WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
18 Dec 2010 | Commentary | News

“We Have Faith that through Our Legal Struggle We Will Achieve Justice”

For decades illegal armed groups and economic interests have coveted the biodiverse Afro-Colombian territories located along the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó rivers in the Department of Chocó. Historical institutional abandonment on the part of the national government and political corruption combined with armed groups tied to narco-trafficking has created a climate whereby impunity reigns and different illegal operations flourish. Since the 1990s the paramilitaries and their successor organizations have violently imposed their will and expanded their illegal economies in this region. The internal armed conflict between the Colombian armed forces and insurgent groups continues to negatively affect the lives and livelihoods of civilians residing in this zone of the country.  

In the midst of all of these obstacles and despite the murder of their leaders and constant threats against their lives, internally displaced leaders in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó continue to resist internal displacement from their territories.

The NGO Justicia y Paz supports their efforts and these communities receive international accompaniment from Peace Brigades International and other organizations. These IDPs have developed self-protection models called humanitarian and biodiversity zones to guarantee their physical safety and food security. They are also working to have their violently and illegally usurped lands returned to them and for justice in the myriad of human rights cases committed against members of their communities. These IDPs’ lands are currently controlled by powerful criminal structures. 


Since the end of December 2009, these communities have achieved many steps towards justice in there case. Most notably the Colombian Attorney General’s office issued arrest warrants for 24 oil palm industrialists for links to paramilitaries and other crimes. However, these steps forward have resulted in high human costs with three members of these communities murdered for seeking justice.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) interviewed these leaders from Bajo Atrato area in Chocó (Colombia) and asked them about their case. The outcome of this case is particularly important at this moment in Colombia where the government is proposing legislation to return lands to victims.

WOLA: How did you become forcibly displaced from your lands?

Leader 1: I used to live with my partner and four children in the community of Guamo which is located along the Curvaradó River. One day we found out that a massacre had been committed in a place near us called Brisas. Soldiers from the 17th Brigade and paramilitaries murdered six persons in that massacre that took place on October 8, 1996. Another two persons were forcibly disappeared and their bodies later found along the riverbank and the bridge in Caño Seco. The man who at that time was the President of the Communal Board of Guamo organized a commission to go to Riosucio to investigate the matter. Once in Riosucio that commission was warned that “whoever denounces these acts can no longer return to their territories.” That day, is when we started to feel fear because we realized that no one would protect us.

A few months later paramilitaries and the army arrived in Guamo. The first thing they did was assassinate the President of the Communal Board of Guamo. Residents began to receive threats from soldiers who told us that it would be best if we left the area because “those who come behind us decapitate heads.” An estimate 50% of the residents became internally displaced to other parts of the country. The other half, including myself and my family, decided to stay behind and resist displacement. It was only a matter of time before we began to see dead bodies passing us by in the currents of the Curvaradó River. We also saw birds eating these remains. Combat, aerial bombings and gunfire were commonplace. This is how they murdered and disappeared more than 143 residents of the riverbanks of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó rivers.

Starting in 1996 it became very difficult for us to withstand this insecure situation. The army and paramilitaries imposed economic blockades upon our communities. This impeded members of our community to be able to cultivate our daily sustenance which included plantains, rice and other food items. At the same time they did not allow us to leave the area in order to obtain food from other parts. It was during these hard times that we were informed on December 14, 1997 that the army and paramilitaries located in nearby Bajirá had sent word to us that they would not be responsible for any of the persons that decided to remain in the territory. We were forced to leave via canoe because there was no fuel available. A quarter of the residents were not able to leave due to the ongoing blockades and combat operations.

