CPTers had the opportunity to interview Ana Teresa Lozada, a long-time member of the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) and a leader in the Women’s Social Movement Against War and For Peace (MSM). Lozada discussed the impact of the armed conflict on women, particularly in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia. Following are excerpts.
CPT: What is the political context in which you are working and what does this mean for women?
Lozada: The city of Barrancabermeja and the whole Magdalena Medio region have experienced different forms of violence for many years. The armed conflict has its roots in deep social inequalities. Disputes over territory for minerals and natural wealth have led to the presence of illegal armed groups and increased militarization by government forces in the area causing dispossession and displacement of civilian populations from their lands.
At one point guerrillas operated in the urban areas. Now, despite the “demobili-zation process” started in 2005, paramilitaries using different names continue to exercise control at the economic, political and social levels through extortion, threats, and distributing pamphlets with names of those to be killed. Last year in Barrancabermeja more than 145 people were assassinated.
The Colombian government’s “law of justice and peace” to demobilize the paramilitaries is not a law of justice or peace. It is a process of impunity for paramilitaries who have killed and destroyed families and the entire social fabric with the complicity of the military.
There is no policy of dismantling the paramilitaries. These armed actors have helped to facilitate the entry of multinationals by removing the farmers from their land and doing the dirty work that the government cannot do.
People in Barrancabermeja live in poverty despite all the economic activity around us. The beneficiaries from oil and other natural resources in the region are large multinational corporations. There are no jobs. The national and local governments offer no real solutions to poverty, only superficial assistance programs. In the region, we, the women, continue actively resisting violence, denouncing human rights abuses, and working strongly for the reconstruction of our social fabric.
CPT: The social movement talks about “the militarization of women’s bodies.” Could you explain what that means in the Colombian context of war?
Lozada: For many years armies have mocked and degraded women’s bodies, using them as shields, using them to humiliate their enemies and generate fear. Where there are military bases we notice an increase in prostitution of very young girls and forced abortions. The addition of U.S. military bases in Colombia will be a disaster for women because the American soldiers will have immunity from prosecution for the crimes they commit here.
CPT: Why are you working in the peace movement?
Lozada: I want to contribute to the transformation of this difficult reality. I want to build a better country for my children, my nephews and my friends. I dream that one day this country will be fair for everyone. I continue working, even though participating in this organization carries risks. This organization has helped me recognize myself as a woman capable of saying what is going on and making proposals to improve the city, country, and communities.
We have suffered all sorts of human rights violations, death threats, assassinations, displacement, and the disappearance of one of our officers. Through it all we have faced our fears together, and realized that by being organized and united, we could resist.
It is important to recognize that social organizations continue to exist and resist in this region. We are women with a voice of hope and we are leading processes of transformation despite the onslaught of violence that has gripped the city. Women have the ability to continue dreaming and striving for our sons and daughters.
CPT: What is the history and mission of the Women’s Social Movement Against War and For Peace in the Magdalena Medio region and the country?
Lozada: The movement was an initiative of the OFP beginning with a very simple exercise – a letter to women asking what they thought of the war at that time. The results showed that women were tired of war. Hence a proposal arose and the movement was born.
It has grown to include more than 40 organizations (indigenous, rural, academic, displaced, community, church, mothers, etc.) with a concrete peace proposal and a common and clear agenda from the women in the popular sectors.
This agenda spans four years and focuses on 1) Women, Land and Development; 2) Women, War, and Peace; and 3) Women, Democracy and Social Movements.
CPT: Can you describe the upcoming “Women and People’s Summit of the Americas Against Militarization?”
Lozada: The international summit in Colombia from 16-24 August will happen in three stages. The first is solidarity actions of resistance. International representatives will visit the regions where the MSM has its processes. They will listen to the communities’ stories of resistance and dreams of hope.
The second will take place in the municipality of Puerto Salgar in the Magdalena Medio region, and will include meetings and discussions about women’s realities in relation to militarization.
The third stage is a strong public political action/vigil against U.S. military bases. We do not want them in Colombia.
CPT: What could the international community do to support the movement and the Summit?
Lozada: The important thing is to generate political accompaniment for our proposal. We believe that if we strengthen ourselves against the presence of U.S. military bases, we can gain support from women and people from other countries. Any financial support would help as well as publicizing the summit through various networks.
Finally, international organizations, individuals, and/or social movements who want to be supportive are invited to participate in the summit.
CPT: Would you like to add anything else?
Lozada: In this country men and women are dreamers. We continue to dream of a different Colombia where we may be able to live with dignity. We will continue to march and to build initiatives 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.
Join CPT’s July 14-27 Colombia delegation working specifically with the Women’ss Social Movement Against War and For Peace in Colombia. Women and men are invited to gain a deeper understanding of how militarization affects women’s bodies and communities’ sovereignty. Walk in solidarity with the Women’s Social Movement as they continue to resist violence and work for peace in Colombia. Contact Claire Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org) to apply.