By Lee Schlenker
Last week, our Colombia International Team, along with New England regional organizer Lee Schlenker, accompanied Leider Valencia of COCCAM Colombia and local campesino, union and human rights leaders at Finca La Elvira, a former sugar cane plantation turned collective small farmer reserve (zona de reserva campesina) in the municipality of Miranda, Cauca.
Leider, who toured the Midwestern United States this past October with the Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, has been receiving—along with his family, organization and community at large—an increasing number of threatening visits from paramilitary and unidentified armed actors due to their fearless activism around land justice, crop substitution, reintegration of ex-combatants and sustainable rural development.
During this accompaniment, we heard members discuss the increasing violence caused by state-paramilitary incursions into their territories in service of agribusiness, as well as the community's organized responses, including self-defense through the guardia campesina; women building sovereignty through a medicinal and spiritual plant mini-industry; indigenous-campesino unity around water sovereignty projects; and tilapia, coffee, banana and bioenergy production—all up against the extensive private sugar plantations and mineral extraction projects surrounding La Elvira in Valle del Cauca and the mountains to the East.
Our accompaniment visit to Leider's community came in the wake not only of a public interview with the director of Programa Nacional Integral de Substitución (PNIS), Hernando Londoño, in which he criminalizes and admonishes the denunciations of former coca producers who've joined the program, but at the same time as the US and Colombian militaries performed joint paratrooper exercises at the Tolemaida Air Base outside of Bogotá, further flexing military threats towards neighboring Venezuela.
Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective continues to stand in solidarity with Leider and COCCAM as we jointly demand the US to support the full implementation of and adherence to every article of the Havana Peace Accords signed in November 2016, including comprehensive land reform and voluntary, manual crop substitution by ex-cultivators, as well as truth, justice and reparations to all indigenous, Afro-descendent and campesino leaders and organizations—the primary victims of the armed conflict—who continue to fight for the right to their ancestral lands against multinational and US corporate interests.