I have completed two years of working with Christian Peacemaker teams – two years of getting to know the struggles of small-scale farmers in the Magdalena Medio Region. Today I would like to tell about the ways their stories inspire me.
My name is Jhon Henry Camargo. I’m 24 years old, I’m from Colombia, and I was born in Agustín Codazzi Cesar and raised in Bogotá. I was a theology student at the Colombian Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I was born in a town where the only thing that I knew about God was that he was powerful and far away from us. I received an education centered on false piety where the only thing that mattered was being part of the market where we compete against each other in terms of who makes the most money and who has a car, cell phone, or clothing that’s in style.
They taught us that we shouldn’t kill our brothers, but they forgot to teach us all the ways that one can kill. God seemed more and more far away from our reality and closer and closer to the palaces and businesses. He seemed more and more like a priest and less and less like a father or mother.
I don’t mean to sound reproachful, but as time went on, I educated myself and gained access to a lot more information. I realized that the world isn’t how they portrayed it and that underneath the mask of wellbeing, there existed a human face that suffered and cried, weeping and calling out for the freedom to be able to tell its story.
When I was accepted into the Seed Program, I arrived to work in the Magdalena Medio Region, and through JustaPaz and CPT, I was able to put a face to those brothers and sisters who suffer – they call themselves “campesinos,” and there are fewer and fewer of them. Those who are greedy, who love power, and who practice dogma have done absolutely everything to create and preserve a social order in which the farmers are second-class citizens who can be replaced by machines and their houses can be destroyed to plant large monocultural farms.
To illustrate this clearly, here are some examples of what I have learned:
- In El Garzal and Nueva Esperanza: The community has just won a legal dispute for their lands. The large landholders who were trying to assure that the land was theirs one day decided to leave it and pull out of the suit. One would think that now the government would fulfill its duty and give the small-scale farmers titles to their lands in the region. They have shown that they are the legitimate owners, and that the lies the large landholders were telling the government about the small-scale farmers are now delegitimized. We are now at a point where the community has not received any type of communication about the future of their lands and no clear demonstration of the intentions of the land titler. The largest fear that exists is that tomorrow another character will appear, claiming those lands with hand made titles, and that the community will have to face another crisis like those that they have had to fight in the last few years.
- Las Pavas: After years and years of attacks from legal and illegal armed groups, the community has decided to retake their land and try to lead normal lives after a long period in which their rights have not been respected – even to the point in which the corporation prohibited them from walking on the disputed land, which consequently belongs to the community. Just after the farmers returned to their land, the palm corporation Aporte San Isidro began to try to take back the territory by planting palms around the new houses of the community; they began to harrass and threaten the families currently living there. The farmers of Las Pavas now are not only facing the terrible drought that the country is experiencing, but also the constant attacks by the palm corporation that threatens to create once again a humanitarian crisis for this farming community.
- El Guayabo: Even after thirty years of living on their land, the community is currently facing a dispute by a man who says that he is the owner of their farms. He alleges that the community is invasive, and that the land should be returned to its “legitimate owner.” The farmers in this corner of Colombia have had to face many attacks, but what stands out is that the local government is placing the life of one man above the lives of sixty-three farming families that have nothing more than the land that provides their sustenance and well-being. The authorities, in keeping with their decision, have tried all kinds of tricks to evict the community and turn their lives (that is to say their land) over to Rodrigo López Henao.
Bearing witness to all the attacks that these communities have lived during these two years has made me reflect on how wrong I was when I got here. When I first arrived, I thought that I was going to find dirty peasants who suffered because of the injustices that rain down on them; but everything has been the opposite. I have realized that they do not suffer; I have realized that they resist suffering.
It has been a privilege to be here, and I have been blessed with the ability to now have, deep in my heart, the faces, voices, smiles, tears, rage, jokes, pain, lives, and stories of the people that I have met and which have changed my life in a way that I am not able to express in word. I am a different person today because I carry with me the hopes of the people who resist leaving their lands and who say “no” to pain and displacement.
In the communities, I have drunk water that cleans and purifies. These stories can wash souls and transform lives; these stories are the stories of a people who look to the sky demanding justice and can see how God manifests himself in their land.
“I would like to thank God for the opportunity to share with the farmers of the Magdalena Medio Region; I owe them my life and above all the inspiration to return.”
By: JHON HENRY CAMARGO VARELA
Translated by: Amy Eanes