Those most affected by the war in Colombia – indigenous communities, Afro-Colombians, and subsistence farmers from rural areas all over the country – are seldom heard from and almost never consulted about solutions to the violence.
Over 15,000 of them travelled great distances to meet in Barrancabermeja from 12-15 August. They gathered for a People’s Forum to work out and propose their own solutions to a conflict that continues to threaten their lives and livelihoods, their traditional lands, and their cultural identities.
Creating tent cities with open-air kitchens, participants shared experiences, attended workshops, and offered theatrical and musical presentations. By the end of the weekend, they had developed their own manifesto for peace in Colombia which they sent to all branches of government, guerrilla groups, and the media.
“It is urgent that we all work together to consolidate a culture of peace,” their statement read. “We believe that all parties involved directly in the confrontation should adopt a bilateral cessation of hostilities, opening the possibility of dialogue…”
Both guerilla groups – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) – sent messages indicating their desire to enter into negotiations; however, participants of the People’s Forum expressed doubt about the govern-ment’s position, saying, “We are concerned that…the pursuit of a military solution is at the top of the government agenda…”
As communities experiencing massacres, targeted killings and forced displacement by all armed actors including state security forces, People’s Forum participants were clear about the roots of the problem.
“We are aware that the prospect of a political solution has many enemies, especially those that benefit from the status-quo,” they said. “…Ending the war is not in the interests of those who have made it into a lucrative business.”
They continued, “We reject the government’s…economic model that… gives preferential treatment to transnational corporations…which exploit our lands and natural resources… This model destroys the peasant economy, ravages the territories of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities…undermines our sovereignty, and threatens food security.”
“Democracy in our country,” they asserted, “…requires a new model that allows us to administer our own local resources and wealth for the benefit of the local population.”
CPT will continue supporting efforts like the People’s Forum which someday may transform the balance of power to such an extent that civil society can actually make the government come to the bargaining table.