Interview with Deyis Margarita Carmona Tejada
Blood Coal in Colombia
The mining region of Cesar, a department in northeastern Colombia, has been hard hit by conflict. Between 1996 and 2006, at least 3,100 people were murdered, 55,000 farmers were driven from their land and hundreds of people disappeared. The paramilitary group responsible for these atrocities arrived roughly at the same time that mining multinationals started their operations in the area. Mining companies failed to take proper measures that are expected from companies starting to operate in a high-risk conflict zone and have so far not addressed the human rights impact. While victims have been waiting for recognition, truth and reparations for a long time, threats and assaults by paramilitary successor groups have recently increased again. Local residents are organizing to fight for their rights. Deyis Margarita Carmona Tejada went from being a mother and a nurse to becomign presdient of a local assembly. PAX spoke with her recently at her home in Vereda Entre Ríos – El Copey, Cesar.
As president of the Asamblea Campesina del Cesar, could you tell me a little about the organization?
The Asamblea Campesina del Cesar por la Restitución de Tierras y el Buen Vivir (Cesar Peasant Assembly for Land Restitution and Good Living) was founded in 2012. It was created to strengthen the peasants who have a common goal: the restitution of their lands, which were taken from them during the armed conflict.
We also work for the search of Buen Vivir (good living)
What is that?
It is a compendium of rights, it is the search for economic stability for the peasants; for our dignity; that we are people with a healthy state of mind, enjoying our territory, with guarantees to continue working in the field, without fears, without worries, without conflicts.
There were several things that led us to group together, but especially the issue of security. We have been victims of different events and the actions of armed groups; We have lost our lands and have survived countless threats for being (land) claimants in our territory. Today we are strengthened, everyday we work to be better and we have obtained the support of some institutions and organizations such as PAX, which have been interested in our process. We can say that we are referents in the country of the strength of peasant organizations.
How many people does the Asamblea represent?
We are approximately 3,500 people. In addition to this, we provide assistance, support and accompaniment to other communities such as the Consejo Comunitario de las Comunidades Negras (Community Council of the Black Communities) of La Sierra, El Cruce and La Estación, in Chiriguaná. We have also established support ties with a group of victims in the community of Mechoacán, municipality of La Jagua de Ibirico. In total, the Cesar Peasant Assembly for Land Restitution and Good Living brings together victims from 15 communities located in the municipalities of San Diego, Agustín Codazzi, Becerril, El Copey and Chiriguaná, so we are the largest peasant organization of Cesar.
What are the aims of the Asamblea?
First, the restitution of our lands, that is, the power to return with guarantees to our territories. We also work for a peaceful coexistence and to ensure that communities can live without anxiety and safely in territory: that we can live in peace.
The Peasant Assembly also aims to seek the good life and reconstruction of rural life, with dignity. We want our children to have a dignified and secure future in the countryside, in our regions.
You’ve recently sent a letter to Drummond – why?
The victims’ dream has always been to receive reparation for the injustices sufferedand also to know the truth of what happened in the territory. We had this initiative, we saw it as a possibility thanks to the support and accompaniment of PAX, to the territory and to the Asamblea. This gave us strength and a guarantee to seek that dialogue. We have had a long process of training, advocacy and, precisely, this dialogue that we want and insist on having with Drummond, is a result of the empowerment and leadership of the members of the Asamblea Campesina.
We have seen positive signs that we expect, be reflected, in a serious process with the miners in Cesar: for example, a few months ago, the director of Drummond expressed the company’s interest in repairing the victims, so he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Unit for Victims. All this strengthens us to continue looking for dialogue spaces and we want to extend our invitation again to give continuity to these processes.
Why approach mining companies and not the state?
These two companies are responsible for half of Cesar’s Gross Domestic Product. They are very powerful actors and simultaneously with the start of their activities in the region, the conflict intensified and mass displacements began. Today they say to support the peace process and we believe they also have the responsibility to review their own role in this history, help heal the wounds of the conflict and reconcile with the communities of victims in the mining region.
What have you already achieved?
That we are recognized today as a movement of peasants and a movement of victims of the conflict, that we have an impact and that we can sit down to talk with institutions, companies and other actors in the region is very important for us. This path must be increasingly strengthened, and we cannot decline in the pursuit of our purposes.
It is an achievement that we stand together in spite of so many things, despite the crises, of the systematic violence against social leaderships. Every day we see examples of organizations that disappear out of fear, threats, lack of opportunities and support. We remain united, and this we have instilled in our young people, to continue the peasant struggle, for our dignity and for our peasant legacy of which we are very proud.
What do you hope for?
My strongest expectation is to achieve prosperous and peaceful communities. With a healthy social fabric and with guarantees so that the events we suffer are not repeated again. We want to work without anxiety, and without fear. We hope that mining companies will see in our invitation to dialogue, an opportunity in which both parties will be benefited, that we can build a process based on mutual listening, in the recognition of the events that affected us and that this is the solid basis for restoration of the lives of the members of the Asamblea Campesina.
The Asamblea Campesina del Cesar por la Restitución de Tierras y el Buen Vivir was founded in 2012 as a group of victims with the purpose of recovering and strengthening the peasant identity and reclaiming the lands that were taken away during the conflict. “We are approximately 3,500 people. We provide assistance, support and accompaniment to other communities such as the Community Council of the Black Communities of La Sierra, El Cruce and La Estación, in Chiriguaná. We have established support ties with a group of victims in the community of Mechoacán, municipality of La Jagua de Ibirico. In total, the Asamblea Campesina brings together victims from 15 communities located in the municipalities of San Diego, Agustín Codazzi, Becerril, El Copey and Chiriguaná, so we are the largest peasant organization in Cesar,” said the President of the Assembly.
This organization is constantly strengthened to influence issues related to integral reparation, restitution of their lands, peace, peasant dignity, training and opportunities for members of the Asamblea.