For an Istmina at Peace

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One Friday morning in October, we held a march with church members, students and teachers from local high schools to promote positive values in the city of Istmina. The plan was to begin at one of the high schools, continue the parade through the center of town, and arrive at the park in front of the church, where we would hold a celebration of values, including a message from the pastor, presentations from the youth, and the sharing of bread and grapes.

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The night before, we had inflated 200 balloons by candlelight for the event. The power had gone out in a rainstorm after it had been briefly restored for two hours after going out earlier that morning. The church ladies in charge of baking the bread for the event scurried around trying to figure out how to get the dough baked. Fortunately, the power finally came back on just before the beginning of the march the next morning.

Power outages are frequent in the region. DISPAC, the company that manages the electricity of Chocó, is known for its long waiting lines, errors in billing, and frequent lapses in coverage. But that is better than the many communities that are still without power in Chocó, and you don’t have to travel too far down the river to find communities without access to electricity.

If you take a boat ride down the San Juan River for thirty minutes from where I live in Istmina, you reach the end of the power lines. Some select families or businesses possess the resources for a generator and gasoline, but for the rest, after sunset around 6 pm, candles become the only source of light in their homes. Many communities were promised that the electric lines would arrive in their town by the World Cup in June, but unsurprisingly the promise was left unfulfilled. For these communities, which have no highway access to the rest of Colombia, limited or zero cell phone signal, often no professional medical care in their town, and many times an utter lack of presence by the Colombian army or police, unfulfilled promises by the government and corporations are sadly the norm.

Back to the march in Istmina. As we neared the crowded center of Istmina, our march slowed down. Our white t-shirted progress clogged the narrow street and motorcycles following us were forced to ride along at the back of the group. The leader of the march chanted, “For an Istmina at peace…” and the group responded with “let’s practice positive values!” One motorcyclist who had by default joined our march began to good-naturedly respond to the leader’s call of “For an Istmina at peace…” with “let’s burn the DISPAC bills!” Many in the march and observing it began to laugh.

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The march was a success and brought together students and teachers from various high schools in a common cause. It promoted values of peace, unity, tolerance, respect, and sense of belonging. The incident with the motorcyclist, though, reminded me that justice in infrastructure, justice in access to resources for a dignified life, are necessary to achieve a lasting, sustainable peace, both in Istmina and in all of Chocó.

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