A clear and precise cause is needed. In the case of Mampuján, there are no problems defining the need for government completion for promised reparations. Here’s a brief overview of the situation:
Located in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia’s Bolivar department on the Caribbean coast, Mampuján has experienced the full force of Colombia’s past and ongoing armed conflicts. The most formative event, however, occurred on March 11, 2000, during the height of violence in this zone, when the members of the community of Mampuján were displaced from their original location by a group of right-wing paramilitaries, known as the Heroes of Montes de Maria. The community members were rounded up, accused of supporting guerrilla forces, and commanded to leave Mampuján immediately. 300 families fled, and 11 campesinos from the surrounding area of Las Brisas were massacred.
Since this time, the majority of the community has resettled in temporary housing, located about seven kilometres away in New Mampuján, experiencing a reality very similar to that of the other 5 million internally displaced persons living in Colombia.
However, Mampuján and several surrounding neighbours are significantly different from the rest of the victims as they are the first communities to receive a verdict under the Law of Justice and Peace (Ley 975 of 2005), where the paramilitary leaders responsible for the displacement have been sentenced to jail time and ordered to repay their victims for damages suffered. This has been the only sentence of its kind in Colombia, despite the existence of this law for over six years.
Under this sentence and an additional sentence by the Supreme Court of Justice in April 2011, the community is entitled to receive both individual and community reparations for damages suffered during displacement. The Supreme Court sentence defines the parameters that the courts, the State and various institutions will work within to make sure that reparations take place. However, despite this groundbreaking legal action, nothing has in reality taken place. The community of Mampuján and its surrounding neighbours have not received their promised reparations and there are increasing fears that nothing will happen as the Justice and Peace Law and government offices dedicated to enforcing this law are phased out and replaced with the new Victim’s Law.
If the only sentence of and reparations from paramilitary violence in Colombia’s history cannot be carried out for a community of 250 families, what are the chances of justice for the rest of the over 5 million victims, even with new laws? This is a significant testing of the government’s stated intention to support and provide justice for the victims. The march of Mampuján is therefore not only for their own benefit, as they demand their reparations, but will highlight the situation of victims of armed conflict in general in Colombia.
So, we’ve defined a cause, what comes next?
2. Meetings, meetings, meetings
In its essence, a community march must consist of the members of the community. Therefore, much of the activity that has been done in the last few weeks has consisted of gathering community support and ideas. Community leadership has been going door to door talking to different families, not only in Mampuján but also along the march route. Community meetings have been held, advertised by posters made by me en español, accompanied by more door to door visits. There is no official meeting space in the community, so community meetings have taken place in the widest street, with people looking for shade from the tropical sun under leafy trees.
Leadership meetings often take place in or in front of Juana and Alex’s house, which is where I basically live as well.
Many things happen during leadership and all community meetings, which usually start at least an hour late (it’s normal), ranging from small children running around, to people walking by on the street greeting and asking questions, to people getting pedicures (one of the leaders is also the town’s hair and nail expert- I saw some pretty ugly hangnails at the last meeting), to relocating because of a power outage/thunder storm, to chickens/pigs/dogs/cats/burros/people on motorcycles meandering through. During Saturday’s meetings, we spend the first hour waiting for people to arrive by discussing how many kilos pigs could gain in how much time. All of this is on top of meetings for other events happening in the community, including a visit yesterday from the Department of Justice of the American Embassy which also involved an incredible amount of time and planning, i.e. meetings.
The community is planning to march 32 km, to the capital city of Cartagena, leaving at 4:00am Monday, December 12 and arriving at the central plaza Dec 13. All of the details of making this happen are discussed at our meetings, which involve not only community members, leadership teams, but also NGO representatives and people who have pledged to stand in solidarity with the community. We are discussing the route, water, food, security, buses for people when they tire, the absolute necessity of nonviolence, portable bathrooms, places to sleep during the night and first aid, to name only a few topics. There are different committees for different aspects and there have been a steady stream of letters been sent and delivered to not only different foundations/agencies, but also to the mayors, police and authorities of the towns we plan on passing through. However, our largest details have concerned our budget and numbers. We want to have a large group, but we also don’t have money to feed and support thousands of people. It’s challenging, with a diverse group, to figure out what details really are priorities.
4. Hope and Courage
There is only so much time and planning that can happen before this event. Despite all the preparation in the world and the best causes, there is no knowing what will happen. No one really knows if the government will agree to meet with us; no one really knows who will actually show up to march. But I am constantly encouraged and amazed by the hope and determination I see around me, especially in groups like the Senior Citizen’s Society- they are constantly present and active in every event, and put the younger people to shame. Additionally, in a country where human rights defenders have often been targeted and eliminated, the hope and courage of Mampuján shines strong. They are not only demanding their rights, they are willing to put themselves on the line to do so. I will hopefully have more information shortly on ways that you can help support us in pressuring the Colombian government to comply, but no matter what, please remember us on Monday and Tuesday, as we begin to march.