COLOMBIA: On the move—CAHUCOPANA provides haven and hope for displaced leaders and families

by Jennifer Keeney Scarr

Photo: Marian DeCouto/CPT

“We believe that the people who find refuge there have the right to return to their territory, to their home, to their culture”

In one corner of Colombia there are communities that believe in life, and that resist violence in an organized way. We call on the solidarity of other people to get to know our country, which is a beautiful country with people who dream.”

“No, no, don’t leave yet! I have to denounce!”

The Cahucopana leader’s fingers flew with purpose over her cellphone’s keyboard as we sat in the jeep waiting to depart from Remedios. Her team had received word of an assassination committed by three armed men in Lejanías, a town in the municipality of Remedios, and were urgently attempting to publicly declare the injustice of this violence through social media before we lost all cell signal three minutes into our journey. In Colombia the public denouncing of an injustice, by formal or informal means, is the first step toward initiating a formal legal process to seek redress.

Sometimes, the work of Cahucopana takes place on the move. CPT has been accompanying Cahucopana since 2008 because an international presence can increase the space of security for its leadership. On this occasion, my teammate and I were accompanying Cahucopana’s leaders to one of their biannual meetings.  

Corporación Acción Humanitaria por la Convivencia y la Paz del Nordeste Antioqueño (The Corporation of Humanitarian Action for Coexistence and Peace in Northeast Antioquia, or Cahucopana) is an organization for miners and campesinxs* with a mission to resolve the human rights crisis overwhelming the region of Northeastern Antioquia.

Back on the road, the public declaration was successfully posted during a stop at a gas station. Our destination was one of Cahucopana’s Transitional Humanitarian Safe Havens. Cahucopana has established these Safe Havens  to nonviolently resist the displacement of Antioquia’s communities into cities. Families are generally displaced from their land in this region due to the violence and intimidation of military, guerrillas, or paramilitaries. Fearing for their lives, families flee to the perceived safety of the cities, and are rarely able to return.

Cahucopana is resisting this pattern of displacement. Recognizing the right each human has to their life, their dignity, and their land, Cahucopana created locations alongside the communities where families could seek safety much closer to home. “The beautiful thing about these homes of refuge, and why we consider them homes of transition, is that we believe that the people who find refuge there have the right to return to their territory, to their home, to their culture and not be displaced to the cities,” says Carlos Morales, Cahucopana’s President.

During their temporary stay in these Havens, displaced women, men, and youth take workshops on international humanitarian law, human rights law, and the protection and permanency of their land. They may even participate in humanitarian actions by publicly denouncing the violence against them and sharing their experiences with national and international accompaniment agencies. In this way, education and storytelling empower the displaced individuals and communities to return to their homes without fear of encountering the armed actors in the region. It is the intention of Cahucopana that every temporarily displaced person return home with the tools they need to defend their rights and to be a better member of their community.

This valley was a site a death during the height of territorial battles between Colombia’s left wing insurgencies and Colombian armed forces and paramilitary groups. Recently, the community of Camelias in Northeast Antioquia donated the land to CAHUCOPANA, an organisation that works for the defense of human rights in the region, to build a Humanitarian Refuge because of the increase in threats and assassinations against community organizers and human rights defenders. The refuge provides safe harbour for threaten persons fleeing violence, offering them shelter, food, and an opportunity to work in the community agroecological project. In addition to a place of safety, protected under International Humanitarian Law, legal resources are provided to guarantee that the state assumes it’s responsibly to protect persons at risk. Over 115 human rights defenders nationwide have been assassinated this year. Photo: Caldwell Manners/CPT

The Humanitarian Safe Haven we visited is a farm tucked away amidst beautiful green hills. The first sounds to greet us when we arrived on foot were the gentle snorts of pigs, the friendly clucks of the chickens, and the urgent crow of one insistent rooster. This farm was once the location of a collective farming initiative for the surrounding communities. However, the rise of Álvaro Uribe’s government in the early 2000s made way for economic blockades, threats, massacres, and executions in the region, causing the farming of this land to cease while the communities looked for other sources of income. Recently, the campesinxs donated the land to Cahucopana. Two members of Cahucopana live on the land and stand ready to provide safe harbor and support to all those fleeing nearby violence, like a lighthouse in a storm.

It occurs to me now that on this farm we were in liminal space.

We were on land prepped for transition and impermanence.  A land where crops grow and are harvested, where animals live and die, where people are meant to come and go.

This serene farmland is meant for people on the move.
On the move toward life and dignity.
On the move toward peace and justice.
On the move and ready to return to the land that is theirs, to the life that they claim, to the intentional and worthwhile work of daily nonviolent resistance.

Cahucopana and the people of Antioquia are on the move. CPT will move with them.

And you, dear reader, are on the move too:

on the move toward becominb better informed about your brothers and sisters in Colombia; on the move toward expanding the narrative of Colombia as we know it in our communities, and toward sharing a story of hope and life amidst the newsreels of chaos and violence.

As you go, you are invited to remember the words of Carlos Morales: “in one corner of Colombia there are communities that believe in life, and that resist violence in an organized way. We call on the solidarity of other people to get to know our country, which is a beautiful country with people who dream.”


*Campesinx is a gender inclusive noun for subsistence farmers