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.