FOR every person I interviewed who had a terrified and haunted look on their face, there was just as many who remained full of life with a sturdy determination to overcome all the adversity they have faced, as the country comes to terms with what the government, paramilitary factions and illegal land-grabbers have inflicted on their fellow countrymen.
Visiting three humanitarian zones – Costa Asul, Cano Manso and Las Camelisa – in the Choco region of the South American country, I heard how countless families lives had been torn apart after decades of abuse, murder and intimidation. I also had the privilege of speaking to confident, young people who were determined to rebuild their shattered lives.
Ledis Turian Gonzalez is a confident and determined community leader who is working to help people living on Cano Manso win back their land from illegal land-grabbers.
As a young teenager, her family and neighbours were forced to flee from their homes by soldiers belonging to the Colombian Military and paramilitary groups.
"We just took the clothes we had on our backs," says Ledis, now 30 and a mother-of-four.
She returned with some other members of her community ten years later, in August 2007.
Then on October 14, 2008, community leader Walberto Hoyos was shot dead by paramilitaries just metres away from Ledis and her children in the humanitarian zone.
Two years later, the Constitutional Court ordered that people living on land belonging to Ledis and her community should be evicted. However, it took another four years of campaigning by voluntary agencies, before "bad faith" occupier Luis Felipe Molano was actually evicted.
As Ledis walks us through the camp, with her son Sebastian in her arms, she tells how members of the community tore down the house that Molano had illegally built on their land.
She says: “The family who were living at the farmhouse were told what that people were going to do, which is more than what happened when the paramilitaries murdered Walberto, and gave them the chance to leave.”
Since the people loyal to Molano were forced to flee, the community has started to grow and go from strength to strength despite the continued level of abuse and intimidation they endure on a daily basis.
“People are starting to come back,” she says. “We have invited people to come and see what is going on here, some individuals have started to come back but some are still too afraid to return. The community is growing and we are hopeful that we will be able to persuade more people to come back and live here.”
The people in the Las Camelisa humanitarian zone are benefiting from being a settled community for a longer time than most other areas and the young people are becoming the driving force behind leaving their devastating past behind.
To meet Lucy Roderigez you would never know the pain and suffering she has endured with the slaughter of both of her grandfathers and being forced to flee for her life. The first thing you notice about her is her huge welcoming smile, and that she has boundless amounts of energy which she is using to enthuse everyone around her.
As the youngest of eight, and with another sibling on the way, Lucy is determined that everyone will have hope for their future. Not only is the young mother a leading member of the community’s youth forum, she is one of their star footballers and a passionate singer and dancer.
“I hope to finish my schooling so that I can help my son complete his education so that he can become a professional,” she says. “Even though he is far away (living with his grandmother) he never forgets I am his mother, I go and visit him regularly and he comes to visit me – one day I hope that it will be safe enough for him to return for good.”
Father Alberto Franco, of the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP), is a regular visitor to the humanitarian zones and can see that things are starting to improve but says there is still a long way to go.
He says: “We have come a long way but there is still much more work to do to ensure these people get the justice they deserve. People are starting to feel more positive about the future but it is down to the government to ensure that everything they have promised is delivered.”
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