Our Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective and WFP Southeast 2023 speaker’s tour which focused on sustainable and participatory peace in Colombia has come to an end. It is now with a sigh of relief and joy, we can express gratitude for a very successful end. After five months of strategizing, organizing, and dealing with bureaucracy, Briceida Lemos, a Colombian human rights defender, was finally able to visit the Southeast. She shared about the struggle for peace and land restoration that Colombian Campesinas have led with numerous groups across North Carolina and Washington D.C. Among those who met with Briceida were students, professors, farmers’ collectives, church, and grassroots organizations, as well as four US Congress Representatives and Senators.
On this two-week-long speaker’s tour (Nov 6-21) Jessica Garcia, our WFPSC Colombia Program Co-director, Tirzah Villegas, the Director of Witness for Peace Southeast, and Georie Bryant, member of the WFPSC board, accompanied Briceida. We are deeply grateful for everyone who met with Briceida and our colleagues, and to everyone who opened their doors to host us and graciously provide support in a variety of ways.
Big thanks to everyone who participated for sharing your energy and wisdom. We exchanged knowledge, healed, and strategized together, all in support of sustainable and participatory peace in Colombia. We recommitted ourselves to centering youth and honored the legacies of our elders. Most importantly, we created a shared understanding of the centrality of land for communities building peace while resisting repression, displacement, and genocide.
We are grateful for this time to reconnect and recommit to our shared struggle. In fact, this is just the beginning and we would like to share our learnings and next steps with you. We look forward to staying in touch and creating opportunities to continue accompanying processes that build peace and food sovereignty from within the rural territories.
This tour has allowed us to value the importance of our relationship with the land, its defense against the advance of the extractivist model, and its direct relationship with the generation of violence in territories rich in natural resources, as is the case of Colombia. In this particular case, emphasis has been placed on the importance of building food sovereignty from community-based processes and the need to have peace in the territory to advance in these processes.
If we could learn anything on this tour in the exchanges we had with Briceida is that there is no food sovereignty without peace, but neither is it possible to build peace if we are not able to produce our own food, if we are not able to generate community productive processes that allow us to get the necessary food for our families and communities. That is why it is so important to continue listening to and caring for those who take care of our land and defend it every day.
As we have learned to exercise international solidarity with grassroots processes that share a common ground in land defense and food sovereignty, some challenges remain and new ones emerge.
One great challenge is to continue insisting on the importance of peace-building. It is impossible to develop sustained processes of food sovereignty if there is no peace for the communities, that is if there is no definitive resolution to the armed conflict in Colombia.
Why do we say that this is a challenge for us?
Unfortunately, the United States has played a central role in sustaining militaristic policies and in particular, the so-called "war on drugs." This one-sided war has only resulted in creating more victims of violence. It has been exacerbated by the militarization of the territory and the persecution of Campesina, Black, and Indigenous communities. Today, it is necessary to change these US policies and support existing initiatives in Colombia that seek to definitively resolve the ongoing armed conflict and change the perspective on the solution to the problem of drug trafficking.
To overcome this challenge, we hope to continue visibilizing the struggles of land defenders and accompanying those who have committed to peace-building from and for the territories. For this reason, we hope that our support network in the United States will continue to support us as they have done for these past 40 years of our work in Latin America.
Organizations, universities, and Congressional offices visited:
Jewish Farmer’s Network
Tierra Negra farm
JMPRO Community Media
Hawks Nest Healing Garden
Simon G Atkins CDC
Southside Food Forest
Poder del Pueblo
Latin American Working Group
Warren Wilson College
Appalachian State University
Tilde interpreting Cooperative
Duke University Por Colombia
North Carolina State University dept of Anthropology
Duke Divinity Hispanic House of Studies
United Methodist Church NC Conference
The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church
US Representatives and Senators: Mark Pocan, Ilhan Omar, Jeff Merkey y Jim McGovern