by Chris Knestrick
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) had the opportunity to sit down with Ana Teresa Rueda Lozada to do an interview about the reality of women in Colombia, particularly the region of Magdalena Medio. Also, CPT wanted to publicize the work of Colombian women and what they are doing to achieve justice and peace in Colombia. Ana has been part of the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) for twelve years and part of the Women’s Social Movement against War and For Peace (MSM) since 1998. The OFP began in 1972 to defend human rights and encourage women to transform social reality and reconstruct their own social fabric and civil society, while committing themselves to resist all forms of violence. Right now, Mrs. Lozada is leading MSM’s proposal in the Magdalena Medio and northeast Colombia regions.
CPT: What is the political context that you are working in? And what does this mean for women?
Mrs. Lozada: The political, social, and economic development of the region is very difficult and complex. First, I am going give us some historical context to ground the conversation that will enable us—women and communities—to say how we are currently living.
Barrancabermeja and Magdalena Medio region [have] lived for many years with different forms of violence. The armed conflict has its roots in deep social inequalities, such as the dispute over the territory. This dispute has caused the dispossession and displacement [of poor and marginalized people] from lands [in order that more powerful people might gain] minerals and natural wealth that we have. This has led to the presence of illegal armed groups and the increased militarization by the state armed forces in the area. At one point, there were the guerrillas in the urban areas of the municipalities but now the paramilitaries are patrolling, in spite of the demobilization process. The demobilization is a proposal that the Colombian state called the "law of justice and peace," but it is not a law of justice, or peace. It has been a process of impunity [i.e., eliminating any sort of consequence for those who have committed violent acts] and legalizes the process of forgiving the armed actors—in [the case of the Magdalena Medio region], paramilitaries who have killed and destroyed families and the social fabric with the complicity of the military.
The demobilization process that started in 2005 was a process that was done behind the backs of communities in the region. It has not been an open process for the communities, and it is not known how many paramilitaries there are and where they are. Furthermore, the victims began to be charged with crimes and [began to be regarded as] the perpetrators [instead of victims.] The organizations identified paramilitaries and in some cases have generated judicial processes. Now the people who have benefited from this law are starting judicial processes against recognized social leaders in the region. Furthermore, the paramilitaries continue to operate under other names and ordinary people know this. For example, in Barrancabermeja there were over 145 people selectively assassinated last year. There are no massacres but control continues to exist at the economic, political, and social levels. There are extortion, threats, and pamphlets given out with names of those to be killed. There is no policy of dismantling the paramilitaries. These armed actors have helped to facilitate the entry of [multinational corporations] by removing the farmers from their land and doing the dirty work that the government would not be able do.
The people here in Barrancabermeja live in poverty despite all the economic activity we have here. There was the oil boom but the people who benefited were not from the city. The beneficiaries from the resources in the regions are large multinational corporations and mega projects. There are no jobs. There is rummaging for work like the selling of cell phone minutes [cards] and the making and selling of tamales.
From the national and local government there are no real solutions to the poverty experienced in the region. It is clear that when we talk about the assistance programs that have emerged from the national government, that their solutions are superficial
In the region we, the women, continue actively resisting, denouncing human rights abuses, and working strongly for the reconstruction of the social fabric.
CPT: The social movement talks about "the militarization of women's bodies." Could you explain what this means in the context of the war here in Colombia?
Mrs. Lozada: For many years, women’s bodies have been used by armies as shields, insulted, and [used to humiliate] their enemies, by placing them in places to be publicly mocked and [degraded], which generates fear. [In areas around military bases], we notice the increase in prostitution of very young girls and forced abortions. [If there is] additional deployment of the U.S. military bases in Colombia, it is going to be a disaster for the women and the people because the American soldiers … cannot be punished for the crimes they commit in Colombia.
CPT: Why are you working in the peace movement?
