COLOMBIA: Tiquisio--struggling for development and peace

8 November 2008
COLOMBIA: Tiquisio--struggling for development and peace

By Julián Gutiérrez Castaño

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

In seven years, the Tiquisio Citizen's Process created more peace and development for the community than the Colombian government had, even with all the government’s paraphernalia of experts, armies, weapons, and money.  With the support of different organizations, such as the Magdalena Medio Development and Peace Program, the Popular Education Investigation Center (CINEP), Redepaz, the Colombia Support Network (CSN), and Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Tiquisio community has developed numerous projects.  These projects include the Community Farm, where Tiquisio’s people are trying to achieve food security, popular education, like the Colombian Rural School, a sexual and reproductive health project, a community operated and community-based radio station, and a political brotherhood relationship with the CSN Chapter in Austin, TX.  The process has convinced many guerrilla and paramilitary members to abandon their guns and reintegrate into civilian life.  The Tiquisio Citizen's Process has even taught human rights and international law to the Colombian Armed Forces.

But not everything has been easy for this community.  The history of their process is full of tragic moments, such as when the guerrilla group Popular Army Resistance (EPL) killed Marciana Araujo, a community mother and leader of the village, or the forced displacement of the leaders of the process because of threats by the Black Eagles, a paramilitary group.  These tragedies, along with other disappeared, murdered, and displaced people, remain in the memory of Tiquisio’s citizens.

The present is not perfect either.  The army is still violating international human rights laws with impunity.  It has a military base on a hillside in the middle of the village, dangerously close to the primary school and civilian homes.  Many peasants' and miners' families are still fighting with the ghost of forced displacement, which appears every time the multinational corporations and the 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 own dreams of development and peace.  For this and many other reasons the international community needs to listen to the testimony of Father Rafael Gallego, who has used his position as a Catholic priest to teach that in order to reach paradise we have to build it ourselves, in our own communities.  Unfortunately, The Colombia Support Network had organized an October/November speaking tour for Father Gallego in North América, but the U.S. Embassy denied him a visa.  The people and organizations that support the Tiquisio Community Process and know the work of Father Rafael Gallego, including CPT Colombia, cannot understand why the Embassy is blocking the development and peace work that Gallego is doing.