February 23, 2018

“We have always said, and we have always been clear about this, that we are still resisting now and that we will keep on resisting and defending our rights. We do not know for how long, because what history tells us is that today we may be here talking together, but tomorrow we could be dead. That today we are in San José de Apartadó, tomorrow most of us might be displaced because there could be a massacre..."

-from an interview with Luis Eduardo Guerra, 37 days before he was murdered along with 7 other people

More than 300 murders and hundreds of disappearances, tortures, displacements, robberies, and threats throughout its 21 years of history have not numbed the peace community of San José de Apartadó’s ability to feel pain, but nor have they dulled their capacity for resistance. Each new aggression is experienced with the same intensity, a mixture of suffering, anger, and rage. “Fear is what we feel least. We think that those who gave their lives and did not give in, have triumphed. That is why we must carry on even though there may be new attacks,” a number of small-scale farmers told us in Mulatos a few days ago, recalling the 2005 massacre. The most recent proof of this tenacity was their joint reaction to the attempted murder of Germán Graciano, legal representative of the community, on 29 December: the small-scale farmers faced up to the hitmen, disarmed them, captured them, and thus prevented further killings.

Nevertheless, the impact of what happened on 21 February, 2005 in Mulatos and La Resbalosa could have had consequences for the community’s continuity. These brutal murders, whose victims had their throats slit and their bodies hacked to pieces, ended the lives of 7 members of the community: 35 year-old Luis Eduardo Guerra; 17 year-old Bellanira Areiza; 11 year-old Deiner Andrés Guerra; 30 year-old Alfonso Bolívar; 24 year-old Sandra Milena Muñoz; 6 year-old Natalia Andrea Tuberquia; and 2 year-old Santiago Tuberquia. Alejandro Perez, a 30 year-old small scale farmer from the area was also shot dead. The killing of Luis Eduardo Guerra, one of the most important leaders in the history of the community; the intense smear campaign after the massacre; and the militarisation of San José seemed to point to a wish to end this model of civil resistance to the war.

The community was clear from the beginning. The intention of the military and paramilitaries who committed the massacre (a few of whom have been convicted, but not those mainly responsible) was “to erase us from the map, but it was not the end but a new beginning," as one of the residents of San Josesito affirms. Another small-scale farmer, who received training from Luis Eduardo Guerra when he entered the community, admits that after the massacre they lost organizational capacity “and an almost irreplaceable person, but we drew strength from wherever we could, to carry on. Now our aim is to not lose any more of our community members so that we can continue moving forwards."

Since then, the community has not only maintained itself but has been strengthened with the incorporation of new generations into its coordination, developing productive projects and recovering lands. A year after the massacre, the first families returned to Mulatos and built the Luis Eduardo Guerra Peace Village.

“To give their life rather than giving up their land”

Luis Eduardo Guerra was born in Peque (Antioquia), but as a child he moved with his parents to Mulatos. When the war in the area intensified, he was one of the first to decide on civil resistance and he visited the villages in the area, along with other small-scale farmers, to see “who was willing to give their life rather than giving up their land,” as recalls one of the leaders from the community that shared those days with Luis Eduardo, or Lucho, as he was also known. Around 700 small-scale farmers committed to neutrality, establishing the peace community on 23 March, 1997 and electing the first Internal Council to coordinate them, which included Lucho.

A few days after this, a massive paramilitary attack took place and several massacres were committed in the community. “We lived in a situation of terrible tension; we had to meet 2 or 3 times a day to decide what to do and, at the same time, we were going to pick up bodies and we were facing the army that were constantly stopping and searching us." From then on, the firm principles that characterize this population were forged. And Lucho was a good example. “He was clear, direct, and, even though he liked to have a laugh among friends, he had a serious way about him, he made convincing speeches and he was committed to the community until the end.” This radical defense of his beliefs put him in the spotlight of those who wanted to end the community’s model of living.

He was forced to leave San José, but after 3 years he decided to return despite the recommendations of his companions. “He would say to us: ‘I’m not doing anything at all, while you lot are all getting stuck into the work.’ He came back and a few months later he was killed.” He made a conscious decision to return, he assessed the risks he was running, but he had to do it because it was his life choice, according to those who lived through those tragic days. “He even knew that a military operation was going on when he went that day to Mulatos to work on his land. He thought that nothing would happen to him because the Army was in the area. What is more, at that time he was the main person responsible for dialogue with the Government.” The community members who continue fighting for a decent life talk about him with pride: “we lost Lucho, a friend, a companion and a leader…but he and all those who are no longer with us, taught us the way forward."