My family and I first fled to Bajirá and then we went to an area where my parents owned a plot of land. In Bajirá we passed by a military checkpoint where they asked us if we were displaced persons. We were very afraid to tell them the truth because we knew that they passed information to paramilitaries. We finally arrived at my father’s place, but the peace we found there did not last for very long. Paramilitaries were continuously coming to my father and pressuring him to sell his land. My father, who was 80 years old at that time and had lived on his property since age 18, refused to sell his land. He saw it as the legacy that he would leave his children and grandchildren. Since he refused to sell his land, paramilitaries began to terrorize him. They accused him of being a guerilla or that he was an auxiliary of the guerillas. They intimidated us and began to come unto the territory and eat our produce in order to scare my father. Finally, we could no longer take it and we decided to leave.

We all fled to Cartagena and were there for three months. We did not do well there and as head of household I was responsible for the livelihood of my five children. In that place we heard daily about how paramilitaries were going to come in and commit massacres of civilians. We had a lot of fear because we were not originally from there. I was afraid they would ask me for my ID and realize I was not from there and accuse me of being a guerilla just for that reason. We decided that it was better to return to Belén de Bajirá. We returned to an area not too far from my father’s land. This area was also under the control of paramilitaries. There we would hear all about the paramilitaries’ activities because they would commit massacres in Jiguamiandó and then come back to our area to celebrate. We overheard them talking about their combat experiences and the massacres they committed against rural farmers. They commented on how when they committed these acts that children would cry or run away while they committed atrocities. We, who heard all of this, could not say anything to anyone because we were so afraid that if we did we would suffer the same fate. I worked the land in that area as a rural farmer for approximately three and a half years until I was able to return to Guamo. 

Leader 2:I am originally from the Cetino community. One day, when I was six years old my entire family was bathing in the river and my mother was washing our clothes. While doing so we heard a helicopter overhead. That same helicopter returned an hour later and bombed our house. Thank God none of my brothers were inside the house at that moment. The house was completely destroyed and the roof caved in. We had to move to another house. Two days later the paramilitaries arrived around six in the afternoon and started asking for my father. They said that if we did not hand him over that they would take one of my older brothers. They threaten to take all of us if we didn’t hand over my father or an older brother. The paramilitaries then rounded up all of the community’s a
nimals and clothing (chicken, turkeys, horses and approximately 100 cattle). They gathered all of this around 4am in the morning and left. They returned two hours or so later around 6 am for some of the clothing they had left. My family fled to Bajirá and on our way there along the road we came across a colonel of the 17th Brigade. He detained my mother and asked her why we were there. She explained to him what had happened and he responded that they would see what they could do to solve this situation. However, they never did anything.  

Once in Belén de Bajirá my family resided there as displaced persons. The situation was extremely insecure. This was an area where paramilitaries would bring the corpses of all the persons who died during combat operations. We were very scared since we had to coexist in an area where the paramilitaries were also present. The police was also present there but they did not do anything. However, they would go over to the house of a paramilitary known as alias “Palillo” which was one of the places where they took the dead bodies. This paramilitary sold lands that did not belong to him but to the Afro-Colombian collective territory to the Argote family. This land was sold so that they could implement their extensive cattle ranching industry without the consent of our community. Today, this same paramilitary roams free.

WOLA: When you finally return to your land? What did you find?

Leader 1:We found that the entire area was under the control of the paramilitaries. They required all civilians to pay them a “war tax” which they justified they were owed because they had “combated the guerillas” in the area.  When they asked me for me I told them that I was a displaced person and that I did not have money. The only thing I had was five children for whom I needed to cultivate land so that I could sustain them. In June 2004, the returned IDP community decided to elect me as their legal representative and that was when we began our struggle. We based our initiatives on law 70 of the black communities and started to work on how we could get this law implemented. Ever since that day we have experienced many difficulties and threats. The business owners who usurped our territories did not want to cease their economic activities. In 2005, I was elected to be the Vice President of the Major Council and we began to organize other communities located in the area whose rights were abused. Threats against us just continue to grow. In 2007, some businessmen and paramilitaries sought me out and asked “how much would it take to make me happy” so that I give up my fight. I told them that they would never buy me because my community had entrusted me as their leader and I was not willing to betray my community. Things continued and my security situation deteriorated. In November 2009, a man from my community informed me that while I was cultivating my fields that men had come looking for me to kill me. This occurred three times, and as a result of these attempts I fled to Bogotá. There I denounced these incidents. However, after some time I decided that I wanted to go back, but I could no longer return to the same place. For that reason, I decided to go live in the humanitarian zone of Camelias. I’ve been residing there for the past two years. At least there I am closer to my land.

