For decades the jungles of Colombia have been wracked by violence based around political separatism and the drugs trade. Fighting between armed criminals, guerrillas and the army has swept across the country and killed 50,000 people. But one local community is saying no.
The Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartado is a village in the northern highlands that has banded together to reject involvement in the fighting and factions of the region. And its bold stand has won it a first prize in Peace Direct’s new awards scheme, Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders.
The community’s organisers explain their mission: “The Comunidad de Paz was founded as a response to the wave of terror and death that was threatening the region. Our main mission was to create a space where the civil population caught in the middle of the conflict could be respected. We do this in a peaceful way, through transparent dialogue, with the aim to build peace day after day. We promote a new humanity, an economy based on solidarity, an alternative education that could address the real needs of the community.
In pursuit of this vision, the Communidad has created a self-sufficient economy in the area, based around small-scale farming, so that villagers will not be vulnerable to the lucrative business of producing or trafficking drugs. It has set up collective groups to run education and health programmes according to the values of local people, not of outsiders like the various armed groups. And it has provided testimony of atrocities to official bodies such as the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
They will receive a prize of $4,000, as one of the winners of Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders. Comunidad organisers comment: