Here’s my latest article from the Seed website! Be sure to watch/read/listen to the other Seeder’s reflections as well.
Mampuján has big dreams and big opportunities to match. The displaced Afro-Colombian community is the first in Colombia to undergo a process of reparations under the Transitional justice process of Law 975. The law remains controversial, political will is often lacking, and the reparations process remains very much in progress. Yet, the undertaking of transitional justice has shaped the dreams of the community in a very marked way and provided new ways to make those dreams a reality.
One of the primary identities of the community throughout the last twelve years since displacement has been that of victim: Victim of displacement. Victim of armed violence. Victim of land loss. Victim of State abandonment. Victim of structuralized racism. Therefore, at the root of Mampuján’s dream is the search for a different identity and place. According to John Paul Lederarch and Angela Jill Lederach, being displaced connotes not only the literal loss of place, but also a lived experience of feeling lost within their own country. Therefore, in this situation, the dream of finding place, “represents the much deeper journey of relocating and recovering a sense of belonging.”
The end goal of the current legal process is in many ways the loss of victimhood as an identity. The community has been promised both individual and group reparations to make up for collective and individual damage suffered. While they will always be a community who have suffered displacement and violence, with these reparations they will lose their legal status as victims who can demand compensation. It’s a big step to leave that identity behind, and therefore a large desire is to step beyond with dignity and purpose, towards an identity that is both new and based on the best of the past: focused on reviving and strengthening cultural traditions, Afro-Colombian heritage, and reweaving social thread.
Part of that therefore means becoming a sustainable community that is able is take advantage of their current situation for the well-being of the future of the community. The community now has the attention of state and non-governmental agencies that most communities in Colombia never expect to receive. Almost every day, there are meetings and plans and different ideas about community development. A challenge is to channel this creative energy in a clear direction that leaves the community in control and walking forward with autonomy when this period is over. Right now, they are working on a fish farm project, a bakery, a sewing group as well as advocating for their voice to be heard in everything that happens.
Part of the transitional justice process has involved face to face meeting with the people who were directly responsible for the displacement of the community as well as massacres of surrounding communities. The former National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparations hosted reconciliation meetings, where community members sat down with those responsible for their displacement. As well, working with Sembrandopaz (Planting Peace), MCC’s partner on the Caribean Coast, has helped the community learn about cycles of violence and how to break free.
A dream of the community, using promises from the Court ruling, is to build a museum not only to highlight displacement and life before hand, but also as a way to talk about the impacts of violence on a person’s life and the way those acts are then replicated in a vicious cycle. Opening the conversation to include grace, forgiveness and understanding will help to break that cycle of violence and build on the identity of a community of peace. One community leader expressed it best when he told me that forgiveness gets rid of bitterness and takes away any power that the victimizer still holds over the community, freeing the community to move forward.
Another dream of the community is to work with and for other victims in the area. The roughly thousand victims included in the Court ruling are only a small fraction of the 10 thousand victims living in the municipality and an even smaller fraction of the 5 million victims living in Colombia as a whole. The community leaders have had a chance to travel and visit other communities and have come to the realization that Mampuján is in a very unique position in Colombia. The leaders have received capacity-building and are informed about the rights of victims in the way that very few other communities have even dreamt about.
Therefore, the community would like to work with other victims, speaking from their personal experiences and helping train other communities to know and fight for their rights in the same way. The women’s sewing group has travelled to other communities to share trauma healing techniques, but the idea is to now broaden those experiences and advocate for a municipal-wide strategy, building peace councils and centres specially designated for victim’s needs.
In terms of physical place, Mampuján is divided between people who want to return with dignity, to the life they lived and the land they habituated in Mampuján Viejo before the displacement and those who want to continue to build their lives where they currently are living, but also with dignity. Part of both of these dreams includes working towards building houses, fixing the road, advocating for public services and working for sustainable agriculture. There is much yet to be achieved in this area and even with a Court ruling it is difficult to see forward movement but the community is determined to keep on working.
Only time will tell exactly what will happen in the community and how their dreams will develop and be fulfilled. One thing is certain, no matter what happens, Mampuján will be a model for other communities following the same legal process and they will shape their dreams after Mampuján’s dreams. Therefore, careful attention must be paid to whatever takes place and to wherever Mampujan’s dreams lead them as a community.
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