Anna Hengeveld is a Masters student in the Conflict Studies and Human Rights program at Utrecht University, in Utrecht, Holland. An obligatory part of her Masters is field research, which she did accompanied by Sembrandopaz. The investigation is focused on the capacity of the communities of the High Mountain Zone, specifically Macayepo, to collectively organize, return to their land, and demand their rights from the state.
Just a bit ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Sembrandopaz in its work and get to know the valuable experiences of the leaders of the High Mountain Zone. In this blog, I’d like to share some of my first observations about the unique history in these valient communities.
The High Mountain Zone consists of around 50 communities in the Municipalities of El Carmen de Bolívar and San Jacinto. It is a region characterized by decades of conflict between different armed groups, a region that for a long time never thought it possible to be united again and to live in peace, but they have achieved it. During the most difficult years of the armed conflict (1997 – 2002), the region was divided in two parts – one part dominated by the paramilitaries and another where the guerrilla exercised power. This caused a lot of hostility between the different communities and resulted in accusations on both sides of being collaborators of each group, respectively.
Each part of the region lived its own experience during the armed conflict. Macayepo and the neighboring rural communities displaced in 2000 and organized during their displacement as an association – the Association of Agricultural Products of Macayepo (ASOPRAM). Other communities in the region– Guamanga, Hondible, and Saltones de Mesa, among others- resisted and formed the Agricultural Association of María la Alta during the active conflict. One part benefited by working together with the armed forces, the other by demanding their rights from the government, but both achieved working in a collective and united manner, in their respective organizations.
Even though presence of armed groups in the region ended in 2008, the break between the two parts persisted due to fear and lack of trust. However much of that changed in 2012 when the leaders of both organizations acknowledged that all the campesinos lived a similar, difficult situation and they saw the need to reconcile and work together as the High Mountain Zone together, to achieve a better region. As one of the leaders said, “We saw that the conflict doesn’t originate from us, the conflict is between some who rebelled against the State and the State, but they involved the civilian population. We were able to understand that, forgive, and unite as one region.”
Last year, in 2013, the Movement of the High Mountain Zone organized its first peace march in which they arrived, along with the Victim’s Entity of the government, and representatives from the local and national Government, at agreements for their collective reparation, the bettering of the region and a complete return process. Although the government has not fulfilled their promises, the process is being threatened, and one of the movement’s principal leaders is in jail for false accusations of being a guerrilla collaborator, the leaders continue to work without fear and they are able to move forward.
In my perspective, this collective and peaceful process is unique in Colombia and is growing and transforming into something even bigger with an important impact in the region. As one of the leaders said, “One of the things that we set our minds to as the High Mountain Zone is that we can do something for this country. It is hard to do in this condition, because we live in a context of war where we aren’t armed; the only arm you have is the courage to confront all of this.” In the middle of a difficult context, the Nonviolent Movement from the High Mountain Zone is showing a concrete example of resistance, resilience, and reconciliation.