Back to the Promised Land
“You can talk about forced displacement or voluntary displacement, but if you move because your neighbors or family members were killed, is that really voluntary?” - Ledy
Gloria, in Caracolón, calls it “obligatory displacement” when she tells her story with the flattened emotion of 21 years of distance.
“In 1997 we were living in a different place. In November there were the massacres, with about 400 victims.
We had to leave with just what we had.
They burned our houses.
Nos obligaron displazar.”
They obligated us to displace.
Gloria’s community was caught between two armed groups in 1997. After the massacres and the obligatory - somehow “forced” is still not strong enough a word - displacement, people lived for four year in shelters in Dabeiba. During that time of poor conditions and little work, the community members organized themselves to put pressure on the government to give them a new place to live. They formed committees to govern their community’s health, labor, and memory - passing down memories from oldest to youngest of what they lost, and how.
The small piece of land that the Colombian government finally deigned to offer is much too small. 150 people are living and farming on just 250 hectares (a little more than 600 acres - less than 1 square mile). In contrast, Gloria remembers how they lived before, on the land to which they dream of returning:
“Everyone had enough, enough land that you could be one or two hours on horse or by foot from your neighbor. You were self-sufficient, with everything that you needed grown without chemicals, all organic, with agricultural and aquacultural production. You would go down once a month, maybe, to buy salt.”
What may seem to you like a pleasant fantasy of pastoral life is the essence, lo esencial, Gloria says, of who she is as a campesino. It is Gloria’s reality, and one she will not give up. “For this, we are insisting that we be allowed to return to our own land.”
In our conversation at Caracolón, Germán Zárate of the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia begins by saying, “When you return to the Promised Land…” and there are smiles and laughter in the circle where we sit. The Promised Land is both memory and prophecy for the community of Caracolón, one they are determined to claim.
Reaching the Promised Land will require the clearing of military barriers and landmines that now block access to Gloria’s land, and the decommissioning or other provision for a hydroelectric dam that is currently taking advantage of her land’s wealth of water. Despite the challenges, Gloria and the other members of Caracolón are strong in their determination. Sitting near the monument that their Memory Committee installed on their temporary territory, the one that records the names of those killed in the 1997 massacre, they are clear about the goal.
“It’s my best dream,” one of Gloria’s compañeras says, “I dream of walking back, walking back on the same road by which we left.”
Gloria and the families of Caracolón who hold tight to the Promised Land are calling on us to put pressure on our own government and the Colombian government to ensure the completion of the details of the 2016 Peace Accords, which promised that displaced people would be returned to their lands.
May there arrive a Moses to part the landmines, and a Joshua to blow a trumpet to knock down the hydroelectric dam built on stolen lands, and may we all answer the call to pressure both our governments to hold true to their covenant to build a new road home.
Author, Alison Wood
queer, white, cisgender, U.S. passport-holding, Presbyterian, church-employed, challenged by faith, imagining something better.
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