be orchestrated by supposedly “demobilised” paramilitaries: they are taking advantage of a government “rehabilitation” package that offers them property nearby. And government spokespeople repeatedly claim that the peace community is a front for the FARC, concocting fantasies about tunnels and the like that they will not allow independent international bodies to investigate.

It is a success even to maintain daily life in these conditions: to grow fruit and vegetables and take them to market; to maintain a school; to make paths and install a drainage system; to rebuild a new community centre with the materials from the dismantled original centre. In September, the community also held a conference with participants from other parts of Colombia, other Latin American countries and the USA, Italy and Spain and addressing issues of collective memory and impunity.

Maintaining connections

International contacts are more important than ever: Peace Brigades International is providing accompaniment to community members when they have to travel outside the community, while the US Fellowship of Reconciliation has a programme supporting interns in the Community.

Various members of the Community have visited the USA and Europe to raise awareness of their continued stand for peace and rejection of links with all armed actors, and as PN goes to press a conference called “Partnering for Peace” is about to take place in Chicago, discussing various forms of international cooperation with nonviolent groups in Colombia. Then on 18-20 November, among the speakers at the School of Americas Watch events at Fort Benning, will be a speaker from the Community.

Some people have suggested that there is something personal about president Uribe's hostility to the peace community at San Jose', perhaps because their neutrality and nonviolence represents an alternative to the vigilante role he wants civilians to play in supporting the security forces against the guerrilla. If this is the case, the bad news is that Colombia's courts have now ruled that Uribe can stand for a second term of office in next year's elections.