Colombia: What happened to Félix Guzmán?
On 14 August 2010, Félix Guzmán went out to work, as he did every day, in the fields of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in north-western Colombia. At about 9.30 a.m. he was approached by armed men wearing paramilitary uniforms. They led him away.
Felix left his personal belongings near the field. Although members of the Peace Community told the security forces of the exact location of the paramilitary base, they did nothing. Felix has not been seen or heard of since.
Felix is one of more than 200 people of the Peace Community to have been captured by authorities without explanation or killed since 1997. Most of those who taken were killed by paramilitaries, though others were killed by the security forces and the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
Cultivating a Peace Community
In an area that has been fought over by FARC and the Colombian Army for fifty years, small-holders and field workers set up the Peace Community in 1997. They declared independence from the civil war and have refused to take sides. As such they have been targeted by both sides in the conflict.
Community farmers cultivate cocoa as a cash crop, which the community exports. One of its main customers is the British company Lush Cosmetics. Farmers also cultivate maize, squash, beans, bananas, sugar cane, and livestock for local consumption.
They have their own school, medical clinic and the local priest keeps a record of all the human rights violations suffered by community members.
Challenging the government
To seek protection, redress and justice, the Peace Community takes the Government to court. Like many members of the community, their lawyer has received death threats. But the community has its successes. Paramilitaries and soldiers, including an army captain, have been condemned for a massacre committed there in 2005. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has twice ordered the Colombian authorities to take all steps necessary to protect the community.
Sadly, the authorities have failed abysmally.
Inspiring other communities
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó has inspired the creation of similar communities in Colombia. They have hosted meetings and promoted a network of other farm worker, indigenous and Afro-descendant communities that learn from each other. Amnesty International has worked on their behalf since their foundation, 19 years ago and other NGOs, such as Peace Brigades International, have also provided assistance.
Letters to Amnesty
In 2013, the leaders of the Peace Community wrote to Amnesty International:
"Dear Friends from Amnesty International,
We don’t know each other and are from a far away place, but one thing this shows is that solidarity and respect for life goes beyond distances and protocols. You are concise in making each person’s life respected and you make it possible so that people can live in dignity. That is what each one of you does with us; you help us in telling the government and the world that our lives, our lands and our dignity deserve respect. This attitude of seeking respect from others, sometimes without knowing, is what makes humanity have hope that life will someday govern over death.
From the bottom of our hearts, each member of our community thanks you for the solidarity action which allows us to be alive and keep resisting. An action that may seem small to many people, to us, means the respect for our lives. Hoping that someday you’ll be closer to our experience, we bid farewell."
"Keep writing . . ."
I met one of their leaders last summer. His name is Gildado Tuberque Usuga, and he has lost family members who were killed by paramilitaries and the army. I asked him what more Amnesty could do. His reply: "Keep writing to the Colombian government. Keep us visible. If it wasn't for that, we wouldn't be here today," he said.
by Richard Crosfield, Colombia Country Coordinator at AIUK.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.