2018 Delegation of Parliamentarians in Conversation with Rural Women in Villavicenco

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Members of the British Parliament participating in the August 2018 Delegation were: Chris Bryant MP and Patrick Grady MP.

MP’s Conversation in Villavicencio with rural women: Diana, Yenny and Yuanitza. A peasant farmer, an ex-member of FARC and a human rights defender. Other women joined them later in the discussion.

Dscussion with women in Villavicencio

We asked the women what had changed for them since the signing of the Peace Accord and how the agreements in the Accord were being implemented. This item is based around what they explained to the delegation

Background

The Rural Reform Chapter of the Peace Accord was designed to address the underlying structural causes of the armed conflict, including social and economic injustices and unequal access to land. As a result of gender inequality, rural women experience economic and political inequalities more harshly, especially the more marginalised groups i.e. peasant farmers, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian women, and women survivors of gender-based violence. The prioritisation of rural women is therefore fundamental to addressing structural poverty in the countryside.

A key aspect in addressing rural poverty is ensuring access to land for the poorest. The Peace Accord created a “Land Fund”, whose ‘beneficiaries…[include] female farm workers without land or with insufficient land, with priority being given to … rural women, female heads of households and displaced persons’. In addition, women are prioritised for sustainable productive projects, technical services and credit. Legal problems related to ownership of rural property are also be addressed, through an administrative and judicial procedure to formalise land titles. These measures are designed to promote the socio-economic development of women. This is essential for the consolidation of peace – studies show that if women are supported in their initiatives for peace – this has a positive impact on the whole community.[i]

Yenny, Peasant Farmer from Mesetas

“Before the agreement, [the conflict] was quite complicated, because the [different armed groups] fought in our territory, usually the guerrilla and army, and at various times, in some places, the paramilitaries. (…) And also, they purchased … coca, they fought over the purchase of the coca. This was a very complicated conflict for us the peasants, because we lived in this sector when the guerrilla was present … if we were not guerrillas we were ‘obliged’ to help the guerrillas. So, it was very scary, and it complicated the situation….

Before the agreement one lived with anxiety, because of the army [and] the guerrilla… and the stigmatization – before the agreement, … When the army passed by the house, a normal occurrence… was for you contribute to them… It was all very complex. And now, thank God, since the Agreement 95% of that has changed.”

With regard to the Agreements [in the Peace Accord], I believe that in … [Mesetas] … there is still a lot to fulfill. … as woman have not yet seen the land [promised], this is the most complex issue for us … to start with, there are no [land] titles in our region. (…) There are letters outlining the [land] sales, but that’s the only thing, it’s all very informal, because we don’t even have the land titles to the land we have. We are waiting for the fulfilment of the Accord, this is one of the most important points that we are depending on, and we as women much more so – for the accomplishment of this process here in this region!

“We are also involved in the … Programme for Coca Crop Substitution (PNIS)… Since this was a municipality where coca was grown … but this also has many ups and downs.”

“… the agreement is not working in its current form. Because of the way in which the process began (…) We signed at the beginning, for a payment of 2 million pesos, to be given every 2 months; there are 6 payments… That payment provides a livelihood so that families could continue with their projects. The idea was to give the payment at the same time as the productive project. (…) However, only the payment arrived, when will the project arrive? …We don’t want them to just implement the project and not help us find a marketing solution… Let’s say, 700 families. What can we do if we all sow avocado – if at the same time we don’t plan for marketing?”

Historical patterns of rural poverty, exclusion and state abandonment meant that up to 62% of rural homes were living in poverty. As a matter of necessity, women and men had to find ways to survive and to provide for their families. The lack of basic local infrastructure meant that there were few viable economic alternatives to illegal crop cultivation. These extreme conditions pushed families into the cultivation of coca and created a new peasant farmer population known as cocaleros.

On 29 May 2017, Law Decree 896 created PNIS. This voluntary crop substitution programme, allows for a two-year contract to be signed with communities. In return they receive around U$12,000 for their immediate needs during the substitution process. Alongside, technical support provided and they are requred to destroy their illegal crops between the first and second stipend payments.

The Peace Accord envisages crop substitution to be supported in the same time frame with: a technical assistance programme, stimuli for solidarity-based and cooperative economies, marketing and sales, and public procurement programmes, all working in coordination.

