Friday, 2 March 2012

February brings two important dates for the Peace Community and FOR. The 7th February marked a decade of FOR´s permanent peace presence: 10 years since community members greeted the first volunteers and hiked with them up to La Unión, 10 years of opening space for non-violent resistance to the Colombian conflict, 10 years of internationals sharing intense moments of joy, happiness, sadness, suffering and the adversities of community life.

And the 21st February sees the commemoration of one of those times of adversity, one of the many arduous, painful moments the community has had to endure in their long struggle for survival. It marks 7 years since Luis Eduardo Guerra, one of the Peace Community´s founders and strongest leaders, was brutally murdered, along with 7 others, including a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old.

To commemorate this event, members from the various veredas of the Peace Community come together in the Aldea de Paz Luis Eduardo Guerra, where a small chapel marks the location his life was violently taken from him. We listen to an interview on a cassette, which he gave about his life, about the project of the Peace Community, about non-violent resistance. The strength and conviction with which he speaks sends a chill through the collective body of those present, since the sound of his voice, the articulation of his ideas and the strength of his belief in this project are in sharp contrast to his physical absence. We reflect upon the ways that life must grow from death, that struggle must grow from pain, that hope must grow from desperation.

Then we walk together to the location that the other bodies were found. We listen to the events that took place that day, the 21st February 2005. One of the paramilitaries present later testified. He had objected to the killing of the children, but the other soldiers and paramilitaries reasoned that they were only going to become guerrillas some day anyway. The paramilitary who had objected was asked to leave and as he walked away, he looked back over his shoulder to see the 5-year-old girl being hacked to pieces with a machete.

The then President Uribe´s reaction to the massacre was to claim they were all FARC sympathizers. The military-paramilitary collusion was so evident in this instance that it was what prompted the Peace Community to enter a state of rupture with the Colombian state. This rupture, a refusal to enter into dialogue with the state, continues to this day. This is because, to this day, the state and state authorities refuse to recognise their role and their complicity in the atrocities which have befallen this community, and state forces continually fail to comply with the rules laid down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to respect Peace Community property.

And an immense military presence and violations of Peace Community property throughout the month are again reminders of the violence and the on-going war. They are also reminders of FOR´s anniversary, an entire decade of international presence, of our role and our purpose here. And my feelings on this are bittersweet. On the one hand it represents a success which I can be proud to be part of: we continue to open space for this community to exist and to struggle and to survive. And on the other hand, it is a depressing reminder of the continuation of conflict: of the stagnant state of affairs in this never-ending, purposeless war, whose conclusion remains out of sight even after all these years of struggle.