Colombia’s civil war is a conflict between two and only two principle groups; the people struggling for change and the Colombian state. No greater example of this can be realized than the recent massacre of several inhabitants of the Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó (Peace Community of San José in the Apartadó municipality of the Antioquia department).
The Comunidad de Paz was established as the first organically constructed and established peace community within Colombia that sought the existence of an alternative autonomous society surrounded by a raging four decade old war. San José’s goal was to be a progressive community independent from violence existing apart from the armed activities and actors presented throughout the country. One of the principal founders of the historically significant community was a man named Luis Eduardo Guerra. Guerra, like all too many social justice-minded personalities within the Andean country, was brutally murdered on February 21st. His remains were found alongside Deyanira Areiza Guzman (Guerra’s partner), Deiner Andres Guerra, (Guerra’s son), Luis Eduardo Guerra, (Guerra’s half-brother), Alfonso Bolivar Tuberquia Graciano (a leader/member of the Peace Council of the Mulatos humanitarian zone), Sandra Milena Munoz Pozo (Graciano’s partner), Santiago Tuberquia Munoz and Natalia Andrea Tuberquia Munoz (Graciano and Munoz’s children). The murderers, according to several eye-witnesses, were members belonging to the 17th Brigade of the Colombian army.
It should be noted however that this article does not seek to expound the atrocious events carried out by the coercive arm of the Colombian ruling-class but rather seeks to illustrate how, as according to Father Javier Giraldo, “there is no place for neutrality” within Colombia. As the Catholic priest states, “peasants who live where there are guerrillas are killed or displaced”. On March 8th the Comunidad de Paz released a statement which stated that the community had been the recipients of “many attacks” such as “harassments, threats, beatings, bombings, murders” and now, “massacres”. Nevertheless, the people of San José presented that “the will of the community is firm” and they are determined to maintain their “position of pacifist coexistence”.
While many may applaud such a position, what in actuality does this moral outlook mean? As Giraldo (a devout non-violent liberation theologian who has been struggling on the front lines within Colombia for decades) stated, Colombians live in a black and white world, a society which is not blurred with grey undertones of reality. He imparts that there are two truths for people living alongside the guerrilla; death or displacement. In the March 8th release, the Comunidad de Paz argued that “we are not going to coexist with our victims”; therefore, subtracting death from the categorical realm of possibilities, thus leaving only one outcome according to Giraldo’s premise; displacement. The Comunidad de Paz recently wrote that if the state imposes its militarized forces against them than they “are determined to move on” with their ideals in hand, thus giving rise to the latter of Giraldo’s bilateral outcomes. However, is this all that is left? Is this all that the people in Colombia seeking social justice can do? Merely run or die?
Since 2001, the 2nd Brigade of the Colombian army (and members of the AUC) organized numerous devastating attacks, similar to that which took place in San José de Apartadó, against members of the Wayuu indigenous nation. On April 18th, 2004 paramilitaries (and soldiers) entered into the village of Bahía de Portete where a large majority of Wayuu peoples inhabited. On this date the state forces systematically “burned two children alive and killed others with chain saws”. Jhony Valetta (“Wayuu Indians go to war against Colombian government: May 27, 2004 On-Line http://www.anncol.org/side/587) wrote of one Wayuu father’s experience.
You can not imagine how it is to have to escape on the run so that they won’t kill you, and then hear the cries of the kids, of my two little sons who they burned alive with out me being able to do anything. . . . They burned them alive inside my pick up. Also, they beheaded my mother and cut my nephews to pieces. They didn’t shoot them, they tortured them so we would hear their screams, and they cut them up alive with a chain saw.
Following this monstrous act, Wayuu representatives made a domestic and international announcement which declared that they have reached a decision war has been declared. We are going to respond in such a forceful manner that they will have no desire to return to our lands. We will apply our own law, because the justice of the courts only serves to help them, the assassins.
Since this time an increasing number of Wayuu have become members of the FARC-EP, while others have organized indigenous-based self-defense movements working in a cooperative manner with other objectively devoted social movements seeking emancipatory conditions for their people. As a result, attacks against the Wayuu (who have chosen to defend themselves) have dropped precipitously since the spring of 2004.
Discussing the Wayuu is important for it brings to light another method of responding to state repression. It also brings one to ask why the Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó seeks to remain an open target for state-induced coercion by remaining a pacifist-based autonomous society. The Wayuu have in the past year demonstrated that material measures of security are a positive response to state expansionist and reactionary goals. Conversely, the Comunidad de Paz has stated that they are committed to their principle of one-sided non-violence.
As the Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó tries to cope with their tremendous loss and regain some sense of peace and positive memory they must decide if death or displacement is all they have to look forward to. Are they going to stay ‘vigilant’ in their morals and run every time the state instills its military prowess or will they head the words that are only too prevalent and truthful within Colombia; “there is no place for neutrality”. In order to do more than merely subsist, the people of San José must respond to their oppression with more than immaterial ideals. They must abide by their morality and know that they can materially respond to oppression and, like the Wayuu, defend their morality through objective justice.
JAMES J. BRITTAIN is a Ph.D. candidate and Lecturer of Sociology at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. Recent publications include; “The Agrarian Question and Agrarian Struggle in Colombia” (with Igor Ampuero) In Reclaiming the Land: The Resurgence of Rural Movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros (Eds.). (2005, Zed Books); “How Young Canadians Can Respond To Political Impotence: Reexamining the Importance of Marxism” In A Place at the Table: Canada’s Youth Raise Their Voice. Charlie MacDougall (Ed.). (2006, Fernwood Publishers); “The State/Paramilitary Configuration: Contextual Realities of Human Rights Abuse in Contemporary Colombia” Socialist Studies (2005, under peer-review); “The Economics of Violence: Uribe’s Plan to Increase Military Spending” People’s Voice (2004) 12:16, 5. He can be reached at: email@example.com