Leader 2:When I was fifteen years old my family decided to return, and we established ourselves in the humanitarian zone of Caracolí. The first thing we noticed is that a lot of rural farmers were returning to their lands. We were all very happy to be going back to our territories. At the same time there was a lot of pain on all of our part because of what we had gone through. For the first time we were able to denounce all the violations that we had suffered and we did not fear doing so. During our return period the businesses illegally operating in our lands managed to get eviction orders from the municipality of Riosucio. This is a very corrupt municipality and a female judge granted them these papers. However, the army that was supposed to evict us would arrive in the area and tell us about the eviction notices. They would not actually implement them. Upon return it also became very obvious that business owners were implementing large scale cattle ranching and oil palm cultivation projects in a large portion of the Caracolí territory.

WOLA: How does the self-protection model called “humanitarian zones” operate?

Both:The humanitarian zones function in the following fashion: First, you delineate a zone that you designate to be a “humanitarian zone.” For example, Carmelias’ 3 hectares were designated for this purpose and so was Enrique Petro’s plot of land which is about 5 hectares. In those designated areas large signs were put up with lettering that states that these zones are only and exclusively for the civilian population. In these “humanitarian zones,” no armed groups—army, paramilitaries or guerillas—can be present. All of the residents of the humanitarian zones commit themselves to follow a series of non-violent principles that regulate our conduct. Each person who resides in the zone is responsible for who enters the zone. We all have to guarantee that no armed person or individual linked with any of the armed groups enter the zone. The community council must be informed ahead of time if a resident is expecting a visitor. If someone arrives without prior warning then he or she must wait at the entrance until the community grants the person the authorization to enter the humanitarian zone.

This mechanism guarantees that all of the residents of the humanitarian zones are civilians who are not involved in the internal armed conflict. This mechanism gives us a level of protection and minimizes the possibility of linking us to the armed groups’ conflict. The protection is bolstered by national and international organizations that provide us with physical accompaniment. When there is an attack against our community these groups help to generate international political pressure that protects us.

It is worth noting that the humanitarian zones are supported by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. These zones are based on principles of international humanitarian law which is an agreement among nations to minimize the effects of internal conflicts on the civilian population. The OAS has also granted Afro-Colombian communities special protective measures due to the abuses that took place in the past and continue to take place in this part of Colombia.

WOLA: What is the difference between “humanitarian zones” and “biodiversity zones”?

Both:We consider the “biodiversity zones” to be the daughters of the “humanitarian zones” because they follow the same principles. In the “biodiversity zones” you will find large signs that say that these are “biodiversity zones.” These signs help to delineate the zone that armed groups cannot go into. The difference between these zones and the humanitarian zones is that it is land we have designated for guaranteeing our food security and, as such, the sustainability of our communities. We use such zones not only to guarantee our food security but to also conserve our ecology. The humanitarian zones serve as self-protection mechanisms for us, the displaced, and our families. The biodiversity zones are how we guarantee food security and the natural environment for our children. In the biodiversity zones we cultivate plantain, manioc, rice, maize, cacao, coconuts and other food items in an environmentally sustainable manner. In these zones we want to rebuild what the businesses destroyed when they occupied our lands. We have implemented various re-forestation projects to try to recuperate the environmental patrimony of our land that was d
estroyed while we were displaced.

