Exodus of a country at war …this bitter daily reality

Forced displacement in Colombia has been caused by both official and illegal military groups, by paramilitary and guerrilla groups. However, little is being done to tackle these consequences of the war and there is a lack of preventive measures to deal with the effects of displacement on different kinds of victims.

In a rural country such as Colombia, rural workers have become military targets and their lands are of strategic interest to multinationals; their children have become fodder for recruitment into the different military groups, both legal and illegal. Since the 1950s, the pressures of everyday life in rural areas have forced thousands of farmers (campesinos) to migrate to the expanding cities, usually into the outskirts and most deprived neighborhoods.

Violence is not a natural fact; it reflects the existing unequal power relations. However, attitudes justifying violence are found in everyday life, including in the academic sphere -where women's inferiority, male domination - both sexually and in terms of imposition of rules - and gender discrimination in both public and private spheres of life are seen as normal.

Nobody is prepared for displacement. Militarisation and the ongoing internal exodus in Colombia since the 1930s, when the initial outbreak of violence took place, reflects our history of impunity and assassinations. This is a continued internal armed conflict which is increasing the gap in social inequalities caused by such conflict: misery, poverty, tears, pain, deaths, the countryside, interests, deals, fear, terror, attacks, harassment, humiliation, anxiety, hunger, weapons, shootings, wars, conflicts, hate, anger and vengeance are the main catalysts which lead to displacement, which has become a bitter daily reality.

The number of displaced people in Colombia as a result of violence since 1985 has reached 4.3 million – only in Sudan there are more internal refugees (4.9 million people). 1
In 2007, according to CODHES, 305, 683 people were displaced and in 2008 a further 380,863 - in fact not all displacement is recorded, probably more than 400,000 people were displaced in 2008. The government only defines people as “vulnerable” if they have official documentation stating that they have been displaced.2 This forced displacement continues because it is not in some people’s interests to end it.

However, it is simply merely a matter of displacement from rural to urban areas. There is further displacement in the cities, and further consequences such as the emergence of paramilitary groups and militarised official police in a city such as Medellín in the past 20 years invading and imposing themselves in vulnerable neighbourhoods. To cite Medellín as a case in point - in the past 20 years paramilitary groups and the police have invaded deprived neighbourhoods, high risk zones and poor communities.

Other effects of displacement arise from uprooting, including loss of collective memory and culture, the burden imposed and violence carried out on women, the elderly, youth and children. Life in the "receiving" city is not free from armed conflict, and the displaced face hostility and stigmatisation.

As part of the Red de Organizaciones Comunitarias (ROC - network of community organisations) and Movilización Popular (People's Mobilisation), Red Juvenil in Medellín works with communities in the peripheral areas of the city, with the aim that they should organise and struggle for dignity. The areas of the cities that "receive" displaced people often lack drinking water, drains or access routes. There is hunger, unemployment, high levels of demographic growth, a large number of families lacking access to public services, violence spread by gangs, allegedly "demobilised" fighters, paramilitary groups, the police and army.

The Red Juvenil also works with rural initiatives elsewhere in the department of Antioquia, which through the strengthening of a network called Roots, involving the production of organic, fair-trade agricultural products and the elimination of intermediaries, has enabled several communities to become less vulnerable to collective uprooting of people in the interests of multinationals, as well as preventing the loss of their lands and rural identity.3

There are thousands of cases but it is always the same story: “Madam, you and your family have to leave this place.”, “This is private land, you can’t live here”, “They killed my husband because he didn’t want to join in with those carrying out violence and they forced me to leave our house and neighbourhood.” This violence and the shootings every day, which is killing everyone, apart from those carrying out the shootings. This is what made me leave. I could no longer carry on hiding under the bed, for fear that a bullet might go through the wall.” “We had to leave the countryside because the army first tried to take our children and then the rest.” “My daughter used to play, take care of and walk around with the children, so as to prevent them from joining the armed forces. She was stabbed. They didn’t do this to kill her but to force her to leave the area.”

The majority of displaced persons are women, widowed, living with the suffering of losing their partners, with only their children left. Displaced women therefore become the main financial breadwinners and main emotional support for the family, whilst the men who survive distance themselves and take solace in alcohol. The need to survive often leads to these women going into prostitution amidst a total ignorance of their sexual health.4

Rural workers have become a military target, their children have become fodder for extrajudicial executions carried out by soldiers, daughters have become the soldiers’ women and the workers now work on mega-projects, their lands have become booty in order to bring together and privatise Colombia; the dispossession of lands is due to the need to group together the land and hand over our paradise to the multinationals who exploit our natural resources, in the name of development and economic growth, which does not require inhabitants.5

The strategic interests of the north and north east of Antioquia can be seen in relation to the mega projects for the hydroelectric industry-by the EPM group-in the buying of landowners and paramilitary groups as well as in the coca sector. It is due to this conflict that, for at least thirty years, thousands of people have had to flee these lands and been displaced to the city of Medellín and this displacement continues.

