Colombia: “Be Afraid”

by Sandra Rincon
translated by Stewart Vriesinga

One year after the Colombian military gunned down small-scale mining leader Alejandro Uribe on September 19, 2006, CPTers joined the 4th Commission to follow up on the human rights situation in the southern Bolivar department (province). The commission was part of an accord between the mining communities and the government, although the government participated very little in the two-day visit.

Commission members listened to a litany of concerns from residents in two rural communities. Aerial fumigations and constant abuses by the army and guerrillas topped the list of complaints.

“We don’t understand how such a low-flying plane can’t recognize a crop of beans or corn and sprays it while leaving coca crops completely untouched,” said one subsistence farmer. “We aren’t against eradication of coca, but we want them to leave our food crops alone. The majority of us came here after being displaced from other areas because of violence.”

Many increasingly impoverished farmers abandon their fields for more lucrative work
in the area’s artisanal gold mines. However, the livelihoods of miners are also in jeopardy as the government has handed over their mining rights to multinationals.

Deteriorating or non-existent roads, inadequate rural schools, sub-standard health care, and constant pressure from armed groups plague the daily lives of these communities.

“The army tells us we shouldn’t be afraid of them,” report many residents. “They say we should be afraid of those who will come after them, because they are going to finish off everything.”

Community leaders ask, “Who would they be referring to if not the paramilitaries, which are now calling themselves the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles)? Sometimes the paras already come mixed in with the army soldiers.”

I am surprised and moved that these subsistence farmers still want to live in the region, making it possible for those of us who live in the city to go to the market every morning and buy fresh, locally-grown produce.

I also find hope in their determination not to be part of the armed conflict. “This is not our war,” they say. “What we want is to be left in peace to cultivate the land. That’s what we know how to do.”