The National Land Agency (Agencia Nacional Territorial-ANT), by December 2017, had registered 8,000 families for special access to land as part of the government’s commitment to those who took part in the crop substitution programme. As of this date however, only 1,065 families had been given land property titles, 44% of whom were women.

The Peace Accord offers an opportunity to address coca cultivation differently. However, due to international pressure particularly from the USA, forced eradication re-started under the Santos Government in February 2018. Out of the first 35 forced coca-crop eradication actions, 21 were in communities already signed up for voluntarily substitution. Pursuing a policy of forced eradication in areas where peasant farmers have signed up to voluntary eradication is compounding a lack of confidence in the state.  According to UNODC on average, 30% of areas forcibly eradicated within three months are once again cultivating coca and after one year more than 50%. Demonstrating that this policy is not only detrimental to citizen-State relations at a crucial time of peace building but also ultimately unsuccessful in achieving its goal.

The Peace Accord envisages that crop substitution would go hand in hand with the Development Plans with Territorial Approach (PDETs)

The PDET are the flag-ship programme of the Rural Reform Chapter of the Peace Accord. The PDET are to be delivered in areas with the following criteria: most impacted by the conflict, with highest indices of extreme poverty and inequality, the presence of illicit crops, and the poorest performance of local state institutions. They are designed to rapidly address structural poverty and integrated rural development, and intended to cover approximately 250,000 people. The Territorial Renewal Agency (ART) is responsible for ensuring full and effective participation of communities in the creation of 16 regional PDET and an active role in shaping their own future local development.

“In the PDET we have a space … On Saturday it is going to be re-activated, because nothing has happened since last year, when we were provided with information [about what the PDET was]. We are working together … in our municipality, together with the two indigenous reserves (resguardos)… There are always lots of meetings, … but we farmers are sometimes not in a condition to go if they don’t provide us with the resources… [and it is] Always go and listen… but when is it going to be implemented? … We are need education, health – both the indigenous and peasant farmers…” (Yenny)

The PDET central objective is to re-invigorate the peasant farmer (campesino) economy and increase citizen participation. They cover development at the local and regional levels by addressing land use, economic regeneration, environmental issues, infrastructure, basic services and rural housing, as well as, the right to food. The state is responsible for providing the resources necessary for the implementation of the PDET; which have a lifespan of up to 15-years with the maximum effort of compliance in the first five years.

Yuanitza (excombatiente, trabaja en sustitución de cultivos en los municipios de Mesetas y Uribe)

 “I took-up arms, because of the various confrontation that there were in the country, after the extermination of the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica), somehow that touched both myself and my family…  At that time there were no guarantees, because to think differently from the ideology of the government was to be an opponent of the law. At that time, they declared those who thought differently – rebels; and that’s when I become a FARC guerrilla.

After the dialogues, weapons were laid down, in compliance with the protocol of Agreement… However, so far there are many flaws in compliance [on the part of the Government]. We abandoned our weapons. (…) In the case of the ex-combatants of the FARC the Government has complied with the economical part, that is providing 600,000 pesos per month, and in the educational part… But …in the ECTRs [Reinsertion Zones] …the major failure is they still have not provided productive projects [agricultural livelihood projects]… the agreements have been kept by the majority of ex-combatants, they are still in the training centers, because there have been guarantor countries involved, they have said: this agreement cannot be modified overnight because they know the full extent of the responsibility that exists, which is that we were more than a thousand men and women who left behind our weapons and are in a process of resocialization, of reinstatement.

 “I would say that, in order to continue with the implementation of the Agreement, political will has a lot to do with it … we [the FARC] do not trust, the mandate that President Duque is currently managing. Because … the political line that they have, [and] have always had, has been the political line that led us to war.”

“We have an institutional weakness that still does not guarantee the rights of the communities… My proposal to you who are here, is to strengthen the empowerment of both women and the empowerment of the Juntas de Accion Comunal (Community Action Boards), which are the local authorities from the villages….

on the subject of human rights. Both ex-combatants and peasants are afraid of regulations in this country, because of past abuses in previous years, where peasants were criminalised, despite having done nothing wrong. This is a fear, that both ex-combatants and communities have.”

