La Alemania: A Positive Note

Husking riceReceived March 31, 2014 from Barranquilla-based March accompaniers Paul Vogel and Jim McPherson.

Last week we had the pleasure of visiting the incredibly fertile La Alemania Finca located near the City of San Onofre about 5 hours distant from Barranquilla.  This area produces a wide variety of crops including plantains, cassava, maize, rice, and any number of fruits.  

The 556 hectare Finca was founded in 1997 by 52 families led by Rogelio Martinez. After its founding, the area began to suffer from violence produced by a  paramilitary organization.  The first phase of the violence took place between 1998 and 2001. Reportedly, the violence was a product of the group’s employment by various organizations that had become interested in the Finca’s land.  

The violence included the intimidation and sometimes the killing of the Finca’s campesinos while their homes and crops were destroyed and animals stolen.  The fear produced by these activities led to the abandonment of the Finca by a large number of the area’s residents and, subsequently, in 2001 La Alemania was occupied by the paramilitary which then converted it into the center of their operations.   

In the years after 2001, the violence and deaths continued.  In 2006 Rogelio Martinez, the original leader, was made La Alemania’s legal representative.  In 2008 Martinez and other families decided to return to Alemania despite new threats and the related risks.   In 2009 there were a number of new assassinations and increased threats against Martinez.   The culmination of all this was Martinez’s assassination in 2010.   

His assassination was a turning point in the struggle for La Alemania.  International Human Rights groups brought enough pressure on the Colombian government to force it to take action.  One of the results was the deployment of a Colombian Marine Infantry detachment at La Alemania.  

In conversations with various groups of people throughout the Finca including the military, we understand that the “bad guys”, who are still in the area, are not presently causing problems.  People reported to us that they suffer from the effects of past violence, but that conditions are getting better.  As in most of Colombia, the presence of multi-national corporations, drug traffickers, and others make it extremely difficult for simple communities like this one to continue to exist and prosper.  At the same time, the positive attitude of these people as well as the improving conditions give some measure of hope.