Colombia: Tiquisio: Struggling for Development and Peace

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by
Julián Gutiérrez Castaño

When the community of Tiquisio in southern Bolivar
province, led by parish priest Father Rafael Gallego, decided to
organize in 2002 to confront violent actions by guerrillas,
paramilitaries, and the Colombian Armed Forces, its members never
imagined that seven years later their community process would set an
example to other groups in the region and receive national and
international recognition.

In that time, the Tiquisio Citizens’ Process has
created more peace and development for the community than the
Colombian government, with all its experts, armies, weapons and
money, ever had. Supported by regional, national and international
organizations including CPT, the Tiquisio community has developed
numerous projects, including a Community Farm advancing food
security, popular education at the Colombian Rural School, a sexual
and reproductive health project, a community radio station and a
relationship with Colombia Support Network’s (CSN) Austin, TX,
chapter. The process has convinced many guerrilla and paramilitary
members to put down their guns and return to civilian life and has
even taught human rights and international law to members of the
Colombian Armed Forces.

But not all has been easy for this community. Tragic
moments – such as the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) guerrilla
group’s assassination of village leader Marciana Araujo in June
2003, the forced flight of Citizens’ Process leaders last April
under paramilitary threat, and others’ disappearance, murder and
displacement – remain fresh in the minds of Tiquisio’s citizens.

Neither is the present without its perils. The army
still violates the Geneva Conventions with impunity. Its base on a
hill in the middle of the village lies dangerously close to the
primary school and civilian homes. And farmers’ and miners’
families still face the specter of forced displacement every time
multinational corporations and agribusinesses remember that Tiquisio
exists.

In such a violent environment, the Tiquisio Process
is a good example of how a community can struggle to achieve its
dreams of development and peace. For this and many other reasons the
international community needs to hear the testimony of Father
Gallego, who has used his position as a Catholic priest to teach that
to reach paradise we have to build it ourselves, in our own
communities. Unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy denied a visa for an
October-November speaking tour the CSN had organized for Father
Gallego in North America. People and organizations that support the
Tiquisio Community Process and know of Father Gallego’s work,
including CPT Colombia, cannot understand why the Embassy impedes
their efforts for development and peace.

CPT Colombia has accompanied the Tiquisio Citizens’
Process since 2006.

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