We have talked a lot with the UN… sometimes they also have no answers. One day there was a meeting to look at security of the ETCR, from the perspective of ex-combatants … They asked us: How do you feel as ex-combatants, with what is happening politically in the country? And we put our insecurity on the table, … and I also said to the UN: You asked me, and heard what I had to say, what I expressed of my own will. Now I want you to express how you feel as a guarantor [of the Accord] in this country where you see a guerrilla of more than 53 years disarm, investing in reconstruction for peace, and a government that has not fulfilled its commitments to us. That was my question. What he replied was that regardless of all this they continued to work so that peace could be maintained and for there to be compliance with the peace agreements. We are in that task …But nevertheless we are fearful because … point 3 of the agreement, which is the end of the conflict, has not been realised. And, as long as, there is no end to the conflict, and paramilitarism is not ended in Colombia – which is a para-state structure – surely there will be no peace in the territories. That is something that hurts us, because in experiencing what I have experienced in the peace process, there have been more than 60 ex-combatants killed. So, I wonder, what are the guarantees in the signing of a peace agreement for us, as a former combatant, we are gambling on the reconstruction of peace.”

Question asked by the parliamentarians: Domestic violence is a problem in Wales and England. However, in the UK, a woman can go and talk to the police for help, but how is it here, if the police, military and paramilitary are seen as the opposition?

“In the case of women, really, sometimes things get a little opaque, … because of this I continue to be critical… as a woman, …I consider that I have, rights but also responsibilities. I completed a gender-based violence prevention diploma, where I learned that violence can be generated from the mere fact of being indifferent. From the non-acceptance of the other and especially of not recognizing that. I have to love myself as a woman, to be able to love others…All our lives we have fought – regardless of whether we have taken-up arms – to have our voices are heard… these voices must be heard so that truth can really be achieved and (…) community spirit recuperated.”

The implementation of productive projects has been extremely slow. In 2017, the Defensoría highlighted the institutional barriers and a complete absence of productive projects with a gender focus, specific to the needs of women and women heads of households.[iii] Lack of access to agricultural land for reintegration linked with the delays in the implementation of the Rural Reform chapter of the Peace Accord disproportionately affects women.[iv] It was not until June 2018 that a reintegration policy with gender-specific actions was adopted. Progress is now being made in determining and prioritising productive projects led by female ex-combatants.[v] In September 2018, for the first time, the UN Verification Mission noted significant progress in relation to the economic integration of female ex-combatants.[vi]

As a result of the delays, female ex-combatants in many regions started establishing joint productive initiatives for women[vii] with the support of the UN Verification Mission and UN Women, who created a high-level forum to facilitate international funding in support of female ex-combatants’ economic projects.[viii] However, significant and swift measures are needed to ensure the implementation of the National Policy for Reintegration to provide viable economic opportunities for ex-combatants.[ix] Inclusive economic projects are not only essential for development and reintegration, but also for the sustainability of peace. This is particularly important in light of the existing incentives for both men and women to leave the peace process and join other illegal armed groups.[x]

Diana Martinez, human rights defender, from the municipality of Puerto Rico, Meta

For us the peace process has been 40% effective and 60% ineffective. For what reason? Let’s start with the theme of security. The positive is that we can take a breath in the process, many people who were stigmatised and threatened can live again.  However, different gangs have arrived, they have trapped us, there have been human rights violations … people have been robbed and killed. Its returning to a situation of chaos.

The subject of illicit cultivations there has also been considerable insecurity.  We were born sowing coca, we were planted in the system because of the conditions, of necessity…

There have been various homicides recently, during this [crop substitution] process. Some are killed, some are robbed, others well … and in addition to this, they have captured colleagues whilst they were working on crop substitution. That is why people are opposed to the process because there are no guarantees…there has been no payment, that is generally why people are resisting pulling up their coca crops because they have nothing else to live off…

… a leader of the Association of Women Workers for Peace (AMUTRA), president of the village council, who is also part of the Verification Commission within the municipality, that is, within PINIS , her mother was brutally raped, decapitated, the husband was taken away by men wearing hoods and yesterday he was found dead. So what security is this process [of crop substitution] giving us?…

I don’t know, but something is up, something is going to happen, and this is precisely what happened this week. You feel it. You arrive in the municipality; you are in the village and you feel it. You feel hypocrisy, you feel a tense energy in the municipality.

