Daira recalls her beloved village of La Nupa as a tight-knit Afro-Colombian community where people once moved freely and sang and danced into the late night. They had complete food sovereignty–growing traditional food crops and medicinal plants. However, today, Tumaco, the region where her village is located, is known for the large-scale cultivation of palm oil used for bio-fuels and for the devastating effects of Colombia’s internal conflict. In the Department of Nariño, at least 458,531 people have been forcibly displaced from their homes since 2002, the year that Alvaro Uribe Velez was elected president of Colombia.
In 1999, after helping her community gain legal access to 436 acres of land, land that continues to be of interest to the palm oil industry, Daira began receiving death threats. Painfully aware of the links between big business and the paramilitaries hired to protect corporate interest at any cost, Daira recalls, “I knew that one day it would become too dangerous and that I would have to flee. I received threats like, ‘Shut up or we will cut off your tongue and gouge out your eyes.’”
Tensions escalated and the situation became unbearable when the president of the community council and 6 others were violently murdered. In 2001, Daira left behind the only life she ever knew—her loved ones, community, house and garden—and fled to Bogotá “alone, horrified, hopeless, desperate, and penniless.” Having cried every day for the first two years, Daira says, “I still have a deep pain in my heart, but I have learned to swallow the tears most days.”
This year our Colombia team accompanied Daira back to her community of La Nupa as she facilitated workshops designed to strengthen the communal process as they resist illegal armed groups and African Palm Oil interests seeking to displace the local population and take over their land.
“We, the civilian population, are caught in the middle of a violent struggle between the military, the guerrilla and the paramilitaries—the illegal dark body of the government. The government wants everyone to believe that the conflict is over and there is only violence because of the guerrilla, but that is not true. We are being massacred for all of the richness that this country has—the oil, the emeralds, the minerals—even the water and the air.We have lost thousands and thousands of good, brave people, but the truth of what is happening is being hidden. Everyday there is more and more impunity in this country. There is no truth, justice and reparations for the victims…that is the reason that I work to increase the social consciousness of people in Colombia. People do not realize that as soon as you leave Bogotá the conflict is very much alive.”
Diara works with other displaced people who arrive in Bogotá without “a place to live, food to eat or health insurance. They are scared, disorientated and desperate.” AMDAE provides a myriad of services helping with everything from people’s basic material needs to workshops on dance, music, identity and human rights. “My mom taught me to sing,” says Daira with tears in her eyes as she remembers her mother who was violently murdered in Tumaco several years ago.
“Singing makes me happy and it is a means of resistance. Music helps us understand things that war cannot take away from us. It is an opportunity to move people, people who are tired and not interested in many things can still be moved by music—it motivates them and strengthens their spirit.“
The work of AMDAE focuses largely on Afro-Colombian women. According to Colombia’s Constitutional Court, Afro and Indigenous women are more vulnerable because they confront “triple discrimination for being women, displaced and an ethnic minority.”
Through AMDAE, Daira and 280 women work with other displaced people, as well as with communities in Tumaco, to recuperate their culture, memory, identity and to revive hope and inspire new dreams.
“When people are so violently murdered it affects the dreams and the hopes of the entire community—everyone is affected. I know that I, that we, must keep dreaming. When we stop dreaming then everything ends.”
When asked what message she would send to the people of the United States, Daira answered,
“I would say that the people in Colombia are suffering. We do not need weapons or military bases or more of these militarist policies being imposed on us. We need our children to be educated. We need people to have their land, to have houses and to have options. We need opportunities for a better country. When all the young people are sent to the army, how are we supposed to be able to escape this war and the war mentality? What are they going to learn there? They are going to learn to kill—kill their own countrymen, their brothers and their sisters. You have already done enough. We need to be able to rise up from the ashes and construct our own history and our own process.”