At the end of January, Seed traveled to Barrancabermeja, a city located on the Magdalena River, to participate in a delegation with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). During the week, we traveled to two rural communities in the southern part of the Bolívar department to learn about the work of CPT and talk with community members who have been engaged in a long struggle for their land rights. We discussed themes such as community organization, the disconnect between rural and urban contexts, land rights, our personal worldviews, and how these themes play out in Colombia’s 50 year-long armed conflict. Throughout the trip we experienced a wide range of emotions – sadness, hope, exhaustion, fascination – and I returned to Chocó full of questions with which to reengage my own communities.
One of the issues that caught my attention during our trip to Micoahumado was the community’s constant struggle to secure titles to their land while being threatened by different armed actors, the state, and multinational companies. I was amazed by the love people demonstrated for their land and persistence in defending their way of life. They find themselves caught between the greed of different groups fighting for control of their land, but refuse to be displaced by threats or violence.
A week after I returned to Chocó, I had the opportunity to travel downriver to the community of Dipurdú – a community economically dependent on mining and agriculture, that as a result of being neglected by the state, is controlled primarily by illegal armed actors. Over the course of three days, we visited nine cacao farms. We talked to farmers, showed them how to prune their trees, documented their progress, and encouraged them in their labor. The majority of the trees are approaching two years of age and are beginning to flower. On each farm, a couple of trees were carrying cacao pods, and I could see the excitement, joy, and pride on the farmers’ faces as they toured us around their farms. Although they live in a region taken over by large-scale mining and coca interests, these farmers persist in preserving their culture, dignity, and pride.
One of the farms we visited was large – four hectares with over two thousand trees. The owner has been part of the project for two years and although he has devoted much of his land to the cacao, has yet to receive much economic benefit. Naturally, he was discouraged to hear of one more step in the process – pruning – a step that requires more money and time, and is continual. As we began to explain to him the necessity of pruning and its positive long terms effects, other farmers who had joined us to help out, jumped in to encourage the farmer. Their offers of collaboration and reminders of long-term vision paralleled the encouragement and community organization that I had witnessed in Micoahumado.
From the mountains of Bolívar to Chocó’s river region, rural communities are fighting for their right to live off their land, to maintain their culture of tranquility, and to live peacefully, free of armed actors and violence and with minimum protection from the state.
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