This article was written by the Peace Brigades International- Colombia Project
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was born 25 years ago, amid violence and forced displacement. Men and women, peasants, from different rural communities in the department of Antioquia organized themselves to create a neutral community as a response to the conflict, and they built a peaceful alternative to preserve life and protect their territory. Since then, the Peace Community has shared its perspectives and experiences with numerous initiatives in Colombia and abroad. In fact, one of the Peace Community’s legacies is the University of Peace and Resistance or Peasant University, created with 20 other Colombian peasant communities.
In 2004 around 60 people from different peasant communities met in the rural area of Arenas Altas, in the township of San José de Apartadó. They decided to create a collective space, rooted in the sharing of knowledge and strategies to jointly strengthen their territorial struggles. Forced to live in areas with systematic sociopolitical violence, these communities developed a strategy that was, and continues to be, based on generating independent alternatives, mixing academia and activism. The Peace University is a collective effort that, since then, has facilitated an exchange of reflections and resistance, to transform the conflict through nonviolence.
University of Resistance; build and strengthen communities by sharing knowledge and experience
At the end of June, the Peasant University held its second gathering on the lands of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. The University received representatives from different Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and peasant communities, as well as organizations and grassroots initiatives such as CRIC, Ríos Vivos, Pan Rebelde, ConPazCol, and the Nasa and Embera peoples, among others. Additionally, the University enjoyed the presence and words of recognized personalities such as human rights defender and politician Gloria Cuartas, and lawyer and human rights defender, Jorge Molano, among others.
The Peasant University: an example of a dignified and sovereign life
For three days the participants interchanged knowledge and collective lessons about health, food sovereignty, land, territory, and their own rights as communities. These issues have been central since the first gathering of the University in 2004, to build stable and lasting peace with a territorial approach. Also, the rural communities proposed alternatives to the food and ecological crisis. From a community perspective that questions the extractive model, representatives of the Nasa Indigenous peoples, from Northern Cauca, proposed inter-ethnic spaces to heal and protect the land. “The territory gives us life, we must treat it kindly and heal it from the exploitation”, they stated. This process is known as the liberation of Mother Earth: “return and protect the land where your birth was celebrated, so that we feel that we are part of Mother Earth once again and we stop exploiting her and feeling she is disconnected from us”.
Another community proposal on the expansion of monocultures is to recover ancestral seeds, placing the focus on food sovereignty. It is recognized that this is not possible without the work of women, who continue to hold the wisdom on the transformation of foods. This is a central aspect of rural life because for the communities, “eating is political” with elements that are symbolic, spiritual, cultural, and identity-based. This is the case of the Peace Community, which grows ecological cacao to make visible the reality of living amid the conflict, as well as the dangers and bravery of laying out one's life where the food is planted.
In the face of war, the Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and peasant communities called for solidarity as an alternative to sociopolitical violence. It is precisely these collective practices that have allowed them to resist over time.
Ariane Paredes and Itsaso Palacio,