This information was collected over the past months, through daily observation and informal conversation with members of our local community. We would also like to highlight that there are not many concrete statistics on this area, due to transition, displacement, and poverty which puts people from this community constantly on the move and makes it difficult to find official information.
The town of Soacha lies to the southeast of Bogotá, and belongs to the department of Cundinamarca. It is located in the mountains of Colombia at 2,625 meters. The town has more than 347 neighborhoods, organized in six urban communes and two rural townships. It is important to mention that more than 50% of these settlements are illegal because they do not have official property titles. Approximately 30% of neighborhoods are located in high-risk zones, due to enormous erosion because of strong rains; deforestation also becomes a problem that complicates safety as more and more trees are cut down to create housing for the quickly-growing population. Since the 80’s, Soacha has had a high rate of growth. Its population is approximately 700,000 inhabitants currently, of whom 60% live in conditions of extreme poverty.
One of these places is the sixth sector, the “heights of Cazucá”, where we are living. A number of years ago, the majority of the population came here, looking to build a new home due to displacement from their homes of origin because of the armed conflict. Since it was illegal to live here, Cazucá was very cheap and there was a lot of space to build houses. A large number of people built their homes in Cazucá and many have been living here for over 20 years.
The people of Cazucá are extremely varied, as most are immigrants from regions all over the country, such as: Tolima, Valle, Chocó, Putumayo and the Caribbean Coast, among others. It is very interesting to see how, often, people live in sectors according to their place of origin. An example is the neighborhood Oasis, also called “the neighborhood of the blacks”, where approximately 90% of its population are displaced people from the department of Chocó and when one enters this neighborhood it is like being in a mini Chocó.
Today it can be said that even though many people continue to arrive in Cazucá due to displacement, many people also arrive from Bogotá because they find in Cazucá a low-cost place to live with their families. Cazucá is considered strata zero or one and so the cost of rent and public services, such as electricity, water and gas, are cheaper than other areas. The cost of life for the families of this area is lower than other places in Bogotá (for example, Northern Bogotá).
In Cazucá’s more than 20 years of existence, its transportation has not changed since the beginning – only the closest and oldest neighborhoods have established routes. Where we live (in a neighborhood called El Progreso) there is no bus that arrives directly; we have to walk 10 to 15 minutes to the main road where a bus passes. The path is a dirt path, which means there’s lots of dust in summer and lots of mud in the rainy season. Something that has changed, however, is the quantity of buses due to the growth of the population in the area. There is also a small town at the base of the mountain called San Mateo, where they are building a Transmilenio stop (a line of buses that span across Bogotá) to connect these neighborhoods with the transportation system of the city.
Mrs. María (our neighbor, a woman who has lived in this neighborhood for 18 years and is the owner of one of the main corner stores in El Progreso) tells us that the neighborhood has changed considerably in recent years. In some aspects, these changes have been positive, such as services that have arrived like electricity, gas and water. She told us, “Before, the issue of water was really difficult here, it only arrived one hour a month and for any other water you had to climb down the mountain…to where the bus stop is and get in line at 2:00am to be able to wash clothes and get water to take home. To get up the mountain with water, you had to use a donkey…it was extremely wearing.” Today, Mrs. María is thankful that the water situation and services have improved and now water comes every three days for one hour, which gives time to collect and store water for the days when there is no running water.
Ten years ago, there was a lot of violence in the zone; according to Mrs. María “there was a terrible massacre in the zone and if you left the house early in the morning you basically had to walk through dead bodies…they were really hard times, with lots of assassinations.” Today it can be said that there are no longer massive assassinations, as there were before, however the issue of violence has not stopped.
There is very little police presence; we see a police truck with four policemen pass through the area every once in a while during the day. People say that if there is a problem in the community they cannot wait for the police to arrive. If they arrive, it is always late, an example being a recent incident where a young man in the street had a pistol out, shooting at the ground, someone called the police and twenty minutes later they arrived, but the guy had already left. The contradiction is that there is that there is a military base ten minutes (walking) away and its presence is almost insignificant. Furthermore, the base has been implicated with false positives, which are when they assassinate civilians and dress them up as guerillas or paramilitaries to make it look like part of the armed conflict and that way, receive reward. Militaries have also lost the trust of the community with the issue of drugs, since it is common knowledge that the military knows where drugs are sold and many times youth even buy them and take them to the military base to be consumed there.
Drug addiction is one of the biggest problems in the area. It’s incredible how addicted youth and adults are; when they don’t have money to buy drugs they do whatever necessary to get ahold of them, including robbing, prostituting themselves and even killing. Drugs can be acquired with only $1000 Colombian pesos, which is called a “moño”. The rate of early pregnancies in the area is extremely high, with girls as young as 10 and 11 years old walking the streets with babies in their arms, taking care of their children alone because often, the fathers do not recognize these children as their own.
The problem of interfamilial violence is also very strong in homes where husbands physically and verbally mistreat their wives, children mistreat their mothers and vice versa. The majority of homes are dysfunctional and in many cases women are the head of the household, who have to work to keep their families afloat.
A large part of the population works in the market, carrying large sacks and helping out around the selling points. There are also many women who work as maids in houses of other families, and others take to picking up trash to do recycling. The topic of work, however, is extremely complicated in Colombia in general because most options are informal jobs, meaning many times they don’t even receive minimum pay, let alone social services and/or benefits.
Another important point to highlight is that Cazucá has been an area where many NGO’s have intervened to help the population and while the people here are very thankful for the support and help they have received from these organizations, it has also created a huge dependency, due to the hand-out model that has been used in the community. There are people in the community who do not even work at all, but they just wait to receive the small food basket that organizations offer them, so we can affirm that they get used to the idea that they are given everything without having to do anything. Breaking with this pattern of dependency is very difficult because many people have taken on the role of a “displaced victim”, which paralyzes them and takes away their dignity. In light of this situation, many political figures promise to bring changes to the community as part of their campaigns, but too many of these promises are empty due to a corrupt government. One can only hope that the newly elected leaders will have a true heart to help change and assist their neighbors here.
We work with four projects in the Cazucá area. These projects are all connected to either a Mennonite or Mennonite Brethren church and work with children and women through soup kitchens, schools and workshops about peace building and development. These projects, together with Mencoldes and Justapaz make up the Anabaptist Table Working Group, which is a space where each project and organization supports each other and do activities together. The Anabaptist Table also represents a space of sharing, talking about problems in the zone and searching for ways to help one other mutually. The work of the projects is a very positive force that works, in one way or another, to change the large number of problems facing Cazucá.
Some people would say that Cazucá is not an ideal place to live and we could write from that perspective, but we can never forget the inhabitants of Cazuca, people who are full of life and dignity, hospitable people, many of whom work hard and do marvels for their community. It is easy to get stuck in negative thinking, but each situation has a positive light that shines in the darkness, and our goal is to help that light grow.
 CID, MENCOLDES, SJR & FEDES, 2010:6
 Interview done on October 25, 2011.
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