WOLA: In your presentations in the U.S. you mentioned that various strategies were employed in order to force you to abandon your land with the goal of later using the land for the development of large scale economic monoculture crop and cattle ranching projects.  What are these strategies?

Both: Several strategies have been employed to make us abandon our lands:

The first strategy was to say that they would “get rid of the guerillas” from the land. Under this supposed military counter-guerilla strategy what really happened was that the civilian population was forcibly displaced. After the displacement, our lands were occupied by economic projects.

The second strategy was to try to increase the number of hectares belonging to private individuals with individual titles who resided in the area prior to 1992. As you know, in 1993 Law 70 of the black communities was passed granting our communities collective land titles. Therefore, the strategy was to fraudulently increase the acreage belonging to these individuals. For example, a man named Lino Antonio Diaz, who died in 1996 due to a drowning incident in 1996 and owned two individual land titles, was somehow “resurrected” in 2000. During his “resurrection” he managed to give legal powers over 6,000 hectares to a woman. Later, after a forensic investigation was done, we were able to prove that this was a fraudulent transaction and that it was an illegal transfer of land. Another tactic that was employed was to increase the number of hectares belonging to private land titles so that the added hectares could be utilized for cultivating oil palm.  

A third strategy attempted to buy the conscience of rural farmers by repopulating our lands with rural farmers from other parts of the country. Starting in 2006, persons linked to the companies and paramilitaries began to encourage rural farmers from Córdoba and San Pedro de Urabá to migrate to our lands. These rural farmers are not at fault, however, because they were conned by promises of receiving a lot of money if they moved to our lands. Many are falsely told that these lands belonged to the companies and not us. These “repopulators,” as we refer to them, inform us that their “boss” gave them these lands to work on and that they owe a debt to the persons who own the land. In some cases, we have learned that the oil palm industrialists have given these repopulators documents with a contract that shows payment for services.

This population transfer is causing tensions between us and the repopulators. We believe it is a deliberate strategy on the part of oil palm industrialists to create such tension. However, we recognize that these repopulators are poor rural farmers, like ourselves, who are just being used to implement larger economic interests in our lands. The industrialists utilize the signatures of these farmers in order to get credits from the government through FINAGRO. They obtain such credits by saying that the residents of these lands need them in order to cultivate oil palm. Once the credits are obtained, the industrialists take the persons off the land.

The fourth strategy is to create confusion among the international community by saying that “the communities of Jiguamiandó y Curvaradó” are divided. This is done in order to frighten internationals away from supporting the legitimate owners of the land. To implement this strategy, “parallel” community councils are created and fraudulently legalized. This is not a new strategy. It is one that they first tried implementing in 2004 when Manuel Moya signed an agreement with some of the oil palm companies. Manuel Moya was an afrodescendant rural farmer from Curvaradó, who, like all of us, was forcibly displaced to Carmen del Darién. He met with the oil palm companies in Belén de Bajirá. Later he informed us that he had signed this agreement with them because he feared them and was pressured into doing so. This agreement was later utilized by the oil palm companies to argue that our communities were in favor of oil palm cultivation. We were later able to prove that this was not the case in an assembly we organized in el Guamo in November 2005.

While the first effort at creating false community support for their efforts failed, they have not stopped trying to implement this strategy. In 2009, they created another parallel community council where they placed Germán Marmolejo as its leader. Mr. Marmolejo and the other persons involved do not live in the communities of Jiguamiandó y Curvaradó. In September 12, 2009, an assembly was supposedly organized by our communities that included the participation of Adán Córdoba Palacios (Mayor of Carmen del Darién) and the former Director of Ethnic Minorities, Rosa Carlinas Garcia. This assembly, we were later informed, was financed by oil palm and cattle ranching companies and the food/transport provided by families who own these companies. It included participation of Fabio Gil, a relative of the deceased founders of the paramilitary AUC Carlos Castaño and Vicente Castaño. At this assembly, Germán Marmolejo was “imposed upon” us as the legal representative of the afrodescendant council of the riverbank of Curvaradó.

