14 November 2013
COLOMBIA: Las Pavas wins Colombia’s National Peace Prize
Last night, members from the Las Pavas community stood in the spotlight at the National Museum in Bogotá where they won the National Peace Prize. Holding the prize, community leader Misael Payeres, announced, “Our primary hope is in God—that one day we would see justice. We hope is that this prize will continue to plant seeds of peace and reconciliation for all Colombians. That is the biggest prize I ask for all Colombians.”
The three thousand hectares of land on which the farm of Las Pavas is located has been in legal contention for seven years. The community has experienced displacement, eviction, victimization, and today continues to face threats and violent attacks from armed private “security” guards of palm oil company, Aportes San Isisdro.
In the last year, hundreds of crops— plantains, yucca, corn, and rice—were destroyed, either axed down or poisoned. At least thirteen houses have been destroyed. Livestock were stolen and their access to pastureland restricted. Armed guards at the company have beaten and shot at community members. Very recently, another community gathering house was burned down. The local police have done nothing to protect the community from this violence.
Christian Peacemaker Teams has accompanied the community of Las Pavas since 2009 and witnessed the unwavering nonviolent spirit and persistence of the people. We are extremely delighted and celebrate with the community in their recognition as a leading force for peace in a country poised at the crux of a peace process. Juliana Vargas of the National Peace Prize selection committee recently visited the community; she told them, “You were selected by a committee from [a field of eighty-nine nominations] who are also doing amazing work for peace. But we chose you because you showed us a nonviolent way forward. You are our example.”
“This recognition means that the time is right. We were victims to start and now the State recognizes that we were victimized again,” continued Payares. On 12 November, Unidad de Victimas, the government body that recognizes and investigates claims of forced displacement, affirmed that the farmers from Las Pavas are in fact victims of forced displacement, and are included without reservation in the national registry of victims. In late 2011, Colombia’s regional Attorney General’s office accused the community of lying about their displacement; Unidad de Victimas has now refuted this accusation, which guarantees them protection and humanitarian aid under the Victim’s Law. “With all that, we do not hold grudges against the perpetrators or the state. Today we give them the hand of forgiveness,” said Payares.
The Las Pavas case file now lies on the desk of the Consejo de Estado, the highest court in the land, which deals with government administrative disputes. This ruling will be the final step to land ownership for each of the 123 families.
#GivingTuesday In 2009, when CPT Colombia first began accompanying the community of Las Pavas, the team had no idea whether the families would ever be able to return to their land, or whether it would ever be able to produce good food again. Probably no CPTers or Las Pavas community members imagined that they would be standing on a stage receiving the Colombia National Peace Prize in 2013. In addition to the families’ courage and perseverance, international support made huge difference to their struggle. People from all over the world picketed the Body Shop, asking that it stop buying palm oil from the corporation that had driven Las Pavas off its land. Internationals prayed for the people of Las Pavas. And internationals made generous donations, to help CPT provide accompaniment for the families, who faced continuous violent assaults from thugs hired by the palm oil corporation. Even with the winning of the prize, this harrassment has not ended. Please continue to support Las Pavas and the hope and courage that its families represent.