Simitarra river valley in Puerto Nuevo, ColombiaSimitarra river valley in Puerto Nuevo, ColombiaIn the 90s the rural workers of the northeast, Magdalena medio and Santander were displaced. Over 40,000 families were forced to abandon their lands due to the conflict which broke out between the different illegal armed factions fighting over control for the land for growing and producing coca. This rural eviction of peasant farmers from their smallholdings took place to make way for illegal cultivation, achieved through the felling of forests, the expansion of the agricultural lands, and exploitation of water, mineral and wood resources. The resulting environmental degradation is has been brought about through the interests of capitalism. The war strategy is being imposed by the multinationals against the inhabitants. The following is a quotation describing the political agenda of the agrarian movement in Colombia:

We consider the national and international treatment relating to illicit farming as a joint political, military and economic strategy for the peasant farmers’ lands, which mainly favours multinational companies linked to the war and other sectors of the global economy.6

The way in which these displacements come about and the role the government plays in favour of the multinationals and against the people can be summarised in the following example of the municipality of Antioquia Ituango, in which the Pescadero-Ituango hydroelectric plant is planned to be built - on behalf of the Antioquia governing authorities and the EPM group since 1987. In these years these territories were smallholdings where the clear absence of the State led to the proliferation of armed insurgent groups and there was an inability to provide services satisfying people’s basic needs; in the '90s, while studies were being carried out about energy production, the conflict intensified with the presence of paramilitary groups, who harassed families to flee and committed crimes against humanity such as the el Aro massacre in 1998 which occurred on October 22, 1997 in the municipality of Ituango, Department of Antioquia. 15 individuals accused of being leftist supporters of the FARC were massacred by paramilitary groups with support from members of the Colombian army. Perpetrators also violated women, burned down 43 houses, stole cattle and forcedly displaced 900 people.

Since then the city centre of Ituango municipality has been controlled by the police and paramilitaries, while in the isolated outlying areas, a sense of anxiety and armed confrontation remains. In 2008 after the supposed demobilisation of the paramilitaries, after years where no violent acts had been detected with guerrilla factions, a device exploded killing some and injuring several people. The president of the country accused the FARC as the perpetrators of the attack, which is doubtful, because more than an attack it seemed like an action staged to justify augmenting the standing army in the municipality. This event took place after 7 pathways of Ituango were declared as public areas used for the Pescadero mega-project and the creation of roads and access routes began for this hydroelectric project, which is due to be ready in 2017.

Gender and Displacement

Having been presented with several cases of women who are victims of forced displacement, the constitutional Court issued auto 092, authorising an impact study analysing how women’s bodies and lives are affected by forced displacement in a patriarchal society, where there is a long standing tradition of violence against women. Some of the effects of such violence, as well as the risks and other forms of violations are as follows:

  • Violence and sexual abuse, including forced prostitution, sexual slavery or human trafficking for sexual purposes.
  • Domestic violence and violence within the community due to gender related issues.
  • Ignorance and violation of the right to health, in particular in relation to their sexual and reproductive rights at all levels, with especially serious violations being carried out on girl children and adolescents, as well as pregnant or breast feeding mothers.

The fact that these women then assume the role of main breadwinner of the family, without having the minimum means required to lead a life based on the principle of human dignity. There are particularly complicated situations regarding women with young children, women with health problems, women with disabilities or elderly women:

  • Increased difficulty in gaining access to basic education.
  • Further obstacles in integrating within the economic system and gaining access to job opportunities.
  • Domestic and labour exploitation, including human trafficking for sexual purposes.
  • Greater difficulty in gaining access to owning land and ensuring the protection of the lands for the future, especially relating to plans for returning to the land and relocation.
  • The severe social discrimination carried out against displaced women of indigenous and African descent.
  • Violence against women leaders or those who acquire visibility in the public sphere for the work in the promotion of social and civic human rights.
  • Discrimination in the public and political spheres, particularly denying their right to participation.
  • Total ignorance, as victims of an armed conflict, of their right to justice, truth, compensation and guarantee that the same events will not reoccur.
  • The serious lack of special care and psychosocial help needed for displaced women.
  • The specific problems for women in relation to the official registering system for the displaced population, as well as the description procedures.
  • The problems which women have in gaining access to the assistance afforded to the displaced population.
  • A high number of civil servants are unqualified to help these displaced women, or are openly hostile and insensitive towards their situation.
  • The system focuses on providing assistance to the displaced population, which also ignores displaced women who are not the main breadwinners.
  • The reticence of the system to grant an extension of Emergency Humanitarian Aid to the vast number of women who comply with the necessary conditions for such provision of aid.

