Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia was created in 1997 by 1,350 farmers from various hamlets of the Apartadó region. In response to multiple and continued aggressions perpetrated by all factions involved in the Colombian armed conflict, they declared themselves “neutral” in the war, defended their right to peacefully remain in and work their land and created a community bound together by the ethics of nonviolence and solidarity. We have closely accompanied and cooperated with the community since 2005 and provide support for their Peace Village Mulatos education center.
“The Peace Community of San José of Apartadó, together with others inspired by the same vision, is a remarkable demonstration of courage, resiliency and dedication to the high values of peace and justice, in an environment of brutality and destruction. There is no better symbol of nonviolent struggle, and of hope, in a world tortured by violence and repression.”
Located in the Northern region of Urabá, San José is in a region that’s been fiercely contested by different armed forces for its geostrategic position and its natural resources. For decades, farmers and Indigenous people were driven out of their lands by unspeakably cruel methods to make way for corporate mining, large-scale agricultural and mega-dam projects. The means used – massacres, torture, rape and displacement – reveal the organized crime taking place in much of the Global South in the name of “capitalist globalization.” Suffering displacement, losing loved ones and threatened by various armed actors, the farmers of San José de Apartadó came together on March 23rd 1997 to declare to the country and the world that they wouldn’t leave their lands, but instead establish a peace community as an act of nonviolent civil resistance. They’ve been supported by Jesuit priest Father Javier Giraldo and then-mayor of Apartadó, Gloria Cuartas, as well as international human rights organizations. That day, they committed to the following ethical values, which have defined their courageous project and have remained their commitment to this day:
- to participate in community work
- to resist injustice
- to carry no arms and abstain from participating directly or indirectly in the armed conflict
- to refrain from giving information to any parties involved in the conflict
- not to sell or consume any alcohol or drugs.
Ending the Cycle of Violence
The community has been fiercely persecuted, including by the Colombian state itself. Since 1997, more than 200 members of the community, many of them leaders, have been killed by all kinds of armed actors – mainly by right-wing paramilitary death squads and the national armed forces. Hardly any of these crimes have ever been investigated. Despite the horrors they’ve faced, they’ve stood their ground and continue working for a world without war. Through community, they saw that they could begin healing the wounds of war, activating the potential for empathy, forgiveness and collaboration with people that had been deeply traumatized by the horror they experienced. With their community, the people of San José show how to break the vicious victim-perpetrator bond, understanding that any further act of violence would just perpetuate the cycle that made them lose so many of their loved ones. Eduar Lanchero, their late visionary leader said during a meeting of the Global Campus:
“The armed groups are not the only ones who kill. It is the logic behind the whole system. The way people live generates this kind of death. This is why we decided to live in such a way that our life generates life. One basic condition which kept us alive was to not play the game of fear, which was imposed upon us by the murders of the armed forces. We have made our choice. We chose life. Life corrects us and guides us.”
Our Partnership with the Community
We’ve accompanied the community in solidarity since 2001 and entered a deeper partnership in 2005. We’ve hosted annual exchanges with mutual visits and organized solidarity campaigns to support the peace community in its struggle to survive. We’ve also worked with them through the Global Campus to strengthen their important role as a model and educational center for peace, community building and autonomy in the whole country and the world. In 2008, we held the first Grace Pilgrimage and the first educational summit of the Global Campus in the peace community. This was in cooperation with the “Farmers’ University of Resistance,” which San José co-initiated in 2004 with other campesino, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian peace communities to foster alternative ways of education.
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Peace Village Mulatos
After a visit of leaders in Tamera in 2009, and inspired by Tamera’s Political Ashram, the community set up the “Peace Village Mulatos” as a social, ecological and spiritual education center. Their enthusiasm and the way they turned this remote, uncultivated property into a center in such a short time, became known as “the miracle of Mulatos.” In 2010, we held our first Global Campus seminar in the Peace Village Mulatos, focusing on community building and practices for self-sufficiency in water, energy and food. Through this education center, the community wants to understand their issues within a global context where the need to create decentralized, self-sufficient alternatives to capitalist globalization becomes clear. We realize how much this is crucial for survival as well as for the protection of the last bits of healthy nature on this planet. We’re convinced that a new model of life based on autonomy, community and cooperation, emerging in such an extreme situation, will inspire more places in the world to make the necessary system change. In the past, the village of Mulatos has been the brunt of a lot of cruelty. The peace community members build a present that is full of life. They envision:
- a political training and retreat center for the peace community
- an alternative technical research center and a spiritual anchor for the whole community with an altar
- an educational center.
They want Mulatos to become a model of self-sufficient community, integrated in the rest of the hamlets – a greenhouse of new projects.
Grace Pilgrimage Bogotá
Later in 2010, we held another Grace Pilgrimage through and around Bogotá, together with Father Javier Giraldo and many members of the peace community. The aim was to raise awareness in the Colombian population for the invaluable way this community contributes to peace in the country, and their need for public acknowledgement to be protected from ongoing persecution. Our youth were with us and performed their political theater piece, in Spanish, together with the peace communities’ youth to schools and other audiences in the capital.
Watch the documentary “Hope for Colombia” (Grace Media, 2011) for an in-depth view of the pilgrimage:
The Possible Role of Communities in the Peace Process
Leaders of San José de Apartado have participated in the ongoing Global Campus trainings in Tamera and Colombia ever since. They continue to study how a peace community can become self-sufficient, taking a revolutionary stand as a role model for a sustainable social and territorial peace. We believe their example and experience to be crucial for a true solution to the war in Colombia. They could teach former fighters how to heal trauma, learn reconciliation and contribute to building a culture of peace.