Later on March 7, 2010 the former Minister of the Interior Fabio Valencia Cossio supported this decision. The Minister was in Carmen del Darién where he announced that they (as in the government) recognized Germán Marmolejo to be the legal representative of our communities and that this decision “could not be reversed.” The 19 communities who were present at that meeting publicly protested this decision and we informed the Minister that we did not recognize Germán Marmolejo to be our representative. The Minister responded by saying that we had two options. The first was to legally recall the decision he was making as Minister and second to organize another assembly where we could name a new legal representative. This assembly took place on April 25, 2010 and it was there that Raúl Palacios was elected as our legal representative. However, the Mayor’s office of Cármen del Darién refused to accept our decision.  

After a parallel community council was formed and the government gave its formal support of this council, we learned that there would be a formal transfer our lands to the parallel community council. We, therefore, filed complaints with all of the appropriate legal organs of the state stating that we were not happy with the transfer of our lands to a parallel council. On May 18, 2010 the constitutional court stopped this fraudulent transfer and ordered the state to do a census that clearly identified the real owners of these territories. It also obligated the state to facilitate the organization of an assembly whereby the communities could name their legal representative.

The government has also tried to generate divisions among members of our communities. The goal of actions is to later say that we are divided and as such the lands should go to illegitimate persons who support the implementation of economic projects in our territories.

The fifth and more recent strategy consists of delegitimizing the credibility of our communities’ leaders by employing false legal accusations against them. These false legal claims are based upon information obtained by demobilized members of illegal armed groups, many of whom are currently in jail. This strategy seeks to neutralize our leaders so that when the constitutional court conducts its population census our leaders are detained. We were recently informed that approximately 20 members of our community have pending arrests warrants against them. When we first learned of this we immediately denounced it and this generated a lot of pressure from the U.S. We greatly appreciate all of the efforts done by U.S. organizations to generate this pressure on behalf of our communities. This pressure forced th
e government to be transparent about what was going on. As such, government officials responded that no arrest warrants existed against members of our communities. They stated that what exists is a list of guerillas that the state has on a capture list. We were informed that this list contains several members of our communities including María Ligia Chaverra, the former legal representative of the Major Council of Curvaradó, Manuel Denis Blandón, the actual representative of the Major Council of Jiguamiandó,  Martha Cecilia Vargas Navas, leader from the board of directors of the Major Council of the Riverbank of Jiguamiandó, Wilson Mena Romaña, Himber Aurelio Barrios Puentes, Jaime Romaña Palomeque, Alejandro Martínez Piedrahita, Francisco Mena Murillo, Jerónimo Vergara, Nelson de Jesus Gomez Manco, Ovidio González Cabrera, Juan Bauista Diaz Agamez (deceased), Jhon Jaime Romaña Denis, Roberto Antonio Delgado Murillo and Willinton Cuesta Córdoba. All of these persons are members of our communities. We know that they are not guerillas and that this is an effort to false accuse these leaders in order to discredit them. We find it particularly suspicious that the list of supposed “guerillas” contains some very well respected leaders from the humanitarian zones. The list also contains other persons that we do not know. We view this as a clear strategy to discredit our leaders so that when the census takes place they are no longer an “obstacle” for the transfer of these lands to illegitimate owners.

WOLA: One criticism against your communities is that the collective lands belong to Afro-Colombians but there are mestizos living among you. How do you respond to these criticisms?