Conclusion

Militarisation is a mechanism used by the government in power, as well as by counter-insurgency factions, in order to intimidate, harass, terrify and banish those individuals living on lands useful . This instrument of fear is used to implement the “counter-agrarian reform” and open the way for “development” and progress as prescribed by the multinationals.

The areas where most displacement takes place have usually already been chosen for mineral and oil exploration or are areas with an abundance of natural resources. Therefore displacement is a useful tool for structural violence and in the name of economic growth and productivity offers the country for exploitation by the multinationals. These multinationals in turn demand a strong police presence while also hiring security companies and paying bribes to paramilitaries in order to remove or assassinate leaders and organisations that opposes privatisation.

The phenomenon of displacement shows two visions of the world: one, that of the rural workers, native Indigenous population and those of African descent, who see the land as life, home, the mother earth and the life source for their communities throughout history; and then there is the other, where land is seen as a source of wealth, progress for individual exploitation. Therefore, land is the means to ensure the “well-being” of a precious few.

The veil of indifference when faced with the horror of displacement is the main weapon created by capitalism and the State so as to keep the poor alienated and ensure that they are used for cannon fodder, whilst remaining insensitive and not mobilising against such a macabre way of imposing terror and bloodshed.

The defence mechanisms and preventive measures used to prevent human rights violations are merely a smokescreen hiding investments made in military spending for a war in which the local non-combatant citizens are only provided with temporary assistance.

The proliferation of international "norms" in the treatment of displaced people has not guaranteed the rights of the people. On the contrary, aid programmes seem to opt for relocation rather than ensuring the population can return to their lands.

We call for the protection of women from the different gender-related effects of displacement, given that women are victims in three ways: firstly, suffering the trauma caused by the violent acts; secondly, they losing their possessions and their familiar surroundings in the rural areas and thirdly, being socially uprooted. They are coming from the countryside, a domestic, smaller “world” to an urban, hostile and unknown environment. This situation shows us how violence against women has a long standing history and how displacement further worsens the already present violence taking place, especially in the domestic sphere.

Forced displacement in Colombia is a recurring crime caused by a war. It is a crime against humanity and it is the State and governments who are responsible for the daily disappearance of the fundamental and collective rights.

Red Juvenil de Medellin

Notes

1) Online: http://www.telecinco.es/informativos/internacional/noticia/914028/914028. The displaced population in Colombia reaches 4.3 million people. | 21:31 h. Agencia EFE.
2) Online: www.semana.com/noticias-problemas-sociales/codhes-crecio-numero-personas...... 24 th April 2009 16:24:14. To consult please see: http://www.codhes.org/
3) In Medellín various organisations linked to the Red Juvenil work with displaced communities, such as the groups Contracorriente, the Corporación Región and the Asociación Campesina de Antioquia (ACA). The ACA emphasises the right to live in dignity, offering support to displaced people whether they want to stay in the city or return to farm. For further information please see: Forced Displacement and the agrarian issue. http://www.acantioquia.org/
4) MEERTENS, Donny. Women and violence in Rural conflicts. Revista Análisis Político. Nº. 24, ene. – abr. de 2001, pp. 40-57.
5) http://prensarural.org/ This news website for campesino organisations in Colombia denounces how the rural workers are harassed, threatened and insulted and show how their leaders are repressed and imprisoned,
The war plans coincide with the roads, installations and buildings necessary in order to ensure free trade for the foreign transnational companies, especially the US in Colombia. As a case example we have “DynCorp and its affiliate company Tagle Aviation Service and technology EAST; ARINC Lockheed-Martin (provides assistance to helicopters for combat and for planes transporting troops); Grupo Rendon (supports the deissemination of Plan Colombia); ACS Defensa (consults the staff of the embassy linked to Plan Colombia); Northrop (Radar management for aerial spy equipmeny and training for “special operations”); Maritech, TRW, Matcom y Alion (Technology used to photograph from space and intercept and analyze communications)”. En linea: http://www.indepaz.org.co/xsys/mambost/editors/tinymce/#_ ftn9. Octobere 24th 2006.
6) Political Platform of the National Agrarian Coordinator in Colombia (“Plataforma política del Coordinador Nacional Agrario de Colombia”) C.N.A. Pág 58 . 2008, Popayán, Colombia.