For the past week, Sabine Lichtenfels, Vera Kleinhammes and Andrea Phoebe Regelmann from Tamera, Portugal have been in Colombia. On the occasion of the celebration for their 18th anniversary, they are currently visiting the peace community of San José de Apartadó. Tamera shares a long-term friendship with the Colombian community and their trip serves to deepen and explore the next steps in the cooperation between the two communities. In the following we publish an excerpt from a diary written by Vera Kleinhammes.
Sunday, March 22nd 2015: World Water Day – Our first day in San José de Apartadó
The arrival here is very heartfelt and it feels good to be here. Something feels very calm inside.
After arriving, arranging our room, setting up mosquito nets etc., we meet with the community and the other internationals – including the German and French ambassadors from Bogotá and a small delegation (they all sat with us in the same small airplane to Apartadó, of course without us knowing who they are). We come together in the memorial dome for the celebration, and hold a first mass with Padre Javier Giraldo.
He opens the space by giving thanks to all the people that are present and says that this reunion for the celebration of the community’s 18th birthday is not only a gathering of the community itself, but of international solidarity, which the community has always experienced.
In the 18 years of its existence, the community has become victim of violence in many forms. During this mass they want to remember four of the most important moments of violence that they had to suffer. Many lives were destroyed; not only of the community directly but also of their friends and relatives in the surrounding.
Then follows a sharing of the most horrible massacres and atrocities they have suffered. Including testimonies of people who have been direct witnesses. Stories that are just too cruel to really be comprehended. I feel between bursting out into tears and just shutting down, or becoming very calm and facing once more: this is the reality of our current world! They tell it in such depth and at the same time such calmness and also shock in their expression.
I sit there and perceive this life here, their path… and I am overwhelmed once again. How can they seem to be such “normal” people, how can they be so happy when they had to suffer all of this?! How can they be so full of Grace and reconciliation when 200 of their members – leaders, beloved ones, children – have not only been killed but violently slaughtered? And I am also irritated by how casual they tell about this while some of the children whose parents have been killed just sit in the same room… other children play and make jokes…
And then one minute after these cruel testimonies they just totally switch to a different energy. I am impressed and also a little irritated by this… and I think there is a lot we can learn from it: we, in this privileged safe lives we are living, to not be so deadly identified with our fears and problems – when in our case it even mostly is absolutely obsolete. And we can learn what it takes so that we don’t want to go for revenge or to be able to forgive when we feel wrongly treated, even with very small things! And this reveals even more the incredible capacity of this Peace Community!
For them, keeping the memory of their victims is one of their most important values – not to forget and to continue this path towards peace on ever deeper levels.
What becomes clear is that the murders that were committed were – from the very outset – not arbitrary but intentionally targeting people whose loss would weaken the community the most.
The massacre near the hamlet of Mulatos ten years ago was one of the most difficult moments for the community: Luis Eduardo Guerra (the legal representative and leader of the Peace Community at that time), his wife, his 10 year-old son, another couple (leaders of the Peace Community too) and their two kids (5 years and 1months) and a neighbor man were cruelly killed by the army.
After this massacre, the community decided even stronger not to go back any step.
Padre Javier Giraldo, the Jesuit priest and human rights advocate who has accompanied the community from the beginning, said, “The most intelligent and humble thing we as farmers in a country full of violence can do is to build an alternative of peace. Creating an oasis of peace in the middle of the bloodbath.”
Alongside all the suffering the community has succeeded to resist, to continue and beyond this to form a community that builds and shows alternatives to the world.
The state and the armed troops have fought the community with a variety of means.
Once they were put under pressure for several months through blocking all access to goods – especially food – from outside. All people outside of the community who wanted to help them were also seriously threatened, some tortured, some even killed. The community had to suffer periods of serious hunger for several months.
This experience has motivated them to work towards autonomy on the level of food.
The most important products with which they are already autonomous are sugar cane, rice, corn (for the people and also their animals), and beans.
When they serve us the delicious food they tell us full of joy that none of this food has been bought. What a great feeling to enjoy this food, which has so much meaning and so much soul in it!
