“No. I’m not scared when I travel with others,” he replied over his shoulder and over the rumble of the motorcycle as we bumped along on a dry dirt road, passing through the fields and acres that make up the community of La Alemania.
La Alemania is a finca (a large farm) that is owned communally by 52 families. The community obtained the 1,360 acres of land under the Colombia Institute of Agrarian Reform (INCORA) in 1997, but they were displaced from that land in 2000 when paramilitaries came in and took over the land, killing some and forcing the rest to flee. Some people went to live with family members in other towns in Colombia, and several went to Venezuela to escape the violence.
In 2010, a decade after they were displaced, most of the families returned to fight for their land after one of the leaders, Rogelio, was assassinated for his work defending the community’s right to the land. People came back to pick up the work that he had left off, and they continue that work today even as the memory and threat of violence still looms in the community of Alemania.
Now, six years after returning to their land, many people still do not live there full-time. They live nearby and come each day to work the land and to begin to rebuild houses that the paramilitary destroyed. However, the task of rebuilding and resettling is tremendous:
- They are in the third year of a drought that makes it difficult to plant and grow crops and raise the cattle they depend on.
- They lack basic necessities that the government is obligated to provide but hasn’t yet: electricity and running water in the homes, paved roads, a health center, education (currently the only school nearby is an elementary school about a half-hour walk away with two teachers for all of the students from ages 5 to 11; after primary school the children must go live with relatives in other cities or stop going to school.)
- The leaders of the community continue to receive threats on their lives for demanding their rights–their right to be on the land, to use water and electricity, to have education and health care, to use the roads.
Two weeks before we arrived, one of the leaders, the one on whose moto I was riding, had received another threat on his life. He told us that the violence has diminished in recent years, but the threats, which are a form of violence in themselves, continue. They don’t always know who the people are who threaten them, other than that they are “Agents of Capitalism.” The primary form of violence now, he said, is not gun violence so much as it is economic violence. The land of Alemania is valuable, and many want to get rid of the “socios” (socialists?; please explain) in order to have the land for themselves. Alemania residents protect themselves by holding the land as a community. By showing many names on one deed, they protect themselves from exploitation better than if 52 individual families had 52 different deeds to 52 plots of land.
At its best, capitalism envisions a world where each person can work in return for what they need, not just to survive, but to flourish and thrive. However, capitalism has never been “at its best” for the people of Alemania. There greed for land and its resources results in violence and the threat of violence for the residents, whose access to basic rights like electricity, water, education, and health care is denied. In the face of the economic violence that capitalism continues to perpetrate and the threats of violence that the agents of capitalism continue to bring, La Alemania knows that a strong, tight-knit community is the only thing that can stand up to the overwhelming power of those with money and power and weapons.
“Are you always afraid?” I asked that day as I rode on the back of the moto. “No. I’m not scared when I travel with others.”