Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Urabá is Beautiful

Urabá is beautiful. As you come in on the plane you see vast fields of banana trees spread throughout the land, green and abundant, with little blue bags which encapsulate the fruit so it doesn’t get damaged. The plants go on for miles and miles. You see mountains. Rolling mountains filled with exotic plants, lush rivers, radiant butterflies, wild boar, and huge trees that look like the ones from the film Avatar. And you also see ridiculous military propaganda telling you “because of you soldier, the Colombian people can live in peace and harmony, heroes do exist in Colombia”.

Those bananas are the businesses of large land-owners and huge companies which have for decades paid paramilitaries to protect the lands from the guerrilla. And the price of that so-called protection has been the lives of the innocent. The Colombian conflict continues to be played out through third parties; civilians continue to bear the brunt of a violence which here has increased in recent weeks, in spite of the government’s peace negotiations with the FARC. Like the campesino who died last night from the shots he received when caught in the middle of a combat in San José two weeks ago. His family was immediately threatened into saying he was an insurgent so he can be falsely sold by the military as another guerrilla killed in combat. And these beautiful mountains are the stage for those combats, like the one which took place today near one of the settlements of the Peace Community.

Sometimes when I travel the road between Apartadó and San José, seeing children riding their bikes, a fat black woman laughing, hearing music blaring from a stereo, banana plants and guava trees lining the way, I want to forget the murders which have taken place all along there. I try to imagine what it would be like to see this road through entirely ignorant, foreign eyes. I can almost see it. It would be lively and light. It wouldn’t be weighed down by death. It would be exotic and beautiful. 

It is essential not to forget. It is important for these horrors to remain in the collective memory of the Peace Community and the Colombian people so that the perpetrators of violence be held accountable for the atrocities they have committed. And yet how do you break the cycles of revenge, those killings to avenge vengeance killings, in order to overcome and move forward? How to balance validation, justice and the need to remember with forgiveness, reparation and the need to move on?

I can no longer see banana trees without thinking about the complex nexus of power behind them – companies, land owning elites, paramilitaries, military and government officials – and all the blood which that nexus of power has devoured.