by Colette Cosner, WFP Northwest Regional Organizer
I remember watching one night as human rights defenders from NOMADESC – an organization playing a key role in the investigation of human rights violations in Valle de Cauca – chain-smoked against the skyline. The next day one of them showed me his bullet scars after I had fallen behind the group. We were walking around the militarized perimeter of a hydroelectric dam responsible for displacing 15,000 people. As if cities on a map, he oriented me to the wounds of his body and the risk of supporting land rights for people over multi-national corporations and mega-projects.
Our group listens beside the lake created by the hydroelectric dam project that displaced 15,000 Colombians
I am losing my balance on a rickety suspension bridge in Triana. The bridge connects this small Afro-Colombian community to a highway mega-project. It wasn’t until I was safe on the other side that I remembered why we had crossed. “We were dancing when a tinted truck pulled up outside. Hooded men with guns got out. People were so scarred they contemplated jumping off the bridge,” said a young woman whose father was a victim of an extra-judicial killing—the assassination of innocent civilians by military or paramilitary actors, who then dress victims up in guerilla clothing. Raising “the body count” often results in rewards for the perpetrator.
We went to the river above Triana because that’s where the bodies were found, all eight of them. “There were eight because he liked the number eight,” another woman explained. (Residents of Triana share their experiences of fear and violence.)
I wondered if black birds spray-painted on houses were a cultural symbol of the indigenous reserve we visited. I learned later they were death threats from the paramilitary group Las Aguilas Negras (The black eagles). An indigenous youth leader from the Honduras reserve told us: “Assassinations in Colombia are not about killing people, but about killing ideas.”
Despite this he goes on to explain to us a vision. There are many people who believe the indigenous people of Colombia don’t want development and trade, but what we heard articulated was quite different. “What we want is a trade agreement between communities, not corporations. What we want is development that sustains our dignity and relationship to mother earth. What we don’t want are agro-industrial projects imposed on us by terror.”