While enjoying this food we have a good first connection and good talk with the ambassadors. It feels like a potentially meaningful connection!
Monday, March 23rd 2015: 18th anniversary of the foundation of the Peace Community
After a few hours of more or less deep sleep (due to heat, hard and wavy underground and inner movements), the whole village gets awakened with lout music and talks at 5am. They decided spontaneously that they want to start this day different than planned so they just treat the whole village with loud sound… With their hymn, other music connected to their way of resistance and recorded speeches in between… it is very loud (!) and keeps going until almost 7am.
At around 7am they invite the visitors to come to the garden to plant seeds of life. So all the people who accompany the community are invited to plant little cacao trees. It is a simple and beautiful ceremony. It feels good to connect with the Earth!
After this we gather in the ‘kiosko’ (traditional round gathering place) and the Padre opens the day, saying that today we want to make a reflection about the last steps of justice and injustice and understand more about how the state and especially the Ministry of Justice is dealing with all this injustice.
Jorge Molano – human rights lawyer, a courageous and beautiful person, constantly under threat to his own life – presents the legal process, especially about the massacre of 2005.
It is quite a complex, detailed and fast speech, including a lot of very detailed research over the years. We couldn’t follow all of it. Here is a very rough summary of some points he developed (see footnote): The massacre was prepared by the Colombian state. In 2007, the Constitutional Court emitted an order to the state to protect the Peace Community. In 2012, a handbook was published in the army. It contains a list of various peace communities and a very detailed description of their structures, so they know how to proceed in order to destroy these communities.
It appears quite clearly that the Army also cooperated with the Guerrilla…
There are documents dating back to as early as 2003 where Luis Eduardo Guerra is registered. This means that the massacre was planned for at least two years. The state manipulated and spread false information. Thirty days before the massacre happened, the DAS (‘Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad’, Colombian secret service) monitored the emails and phones of the ‘consejo’, the internal council of the community’s leaders. All the investigations point to the fact that some of the most high ranking militaries were involved in this massacre. But the Inspector General stated that only the “lowest five people” are responsible, the physical executors. And still this judgment was appealed by the state.
Few days ago, the Supreme Court demanded the Inspector General to stop blocking the legal process (which he had been doing for more than two years) against the army and hand the case back to the Supreme Court. And of course the state tries to protect “important people” so that, if there would be a responsibility of the state, it would only hit a few random people and not a structure of the state itself. The state continuously asks this case to be dealt with by the military court and not by the civil one. Because when the army would judge military people, it would be even more easy to keep their historical impunity. Exactly at the time when the massacre happened, the community decided to stop cooperating with the Ministry of Justice.
This case is one among approximately 3000 cases, but it reveals how the system works, using false eyewitnesses, false statements bought or forced through torture.
“Such crimes against human rights concern all of humanity and humanness, not only the ones directly affected.” – Padre Javier Giraldo
The morning continues with more testimonies of the atrocities the Peace Community has suffered.
Then the two ambassadors are invited to speak. For the community it is very important that they are present! And both of them speak in a very beautiful and human way. I also feel that it was a great step that they have been here and that it left a deep impact in them.
After them Sabine is asked to speak. She holds a short and very striking speech, wonderfully translated by a very likable ex-PBI woman.
She speaks about the global importance of the Peace Community, especially taking into account their incredible capacity not to go for revenge and anger. And how deeply they show that it doesn’t make sense to fight against the system – but rather to build alternatives that the whole world needs!
After this, 18 birthday cakes are served to the audience… and the German ambassador brings one slice to Sabine, thanking her for her beautiful speech.
We exchange a few words with him. He also speaks again about the peace negotiations that are currently happening in La Havana. Right now there is a one-sided ceasefire from the guerrilla and the army has agreed to no longer bomb the camping places of the FARC.
Footnote: See report “10 Years Later Justice Continues Favoring the Perpetrator” from dhColombia (Network of Colombian Human Rights Defenders, March 16th, 2015 http://peacepresence.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/dhColombia10yearslater.pdf