Friday, 30 March 2012

The Peace Community´s 15th Anniversary

The Peace Community turned 15 this month. People seemed torn as to whether to treat it as a joyful celebration or a mournful and melancholic commemoration. Throughout the day the mood oscillates erratically between the two.

Hearing the story of the community once again reveals to me another layer of the complex reality lived here. Many from the Peace Community insist on the importance of “food sovereignty” or self-sufficiency. While the idea of producing everything you consume, distancing yourself from modern consumer society, knowing that everything you eat is natural, is an appealing one to ethical consumers in different parts of the world, here in this context it takes on a different meaning. Here it means survival, and not because these villages are so far away that it´s difficult to purchase goods in town, but because starvation has been one of the many methods employed in the multiple attempts to exterminate this community.

Several years back, paramilitaries, in close collaboration with the military, tried to freeze the flow of commerce between the Peace Community and Apartadó, the nearest town. They did this by murdering numerous chivero drivers so as to spread fear and prevent people travelling the road and by imposing food blockades. And so to survive, the community had to begin to cultivate everything they consume, including many crops they hadn´t previously grown, and everybody had to come together to share the little they had. The fierce desire to be independent from the shops in town and to not participate in those flows of commerce and that consumer system is a response to those efforts to suffocate the community.

Just like my time here more broadly, the day is full of intense extremes of emotion. It is marked by great strength, unity and happiness, and also by a profound sorrow at all the pain and murder, the death and destruction, the injustice and the impunity which continues to reign in this unfair and pointless war.

At one point Padre Javier, an important advisor to the community, asks those with photos of the dead to stand, photos of those people who were sacrificed for this non-violent project which aims to sow the seeds of peace and hope. Almost everybody present holds up a photo of somebody who has been murdered.

Later, Padre Javier shows us the blood-stained clothes of a girl killed in combat a few weeks back. In spite of her calling out that she was not a guerrilla and pleading, saying that she had a one-year-old daughter to care for, she was murdered by the military. Her clothes were then removed from her dead body and replaced with the camouflaged uniform of the guerrilla. Hers is yet another case of a “false positive”.

In the evening in La Unión, a video that was made 14 years ago, on the one-year anniversary of the community, is shown. Peace Community members are interviewed. It is characteristically made in the nineties. (Who would have thought that even in the campo, nineties style and fashion was so distinctive?) Some of the people interviewed are present 14 years on. As they appear on the screen, everyone calls out their names and laughs hysterically. Chubby toddlers are now geeky adolescents. Geeky adolescents are now young adults. Young adults who were thin 14 years ago are now distinctively overweight. Interspersed among the bursts of hysterical laughter as we mock the people we see on the screen who sit among us, are moments when silence abruptly falls on the audience. People´s expressions change dramatically and sorrow palpably, sneakily seeps into the atmosphere. Those we watch on the screen in those moments are the ones who are no longer with us.

A member of the community we speak to afterwards describes how “thousands of people started this community together, and over the years so many of those people have been killed or displaced or disappeared. Sometimes it’s hard for me to watch those interviews and think of all the people we have lost in this fight. It also reminds us where we came from. In those years we did everything together. We had community meetings twice a day; we paid attention to where everyone was at all times for all of our safety. It’s hard to believe how far we have come.”

Despite all the deaths and all the attempts to annihilate the community, there are still people here resisting and there is still strength to this non-violent struggle. This deserves to be celebrated. And the event indeed ends a celebration, as loud music comes on and we dance through the night.