Understand this, it is like the book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘A Chronicle of a Death Foretold’. Because we have the same conditions as when Alvaro Uribe [ex-president of Colombia] was implementing ‘Plan Patriot’. That is, these facts, like the ones I told you about the young woman, we have already experienced before. These forced disappearances we have experienced them before.

For us as leaders there are also threats … and many of the leaders are fearful.

Yenny also talked about protection and safety:

In order to defend our territory and our rights … we have at times to go to meetings, and if we focus a lot on defending our land, then immediately there are eyes upon us… One feels suddenly afraid to go and complain, when you know what could happen… when one tries to re-claim their land.  What can happen? Well, sometimes they threaten them, or they are forced to leave the territory… We know of cases where masked men arrive to the territory [and]… the threat arrives directly to the house, to their farm, at night, a note or something. You don’t know who it is

In the Mesetas territory, at the moment, none of the coca leaders that I know of are threatened. It hasn’t happened, and hopefully, God willing, it never will. But as a person who is at the forefront of the process, I feel these things because at the national level it is happening, and the leaders on coca [substitution] have been killed and disappeared … But in our municipality, that hasn’t happened yet.”

National Parks and deforestation

The other problem is that the majority of us live in the … National Park of the Sierra La Macarena… there are families that have lived there for the last 60 years.

Before there had been a plan, for the communities and the local council (Junta de Accion Comunal –JAC) a way of living together, … when the FARC was there, there had also been a plan… now, many have entered …, in this moment we don’t know who they are, they are cutting down trees. And in addition to this, licences and permissions are being given for them to do this. A peasant farmer cannot cut down 200 or 300 hectares of trees.

Obviously, the peasant farmer cuts some trees, because he has to sow crops to eat… colleagues – human rights defenders in this sector have denounced [the deforestation], they have advised the State authorities… and nothing, they allow this to continue to happen right under their noses… The reality that we now face is that they are taking away the protection schemes for human rights defender; obviously this is so that they don’t continue to denounce what is happening.”

Other women in the room:

There is a colleague in Arauca a lawyer, that has been threatened and they tried to kill him. He needs a protection scheme and they have not given him one

“Another problem when … the conflict continues to occur in our territories, women in that environment, are in danger. I believe that women have been victimised in Colombia all their lives. And besides that, it has always been the way to [victimise women] to generate panic and to cause people to flee their territory.

Human rights defenders

Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported that between January 2016 and February 2019, 462 HRDs were killed, the majority of these environmental defenders and social leaders working on the implementation of the Peace Accord, especially those working on crop substitution programmes. 

Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a public statement on Colombia highlighted the extremely grave security situation facing HRDs in Colombia and the lack of effective investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators by the Colombian State.

“We are alarmed by the strikingly high number of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, and by the fact that this terrible trend seems to be worsening. We call on the authorities to make a significant effort to confront the pattern of harassment and attacks aimed at civil society representatives and to take all necessary measures to tackle the endemic impunity around such cases.”   

Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Further reading:

ABColombia Report, Towards Transformative Change: Women and the Implementation of the Colombian Peace Accord, February 2019

Notes

  • [i] UN Women, ‘Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace: UN Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325’ (2015.
  • [ii] El Espectador, ‘Gobierno no ha cumplido con seguridad para sustitución de cultivos: Indepaz’ (1 February 2018).
  • [iii] Report of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo), Espacios Territoriales de Capacitación y Reincorporación: Reincorporación para la paz (2 October 2017) 24.
  • [iv] CINEP/PPP-CERAC, Primer informe sobre la implementación del enfoque de género (June 2018) 35.
  • [v] United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, Report of the Secretary-General (S/2018/87428, 28 September 2018) para. 53.
  • [vi] Ibid
  • [vii]   CINEP/PPP-CERAC, Primer informe sobre la implementación del enfoque de género (June 2018) 35-36.
  • [viii] United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, Report of the Secretary-General (S/2018/723, 20 July 2018) para. 55.
  • [ix] Kroc Institute Report No 2 2018, p. 16
  • [x] Kroc Institute Report No 2 2018, p. 16.