Both:This accusation was made by Rosa Carlina Garcia from the Direction of Ethnic Minorities from the previous government. On March 7, 2010 she stated that mestizos were recognized to be part of these communities. Later in Quibdó in a meeting with members of the communities she said that mestizos did not have the right to be there because the collective territories belong only to Afro-Colombians. Our communities responded that mestizos have resided in these communities since the time of their ancestors, just like the Afro-Colombians. Mestizos were displaced jointly with Afro-Colombians during the combat operations conducted by the 17th Brigade. Mestizos have coexisted with Afro-Colombians in these communities for several generations and some families have inter-mixed. There are persons and children who are descendants of both mestizos and Afro-Colombians. More importantly, mestizos have lived the same Afro-Colombian culture and customs in Chocó for more than three decades. The Constitutional Court has ruled that mestizos are recognized within the framework of Law 70 of the black communities for these very reasons.

In May 18, 2010 the Corte expressed the following in its ruling: “We understand that within the Afro-Colombian riverbank communities of Curvaradó y Jiguamiandó there is a mestizo population that has maintained for decades extensive familiar, cultural and social relations with the Afro-Colombian communities. Given this they are recognized as being a part of those communities by the communities themselves. Due to their extensive ties with these (Afro-Colombian) communities it is impossible to make decisions on these communities without affecting their autonomy. This situation has already been recognized by several collective land titling processes.”(Page 1) 

WOLA: President Santos is promoting a new land and victims’ law. What is your opinion of this effort? Do you think that your relationship with the Santos Administration will be different from that of the prior Administration?

The association of humanitarian zones and riverbank communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó note a difference with the Juan Manuel Santos Administration. The prior government headed by President Alvaro Uribe Vélez did not want to recognize the rights of victims of the internal armed conflict. It also did not want to recognize that victims had land rights. In this respect, President Santos has already recognized that victims do exist and that these victims have land rights. We hope that this proposed law does not just remain on paper. Past experiences have taught us that laws like law 975 on justice and peace were utilized in order to further other agendas. In the case of that law, it was a law that was supposed to dismantle paramilitaries and to guarantee non-repetition of such groups. While this was the way it was presented to the world, what we experienced in our region was not a real demobilization of paramilitaries. Rather, we saw a legalization of many of their activities. We therefore say that while the purpose of that law was to do one thing, what actually happened was another. The reality is that illegal things happened.

In a recent meeting in Buenaventura, our communities found that that Afro-Colombians do not form part of the land law proposed by the new government due to our right to be previously consulted. Later, a commission of the government that visited Camelias on November 21 told us that there will be measures for the black communities. We are waiting to see what steps will be taken to deal with the land rights of black communities. We find it problematic that the law refers to persons to persons who formed part of the lists for law 975 as beneficiaries. We at this point are not included in the law while the plan states that we will be. We hope it gets resolved before the government begins to return lands.

WOLA: The Colombian government has stated to U.S. policymakers that your lands have been returned to you. Have they been returned?

Both:That is false. Our communities have just received some documents. Resolution 2424 from September 10, 2007 states that the territories belong to us. However, steps have not been taken to physically return these lands. In our territories, oil palm and cattle ranching companies continue to operate. Industrialists and paramilitaries have resettled other people from different parts of the country to work on our lands. Those persons are cultivating various crop monocultures including cassava, plantain, pineapple and rubber. The UNIBAN, Banacol and Banur companies that also have received financing from paramilitaries have been operating in Curvaradó since 2008.

WOLA: The Colombian government has said to the world that paramilitaries no longer exist in Colombia, is this case?

Both: The AUC paramilitaries that operate in Chocó devised a strategy whereby they offered some youths that were not paramilitaries 600,000 to a million pesos if they “demobilize” to the authorities. To do this they had to pretend that they were members of the Elmer Cardenas Bloc (BEC). The majority of the actual paramilitaries did not demobilize. After this supposed demobilization took place we just see that these same paramilitaries continue to operation. However, now they’ve “legalized” themselves. It is the same persons who formed part of the AUC who are part of the new paramilitary groups known as the Black Eagles, Rastrojos and Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces. When these men were part of the AUC they wore camouflage uniforms that including lettering on their arms saying AUC. Now these same men are dressed as civilians and they use shorter firearms. On September 2, 2010 a member of our community saw 20 of these men dressed in the uniforms they used to use.

