By John Williams
Peace is quite literally in every step of the land-sharing community of San JosÃ© de ApertadÃ³ in northwestern Colombia.
After a 1997 massacre of seven community leaders by the state army, the whole community dedicated themselves to non-violence and cooperative farming. Since the community’s founding, it has suffered 160 cases of murder from outside forces.
At a Feb. 22 event hosted by the Colombia Program of the international peace and justice organization Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), members of the Peace Community of San JosÃ© came to Santa Cruz to show the documentary Hasta La Ãšltima Piedra (Until the Last Stone).
“Peace was our only option,” said speaker Juan Giron, an original member of the community since it was founded 10 years ago. “If we had retaliated against the government, there would have only been more deaths.”
Maintaining a peaceful community has been no easy task in Colombia, a country on the brink of civil war. Groups in rebellion against the government are fighting for control of land rich in oil and other resources.
According to John Lindsay-Poland, another FOR speaker who has spent the last five years in different parts of Colombia, the government troops are no less controversial than those of the rebellion movements.
“Since 2000, the United States has spent more than $4 billion on ‘Plan Colombia’ as part of the war on drugs—80 percent of it [going to] military aid, which has greatly escalated the war in Colombia,” Lindsay-Poland said.
According to Giron and Lindsay-Poland, it was government troops who were responsible for killing the community leaders in 1997, as well as a similar atrocity in 2005. Community members who witnessed the event said that government army soldiers killed eight people on Feb. 21, 2005, including one founding member of the community, Rigoberto Guznan.
The movie showing coincided with a major victory for the San JosÃ© peace movement, when the Felicitia, the Colombian equivalent of the Attorney General, announced that it was charging 69 soldiers with their involvement in killings during the last few years, including a dismemberment of one community member and the murder of a child with a machete.
“This announcement is hopefully a step in the right direction,” Lindsay-Poland said. “But [President Alvaro Uribe] is still trying to move backward. [Uribe reacted by going] on television and declared that San JosÃ© was infiltrated by guerrillas working against the government.”
The event also stressed the United States’ involvement in Colombia.
“The focus of public officials and much of the media in the United States has been on drugs and violence. The motives for the U.S. commitment—such as access to oil in Colombia—have remained hidden,” said Lindsay-Poland, who urged the listeners to get involved in changing Colombian policy by writing letters to representatives. Harry Edwards, a representative of the U.S. International Aid Office, disagreed with these statements.
“The Colombian government is using U.S. funding to create peace as much as is possible, but it is not an easy task,” Edwards said in a phone interview.
Lindsay-Poland, however, held true to his statements and considers American involvement in Colombia similar to the situation in Iraq.
“The United States has gotten in deep in Colombia, in tangled in a web of ignorance and deceit, and has no exit strategy.”