“I remember Trinidad lending me his wellies, as I turned up with totally inappropratie brand new white trainers. He was always taking care of people”
“I remember being in a meeting with him when the paras arrived outside. He kept everyone calm with his soothing words and composed response to the terrifying situation”
The four-day meeting opened with the warm sharing of memories of two members of CISCA, killed in 2005 and 2006. Re-knowing that every action and every word that we make is part of a process that stretches both back and forward is for me a beautiful part of CISCA, the Committee for the Social Integration of Catatumbo. Their aim, as a social organisation, is not just to respond to human rights violations nor in opposing the imposition of a huge open cast coal mine though they do both of these and more. Unlike so many seemingly single issue organisations that emerge and fade in the UK, their vision is none less than the audacious plan to rebuild the social fabric of Catatumbo and to live, as campesinos, on their lands with each other and nature in a deeply respectful and contented way, through their community based development plans, known as “Planes de Vidas” – Plans for Life.
The first paramilitary invasion of their territory in 1999, in El Tibu, left 800 people killed or disappeared and 20 thousand fled their homes. The AUC paramilitary occupation continued until late 2004, when the supposed demobilisation began. In August 2004 CISCA held their first gathering of associations with the necessary accompaniment of La red as paramilitaries were closeby. Faced wth juntas de accion communal (community action groups) in shreds, community shops destroyed, people with little hope, large displaced populations, staple food crops poisoned as part of the ‘war on drugs’, they set about the task of reconstructing the social fabric with a awe inspiring determination.
They are a long way from their aim yet the culture of organising in juntas breathes on. Juntas began to re-organise themselves in associations on a municipality levels and these associations form part of CISCA, a space for regional coordination. Over the past five years they have encouraged more and more communities to rebuild the networks of solidarity economics, rebuild their cultural lives, rebuild their community organising where they can resolve local conflicts, confront corrupt mayors, repair their roads, demand that roads are paved so they are passable in the rainy season; to rebuild the possibilities and dreams of living a campesino culture that has been violently under attack.
My four days in the village of Maracaibo, with the guerilla and the army alternatively making their presence known, eating a combination of rice, yuca, grated cheese and eggs I learnt what I know; I want to breathe my life’s vocation, I want a coherent healthy rich life; I am in awe at the wisdom, humbleness, intelligence and kindness of the people I was with. I am envious of their culture that we are so far from having the capacity to build in the UK.
I love pouring over maps, exploring all the detail that is contained in the illustration; each colour, each different style of line gives me a piece of information with which I build up an image of a reality. This map, put together as different associations shared information with each other, tells of a new stage in history arriving to confront CISCA’s vision and plans for their region.
Conservation International Colombia have recently contacted several associations asking for help in conducting an investigation into the flora and fauna within the parque forestal (area above the dotted green line) related to a plan to change the perimeter of the forestry reserve. As long as the zona de interes minero (mining interest area) is within the forestry reserve it cannot be exploited. Conservation International are not telling the associations what their real motive is. So far, they have been giving conflicting information and trying to get agreement from one association by lying to them about supposed support they already have from another association.
Conservation International public line is that it is ‘real world fact’ that multinationals are going to mine and so best to work with them to preserve biodiversity. What they don’t mention is the role they have played in ensurng this supposed objective fact becomes true. They have been described as “the trojan horse of multinationals” undermining local resistance and alternative community based development plans in order to facilitate their corporate partners entry into rural areas.
The strategies used to get territorial control of natural resources in Catatumbo have been many:
o Paramilitary massacres were the most extensive and brutal in the two municipalities, Tarra and Tibu, where the potential mining area is located.
o The majority of fumigations and manual erradication in Catatumbo has occurred in the potential mining area.
o Detentions of campesinos for growing coca is predominantly in this area.
o And now a Multinational Conservation Corporation has arrived.
I asked why the government did not lift the forestry reserve immediately after the paramilitary violence, when the social organisations were their weakest and the habitants had fled from their lands. Why have they waited and now they have to find a way to displace the same people again in order to extract the coal reserves? I received varying answers; after the horrors that occurred in the area they did not expect people to later return to their lands; people did not leave the area, they hid deeper in the mountains; the quantity of human rights violations reported was very high and multinationals could not have entered in that period as it would have been obvious that they were benefiting from the massacres and colluding with paramilitaries.
So after a first wave of violent displacement, then returning to their homes and beginning to rebuild their lives the people in this area of Catatumbo are facing an uncertain future. The state needs them out. The imprisonment of campesinos for growing coca leaves the wife and children in a precarious situation and Cisca conjecture that families will then be forced off their land through necessity, bullying or physical force.
I knew that coca is used as a convenient pretext already, but our process of collectively piecing together this specific cold calculated horrific plan still made me swear heavily out loud in english.