Paramilitaries continue with the same activities they did before. They intimidate and assassinate rural farmers in our region with the same level of rigor. They continue to protect the oil palm and other economic interests in the area. They extort people by charging residents “taxes” for many things. Wood, plantain and agricultural products that are bought or sold in the area and transport
ed along the rivers is all “taxed” by them. In Pavarandó, they control all the movement and have posts whereby rural farmers have to pay 30,000 pesos to transport their agricultural products. The drivers of the cars containing the merchandise have to pay 10,000 pesos.

WOLA: What happens to persons who report the activities of the paramilitaries?

Both: When a person denounces the activities of paramilitaries to the armed forces or the police, it is that same public security force takes it upon itself to tell the paramilitaries that someone is reporting them. There exist cases where persons are murdered after reporting such activity to the public forces. For example, at there is the case that took place at the end of 2009 in Brisas. There a youth that lived in one of the local towns reported the activities of the paramilitaries to the military. The paramilitaries later dragged him out of his house. He was screaming loudly begging to the paramilitaries that they not kill him. No one could help him because everyone feared that if they interfered the same fate would befall on them. They tied him up and dragged him along the local road until he was dead. They killed him very publicly in order to send a message to everyone else that anyone who did what he did would end up dead. The army has a post located right in front of where the paramilitaries operate in Brisas but they did not do anything. His body was later found along the riverbank. It was totally destroyed to the point that you could not recognize him. Everyone remains scared because there has been no justice in these crimes. They all remain in impunity.

WOLA: This week you visited the U.S. Congress. What recommendations did you make to them about your situation?

Both: Our principal recommendation to the U.S. Congress is that its members pressure the Colombian government to arrest the persons responsible for taking away our territories. We want there to be justice in our case. We would like the Attorney General’s 3856 order that calls for the arrests of 24 industrialists for their ties to paramilitaries and displacement of our communities to be applied. Furthermore, there are other business owners who are cattle ranchers that are not currently in that arrest warrant that should be. We would like them to also face justice. The U.S. finances Colombia’s counter-terrorism efforts. We ask that the U.S. Congress review whether or not these funds are being used by the armed forces to protect civilians and displaced rural farmers. In our case, we ask the U.S. to investigate the conduct of the 15th Brigade and the police that operates in our region and the ties members of these have with paramilitaries. It is important that U.S. Members of Congress know that if they continue supporting our government with money for its armed forces that these forces are committing crimes. By supporting such armed forces, the U.S. is indirectly supporting internal displacement and human rights violations. We are concerned that in our part of the country we see the armed forces moving around with the paramilitaries and that the guerillas continue to operate there as well.  We understand that this U.S. financing is supposed to get rid of the guerillas. If the U.S. government takes away military financing to armed forces in Colombia who are not doing their job, we think this might better support peace and resistance efforts on the part of our communities. We think an end to the war and justice for the victims needs U.S. support.

WOLA: How do you cope with so much injustice and at the same time have such hope that your situation can change?

Both: In 2000 and 2001 we experienced how our armed forces and paramilitaries operated with complete impunity. We see that thanks to god, the models of self-protection that we constructed—the humanitarian zones and biodiversity zones—that we have been able to stay close to our territories. These “zones” have helped us greatly and they’ve served to strengthen our communities. With these protection models we have cultivate hope and we have faith that legally we will achieve justice. Some day we will be able to fully return to our territories. We strongly believe in these self-protection mechanisms and think that with them we can achieve the full return of our lands. We have not lost our faith. Again, we believe that through our legal struggle we will achieve justice. We ask all of you, especially U.S. civil society to continue to support us so that our lands are returned to us legally and without war. We don’t think you can resolve anything though war. The only way forward to get to justice is with non-violent action.

For further information, please contact Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, WOLA at [email protected]