By Anna Vogt
On April 6, one thousand people from 32 communities in Colombia`s Montes de Maria region began an 80-mile nonviolent march to the governor’s office to demand their rights as citizens and victims of armed conflict.
The state has failed to provide education, healthcare, passable roads and basic services for these communities–an injustice which the Victims’ Law of 2011 is supposed to address. However, the progress has been far from satisfactory, due to delays in implementation and a policy of targeted reparations for only a few selected communities. Additionally, residents fear they may be forced to leave their communities to find employment, as the region`s avocado trees, a staple crop, are dying.
The governor of the state of Bolivar met the communities on the second day of the march. After tense negotiations, the marchers decided to continue the movement but in a different way. Together, they formed a number of working groups and established a stronger relationship with the government’s Department for Victim Attention.
This is the first time these communities have worked together since extreme violence broke out in the late 1990s. The presence of opposing armed groups pitted the communities against each other, generating mistrust and destroying leadership and grassroots organizations. Community organizing related to the march is restoring relationships. Speaking out remains dangerous with many political interests at stake, but people are no longer so afraid. United, they hope for change and continue to move forward.
Anna Vogt is an MCC service worker in Colombia.
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