Tuesday, March 4, 2008

vereda (Colombia)

vereda: township (Col)

Of course it's not really the same thing since even the most rural place in North America is nowhere near as rural as most veredas, but it's the closest equivalent I could come up with. A vereda is not really even a village, just scattered homes in the jungle in a general area, say, all within a 2 hour walk. If there are a few homes are close together in Colombia they are called a "caserĂ­o" (now that you could call village maybe, though it's often barely that). There can be a caserĂ­o in a vereda. Vereda in Spain means path, so maybe this originally meant all the homes along one path, but it is no longer that specific. It is, however, (along with corregimiento) a legal division of space inside a municipio - which I actually in Colombia usually render as 'county' since they function more like a US county than a municipality. Of course, Canadians and Brits probably won't get the term county. Ah, the joys of context. (Thanks to Kath for additions on this one)

Anyways, my recent walk with the peace community up to the vereda of Mulatos was amazing.

It turned out that this trip was not only a commemoration of the massacre of the leader of the peace community of San Jose, Luis Eduardo Guerra, and his family and another family, as I had explained in my last letter. It was even more powerful than that.

When Luis Eduardo was killed he was up in the area of Mulatos. For me Mulatos is a long painful 9 hour hike straight up the very end of the Andes, right before it ends at the sea. And really, I mean straight up – not a single switchback, just very steep muddy rocky trails. Somehow the community members do this hike in 5 hours. Mulatos is one of the veredas that many of the peace community members had to flee 15 years ago when they were attacked and bombed by the army.

When Luis Eduardo was killed three years ago he was up in Mulatos working his crops on his old land, helping to prepare the way so that community members could return to live there. Obviously after he was killed that dream was put on hold, but it did not die with him.

Amazingly, though slow judicial investigations confirm that the massacre three years ago was committed by the army, and though the army continues to harass them (just last December they killed another community member), seven brave families moved back to Mulatos on this march! They have declared Mulatos a humanitarian zone, in association with the peace community, and are likewise declaring that they will not participate with any of the armed actors in any way, and asking all actors to stay out of the area.

We hiked by a lot of bombed out houses that people had fled years ago and are now being taken over by the jungle. But these brave folks are moving back into some of them, fixing them up and building new ones. They are even working to clean up the old school, now covered with wasp nests and creepy army graffiti, where a 3 year old girl was killed during an air raid. Of course they are too far away for kids to go to school down the mountain, and getting classes going is one of their first priorities.

The land was gorgeous and crazy fertile. We ate bananas that were growing along the path – much more fun than my standard hiking salmon berries! And I ate my first raw cacao, which has big white fuzzy seed pods inside a big yellow fruit. Tastes absolutely nothing like chocolate. Folks (and dogs) from the community caught huge river shrimp, a wild boar, and an armadillo. There were heliconia flowers growing all over, and trees full of those wacky hanging oropendula bird nests.

I thought that I was going on a pilgrimage to sites of death, and indeed, we did hold very moving ceremonies at the two massacre sites, at each of which the community has built beautiful simple little chapels. But this was not a trip focused on death - it was very much a trip full of life, of carrying on the dream, of building and rebuilding community. There was a lot of laughing and singing, and fun with kids on the trip. The youngest was Luis Eduardo's 7 year old son. He was so proud of going the whole way.

There were about 30 internationals on the trip, who were key to making it safer for them to move back. There were folks from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Argentina and the States. Most were there only for this trip, but the folks from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (that I am doing my dissertation research with) are there year round. They live in the area full time, offering accompaniment to this peace-making process. Peace Brigades comes up to the community once a week. Of course, this accompaniment only works if there are folks around the world that care and are watching along from a distance.

The community is providing such an important example and model for us all of how to resist nonviolently, engage in collective civil disobedience in the middle of a war, and make space for peace and life. I was honored to be with them on their return, and hope to return to visit them again.

ps: We watched the lunar eclipse from Mulatos and it was magical. There is a far less beautiful eclipse of information about what is happening in Colombia, and in general of peaceful resistance to war. Here is a great article with more background about San Jose and the return, written beforehand by a NACLA journalist who was on the trip.