Mrs. Lozada: It has to do basically with wanting to contribute to the transformation of this reality that we live, especially for women. Colombia is a country that has faced an armed conflict for many years—an armed conflict where many women and men have died, been displaced and have been disappeared. I want to build a better country, for my nephews, my children, and my friends. I dream that one day this country will be fair for everyone, where everyone has place and where all can be.
I am here, even though participating in this organizational process is risky—it generates fear and marks all those who defend human rights. This organization has helped me to recognize myself as a woman, as a political subject capable of saying what is going on and making proposals for the city, country, and communities. It helped me to understand the phrase, “You are not born a woman; you learn to be one.”
CPT: Could you share a story or an experience about your work?
Mrs. Lozada: More than sharing a story, I want to remember all the moments we have lived within the Organization. We have experienced all sorts of human rights violations, death threats, assassinations, displacement, the disappearance of one of our offices. Through all these moments, we shared together our fears and we knew that being organized and united we could resist.
And it is now important to continue recognizing that social organizations exist in this region of resistance. We walked and dreamed of a different country despite the onslaught that has taken the city. Women have the ability to continue dreaming—striving for our sons and daughters. The people still mobilize. There are men, women, and organizations thinking about the city, region, and country.
CPT: What is the history and mission of the Women’s Social Movement Against War and for Peace in the Magdalena Medio and the national?
Mrs. Lozada: The movement was born as an initiative of the OFP beginning with a very simple exercise—a letter to women about what they thought of the war at that time. What was found was that they were tired of war and hence there arose the proposal. Before, the women were called “Chained Women against the War.” [The movement] grew and there are currently more than forty organizations (indigenous, rural, academic, displaced, community mothers, church, etc.) with concrete peace proposals and a common agenda from the women in the popular sectors. Initially, the name ended "against the war" and after discussions we [decided that we needed to] to add "for peace."
The Movement has achieved a lot through the building of this agenda. This agenda [will focus for] four years on specific issues: 1) Women, Land and Development, 2) Women, War, Peace and 3) Democracy and Women and Social Movements.
CPT: Is the movement only for women?
Mrs. Lozada: The movement is a proposal by women and built by the communities. There is accompaniment and work with men on some activities but it is from the women that proposals are brought and we build them for everyone.
CPT: What is the reason for the Women and People Summit of the Americas against Militarization in August?
Mrs. Lozada: We are moving towards the international summit in Colombia from August 16 to 24. It is going to be done in three stages.
[The first stage] is solidarity actions. International representatives will visit the regions where the MSM has its processes. They will listen to the community’s resistance and dreams of hope.
[The second stage] will be in a municipality, Puerto Salgar, in the region of Magdalena Medio, where there will be meetings and discussions about women’s realities and how they live, [with an emphasis on how women live under] militarization.
[The third stage] is the public political action. It's going to be a strong vigil against U.S. military bases—which we don’t want in Colombia—and will be full of symbolism. [Because of Plan Colombia], women have suffered greatly—sexually abused, sexually assaulted, battered by U.S. soldiers, and everything has gone unpunished.
CPT: What could the international community do to support the movement and the Summit?
Mrs. Lozada: There are several things:
The important thing is to generate a political accompaniment for the proposal. We believe that if we strengthen ourselves against the reality of U.S. military bases and what we live in the Americas, we can generate a strong response from women and people from other countries.
Provide financial support for this … proposal.
Publicize and share the information about the gathering through the various communication networks.
Finally, international organizations, individuals, and/or social movements who want to be supportive are invited to participate.
CPT: You have something else to say before we end this interview?
Mrs. Lozada: In this country, men and women are dreamers and we will continue to march and to build proposals towards peace, which above all includes social Justice, although it seems far away. We believe that the country's conflict must be resolved through negotiations and not with weapons. The civilian population is the most affected and has much to say about peace.
The movement is encouraging; we recognize it and many people can participate in its construction. We continue to dream of a different Colombia where we may be able live and live with dignity.