Colombia Accompaniment Report: The Legacy of Violence--and New Life--in La Alemania

Received February 24, 2014 from Barranquilla-based February accompaniers Nancy and Ted Collins. Nancy and Ted recently returned to the United States, having finished their term of service on February 28.

Photo by Ted CollinsOur last assignment as accompaniers was a trip to La Alemania near San Onofre in the Department of Sucre and then, to Sincelejo. La Alemania is a community of farmers that were allotted land in 1997 by a land reform agency of the government. San Onofre is known for its corruption and its violence. After three years of what seemed like paradise, the violence crept into La Alemania. Obviously, someone else wanted the land, and the paramilitaries came. They pushed and threatened and most families left La Alemania. When the violence quieted down some, many families started to return, led by Jorge* and his wife. They reclaimed their land for which they had documents to prove ownership and once again began to plant and to rebuild. There continued to be uncertainty and in May, 2010 Jorge was killed on his way home from town.

People started to flee once again, but Jorge´s wife decided to hold her ground. She and two of her grown children continue life on the farm with families and young children. In fact, there is a new little one who bear´s his grandfather´s name. However, now, in the corner of the farm yard there is a detachment of 10 young soldiers with semi-automatic weapons who patrol the area and have, so far, stopped the violence.

A new road being built by members of La Alemania with materials from the government will make access in and out much easier. Right now, motorcycles transport people over the rough 5 mile dirt road to the main highway. My ride on the back of a motorcycle with my backpack was a first for me.

We spent 2 days and 1 night at the farm with Jorge´s wife and family. We were able to help haul water with a burro and gather a load of manure for the compost pile. The farmyard was full of life: pigs and baby pigs, chickens and chicks, turkeys, a burro, cats, dogs, a parrot, 2 horses and a milk cow back in the trees. With no rural electrification, the night sky framed by Jupiter and Sirius was incredible. Mainly, we were a presence at the farm to let others know that local events have national and international interest. Life on the farm was not easy. We were continually amazed at the energy and determination of Jorge´s wife. She was definitely in charge and was part of a neighborly network.

A member of the Presbyterian Church in Barranquilla, our accompaniment friend from the Presbytery, held a prayer service in the evening which included family, neighbors, and soldiers. He spoke to all about their commitment to peace and justice and the love of Jesus Christ who sustains us all. Our experience at La Alemania was definitely our most intense yet as we tried to become part of daily life on the farm and gain some understanding of the situation.

The whole story of the struggle for land in Colombia and the civil war that has been on-going for more than 40 years is somehow beyond what I can grasp. Guerillas, paramilitaries, military that has been trained at the School of the Americas in Georgia, narco-traffickers, government agreements with paramilitaries and on-going talks in Havana, Cuba with guerillas. There is much to learn. I never feel like I know enough, and so I focus on the individuals that I meet and their stories. And I pray that God will look with favor upon these kind people. "My trust is in the Lord."

Our last Sunday Presbyterian service before returning to the USA was in a large regional community about an hour´s drive from where we accompanied the farming community. Sunday school started at 10 and by the time the church service began, all seats were taken and it was standing room only in the back. The young pastor who was a student as the Theological University when Ted met and worked with him 9 years ago is doing a tremendous job. In fact, on this particular Sunday, a pair of volunteers from Living Waters were meeting with the church to determine possibilities. Save for the service being in Spanish, the service is very similar to many US English services

Footnote - Colombia and Venezuela are geographic sisters and much movement of people, goods, and services occurs back and forth. Some Colombians fear that the USA will try to intercede militarily in the Venezuelan issue. The USA represents multi-national corporations, free trade agreements, and money. This impact causes resentment as the number of displaced people is now more than 5 million, the vast majority being impoverished and displaced from their land

One human rights worker asked that his country participate in "Fair Trade" rather than "Free Trade". We hope that you will discuss these issues with your congressional delegation. Also, we hope to get a summary of the Free Trade Agreement between the USA and Colombia to see what is actually happening.

We do know that large corridors of land are being prepared for the escalation of free trade. These large corridors were previously occupied by farmers and fishermen. What would Jesus do?

*Jorge´s name was changed to maintain anonymity