In the Northwest of Colombia, near the gulf of Uraba, lays a small town called San Jose de Apartadó, established in the 1960s. In response to the internal conflict in the country and escalating violence directed towards the commu- nity, they decided to declare themselves the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in March 1997.
The members of the community adopted a seven article long statute that, among other things, declare that they are not to carry arms, ammunitions or explosives and not to take part in the internal conflict in the country. In return, they demand that the parties of the conflict respect their decision and stay away from their community.
Forming a peace community meant starting a new life with a new form of communal organisation and living according to a new set of principles. The principles that guide the community are in a constant process of development, in which all the members of the community are involved and can participate. One of the primary principles is to stop thinking in terms of you and I and instead think of us. This enables a philosophy of solidarity that makes the people in the community realise that their actions affect everyone in the community. The respect of plurality and freedom, of all different opinions and ideas through transparent dialogue, is another important principle that guides the life in the community. In light of the egoism and individualism that the community regards as imposed by capitalism they have also tried to create a different system based on communitarianism and solidarity – a welfare system that includes everybody.
The communitarian work is a cornerstone in the philosophy of the community as a form of daily resistance. Resistance constructed by the inhabitants themselves through the alternative and solidarity economy they practice by working together. With limited resources and constantly living under the threat of blockades, robberies and murder the community is forced to be creative and to always look for new ways to continue ahead. One example of this creativity is the educational system in the community. Since the official educational system has been blocked for the inhabit- ants of the community they had to think of something different. They decided to form their own educational system, teaching their own philosophy and responding to the needs of the community. The commu- nitarian work is also the basis for the new organisation of the community, in different working groups and committees.
The highest authority in the com- munity is the internal council, consisting of eight democratically elected members. Elections are held every six months in a comprehensive process t
hat takes in to account all the qualities that the members of the council should have. To get elected as a member of the council one needs more than 80 % support from the voters.
The community holds meetings once a week and work training every other week. In these meetings they plan for the near future by examining the world around them, both nationally and internationally, and reflect upon it in order to decide their way ahead. The work in the group is never the same. It has to be dynamic as it comes from the will to do something different as a form of resistance of aggression. This resistance has taken the community through blockades and periods of great hunger.
Women and a change of perspective
When the peace community was established in 1997, the role of the women was quite neglected. Starting on a different path they could still not escape the fact that they lived in a sexist environment.
The first internal council did not include a single woman. The situation was very prob- lematic and as the women in the community realised this they started to search for more influential roles. The men responded according to the logic of war, but without arms and instead with exclusion, individualism and egoism. The beginning of this process was very difficult. A change of perspective was needed, that is, from that of women as a useful object that can cook and clean to an actor playing an essential role in creating a new future. Today the role of women is acknowledged throughout the whole community and the women walk shoulder to shoulder with the men towards the future, creating it together.
This change of perspective was also a part of changing perspective from the logic of war to finding something different. After three moths of this struggle there were three women in the internal council and women started to take a more active role in other parts of the community as well.
In September 2003 the community hosted a meeting for delegates from indigenous, afro-Colombian and peasant communities. The meeting led to the formation of a network of communities of resistance and the founding of the University of Resistance where the communities could get theoretical and practical education. The idea was to share and increase the knowledge needed in the communities, but also to bring them closer together.
Forming the Peace Community, the inhabitants expected to be able to live peacefully in their land. However, forces from the Colombian military and paramilitaries have carried out numerous attacks towards the community. Throughout the years, the community has suffered from massacres, displacements, murders and rapes. Their houses and schools have been burnt down and they have suffered from economic blockades from military and paramilitary roadblocks resulting in isolation and lack of food. Counting only the gravest attacks, covered by international law, suffered by the community, there are more then 560 including more than 165 cases of murder.
In November 2003 the community handed in a formal complaint to the at- torney general regarding the more than 300 crimes against humanity they have suffered. The prosecutor, violating all the rules of procedure, did not even open a single investigation. The community has decided to keep a record of all the actions which they have suffered from, since the justice system is out of order and impunity prevails. If all the atrocities are remem- bered there will be justice one day.
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó has been awarded the Aachen Peace Prize and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Their peaceful and non-violent methods of confronting the hard reality they live in are great sources of inspiration for other communities, not only in Colombia but also for peace activists all over the world. It is difficult to determine the exact number of peace commu- nities in Colombia today, but approximately 50 communities have followed the example of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Together these communities constitute a strong bottom-up initiative to peace in Colombia and a hope for a more peaceful situation in the country.