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IN A CIVIL WAR
Never before in our sixteen years has the act of publishing an article held the potential to save so many lives. Leila Dregger explains.
eople came from many parts of Europe to the Summer University 2005 in Tamera Ecovillage, Portugal – most of them with the goal of finding inspiration for a different way of living... Inspiration about ecology, solar technology, architecture, about future perspectives and cohabitation. But two of the guests were different. Maria Brigida Gonzales and Jesus Emilio Tuberquia came a long way to Tamera and they had a good reason for doing so. For them, creating an eco-village could be a crucial question of survival. They come from the peace village San José de Apartadó in northern Colombia. Maria Brigida and Jesus Emilio are short, simply dressed people with brown skin. Jesus Emilio, 40, is a farmer. He fights to stay on his land and to cultivate bananas and cacao peacefully, the way his family always did, but a civil war has been going on for a long time in his country. “Maybe you can see my sadness”, he says. “I saw so many people die who worked in the field with me like brothers.” Maria Brigida, 53, is a teacher in the peace village, San José de Apartadó. She cries when Jesus Emilio talks about the murders. Seconds later, however, her face is full of laughter lines when she is asked to sing the song of her village. “In the middle of the war we plant a seed of hope,” she says. “Every seed we put into the soil is a sign of hope that the world of war will be replaced by a world of peace one day.”
The richness of resources, the fertility and its strategic position made the region of northern Colombia a dead zone. Heavily armed and after 40 years of war, merciless bands of soldiers, guerrillas, paramilitary and criminals fight for dominance. Not infrequently the hidden agenda is international economic interest in the region. The civil population is banished. Thousands are kidnapped, tortured and murdered. 3.5 million people became refugees in their own country: former farmers ended up in the slums of the cities.
But they know by experience that only an international, and particularly European, presence in the peace village would be respected in Colombia. This would make the attacks on the village stop. With these thoughts in mind, the two representatives travelled through Europe this summer. They came to the Summer University in Tamera at exactly the right moment. Most of the 300 participants who listened to them felt the urgent wish to help them. Amongst them were many who are able to do this as speakers and co-workers of the emerging Solar Village of Tamera – specialists in permaculture, earth building, ecology, water technology, conflict resolution, public relations and solar energy. The sympathy for the destiny of the peace village gave them a focus and they entered into fast and efficient co-operation. The initiative ‘San José Solar’ was thus born. One of the work groups of the Summer University, the forum for peace journalism, started a press campaign and an internet demonstration to give the Colombian government a sign: Europe knows San José and the peace village cannot be eliminated in silence. They hope this will help them to gain time to plan San José Solar. The Tamera solar team, which is building the demonstration solar village in Portugal, has agreed to participate. Solar specialist, Jürgen Kleinwächter said, “It can’t be that these brave people are threatened and the global solar community remains silent. Together with them we can and will build solar systems to purify water, produce energy for cooking and simple processing machines for cacao and bananas.” In the middle of the war zone lies the village San José de Apartadó. The 1,350 inhabitants decided in March 1997, in a celebratory ceremony, to escape the dangers of the conflict and to make their community a neutral place, a peace community. They abstain from weapons and drugs and do not co-operate with any of the conflicting parties. But all the same, a few days after that they were banished for the first time. Again and again they have come back. Since the founding of the peace village, 164 of its inhabitants have been brutally murdered – children, women and men. No warring party or the government has protected the campensinos. Their refusal to co-operate with any military unit is a thorn in the side of all parties. Not one of the murderers has been sentenced so far nor brought to trial. After the last massacre on 21 February 2005, which was internationally decried by human rights organisations, armed police units were stationed in San José, resulting in 400 inhabitants leaving in April. They neither felt protected by the police presence, nor could they tolerate armed units in their ‘weapon-free area’. They moved a few kilometres deeper into the forest and built a completely new village: San Josésito. Here they live off the grid without mains electricity or water and without access to medical care or markets for their agricultural products. But the soil is fertile. San José and the 12 other peace communities of Colombia had already founded an alternative ‘University of Life and of Resistance’ two years ago. They exchange practical knowledge and are supported by prominent human rights organisations and people opposed to the war.
28 Permaculture Magazine No. 47 www.permaculture.co.uk
Katja Long, co-ordinator of the support for San José, comments, “I have the deepest respect for these people. After all their bad experiences, they do not carry weapons and have no thirst for revenge. They just want to live. If we can help them with the knowledge that we have developed in our community and network, it would be a great honour. I see this experiment as a beacon of hope and not only for Colombia.” The survival plan for San José, developed with the participants of the Summer University in Tamera is of a model ecological village with a permanent international presence. In the long term, a permaculture village for tropical conditions could develop, with organic gardens, solar systems, natural water purification plants, a school and a clinic. Such an experiment could even, if it gets an international reputation for best practice, make the Colombian public authorities proud and therefore protect it more effectively. In the meantime, Hermann Scheer, holder of the alter-native Nobel Prize and founder of the Europe wide initiative for sustainable energies, ‘Eurosolar’, offered to become responsible for the solar plans for San José Solar. In September, three co-workers of Tamera will visit San José, make an appraisal of the situation and look for partners with whom the visions for San José Solar can be deepened. Many things are still needed in San José: political negotiations with the Colombian public authorities, health care, help for traumatised children, inner peace work with people who have known war all their lives and more. But creating an ecovillage is the first step: an international
and multi-cultural construction site, a base for the inner conciliation which must happen in this wounded country. YOU CAN HELP! Please read the information on our website: www.sossanjose.org and send the appeal you will find there by fax to the Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe. Fax: +57 1 337 5890 or +57 1 342 0592. It is the best if you fax after 9am Bogotá time (2pm GMT) or write to him in your own words in English or Spanish. Please tell him that you have heard about San José, that you protest against the violation of human rights there and that you want San Jose to be protected from any military intervention or presence
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