31 October 2017
COLOMBIA: Celebrating Resistance
by Carolina Gouveia
Doña Fany García, co-founder of Cahucopana, while planting in memory of the victims killed from her region. “Forgive is not to forget, it is to not allow history to repeat itself." Photo: Caldwell Manners
September 17 was a long day. We woke up early and traveled to Remedios, Antioquia where we met a caravan of about 30 people who were also preparing for the long journey of another 6 hours until the village of Lejanías. Joy and energy were palpable during this long ride. People were loud, singing and even dancing. The reason for the party may seem odd at first: Cahucopana (Corporation for Humanitarian Action, Peace and Coexistence of North-Eastern Antioquia) was recognized as a subject of collective reparation by the Unit for Attention and Reparation of Victims of the conflict in Colombia. They were celebrating that the state recognizes them as victims. It seems absurd but it makes sense.
The conflict in Colombia lasted more than 50 years. Many people lost their lives. Many lost sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Many of them do not know what happened to their family members. According to the Victims Unit, Colombia has 8,532,636 direct and indirect victims of the armed conflict.
In 2016, the peace agreement between the FARC, formerly known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the state created the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition. This system exists in order to guarantee that what happened during the conflict will never happen again. One of its mechanisms is the recognition of individual and collective victims, such as the organization Cahucopana. Upon being recognized as victims, the process of reparation begins. Depending on the context, it may include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, which means the verification of the facts and full and public disclosure of the truth, and guarantees of non-repetition.
Don Gerardo Acero, Doña Fanny García, Oscar Macias and Braulio García (Don Rayito), founders of Cahucopana are honoured by the current generation of the organization’s human rights defenders. Photo: Caldwell Manners
On September 18th and 19th, delegates from different communities in the North-Eastern of Antioquia gathered for the Recognition of Victims Celebration. The members of Cahucopana reunited in the community of Lejanías, where 14 years ago the organization was founded, due to an imminent threat to be displaced by the National Army. This military action resulted in 18 extrajudicial killings, the so-called “false positives” (recognized as a crime against humanity), as well as bombing and forced displacement. These campesinxs, who fought in order to maintain their land, were falsely accused of being guerrillas, and many were killed for that reason. On September 18th, the state, through the Victims Unit, acknowledged its responsibility for the violence that Cahucopana and its members had suffered.
Recognizing that Cahucopana is a victim means that there were violations of the right of free movement of its members. Families had to leave their homes to ensure their dignity of life. Their rights to security and the right to organize were violated. All these rights are insured by the Colombian constitution.
When we hear from the leaders about the suffering and struggle that campesinxs in this region have gone through, it makes sense to celebrate. The most important points for Cahucopana’s members are the satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. The state recognizes their mistakes. It recognizes the stigma that campesinxs have suffered when they were accused of being guerrillas and recognizes their story. Not the version of the story that the state created, but the story that was lived by the campesinxs. The event was framed by moments of emotion. It began with a symbolic act of planting seeds in honor of the victims who lost their lives, followed by the founding leaders receiving self portraits with flowers and words of gratitude. The joy of knowing that the path of reconciliation is being built was contagious. They do not celebrate their victimization. They celebrate resistance. They celebrate forgiveness.