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An article written by Anna Vogt, published in Waging Nonviolence (wagingnonviolence.org) about a march planned in Mampuján. See pictures from the march here.
If the only sentence of and reparations from paramilitary violence in Colombia’s history cannot be carried out for a community of 250 families, what are the chances of justice for the rest of the over 5 million victims, even with new laws? This is a significant testing of the government’s stated intention to support and provide justice for the victims, especially as President Santos has staked his presidency on providing justice.
Therefore, the community of Mampuján is getting ready to march, not only for their own benefit, as they demand their reparations, but for the benefit of all the victims of armed conflict in Colombia. This morning community members—the majority children and senior citizens—are planning on leaving their homes behind and non-violently walking 32 kilometres to Cartagena, the capital of Bolivar province and the home of numerous different institutions and state governments. They are demanding to meet with the different agencies responsible for their reparations and are hoping to be joined by other victims of armed conflict along the way.
This is the first action of this type for the community, so a lot of learning is taking place as they go along, but they are steadily moving forward, accompanied by a number of different organizations and experienced nonviolent activists. Mampuján is already gaining national attention for its women’s quilting group and its sentence; this march will serve to focus this attention and pressure the Colombian government to comply with its promised changes.Located in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia’s Bolivar department on the Caribbean coast, the community of Mampuján has experienced the full force of Colombia’s past and ongoing armed conflicts. Their most decisive event, however, occurred on March 11, 2000, during the height of violence in this zone, when the members of the community of Mampuján were displaced from their original location by a group of right-wing paramilitaries, known as the Heroes of Montes de Maria. The community members were rounded up, accused of supporting guerrilla forces, and commanded to leave Mampuján immediately. Three hundred families fled, and 11 campesinos from the surrounding area of Las Brisas were massacred.
Since this time, the majority of the community has resettled in temporary housing, located about seven kilometres away in New Mampuján, where they live a reality very similar to that of the other 5 million internally displaced persons living in Colombia.
However, Mampuján and several surrounding neighbor communities are significantly different from the rest of the victims as they are the first communities to receive a verdict under the Law of Justice and Peace (Law 975 of 2005), where the paramilitary leaders responsible for the displacement have been sentenced to jail time and ordered to repay their victims for damages suffered. This has been the only sentence of its kind in Colombia, despite the existence of this law for over six years.
Under this sentence and an additional sentence by the Supreme Court of Justice in April 2011, the community is entitled to receive both individual and community reparations for damages suffered during displacement. The Supreme Court sentence defines the parameters that the courts, the State and various institutions will work within to make sure that reparations take place. However, despite this groundbreaking legal action, nothing has in reality taken place. The community of Mampuján and its surrounding neighbours have not received their promised reparations and there are increasing fears that nothing will happen as the Justice and Peace Law and government offices dedicated to enforcing this law are phased out and replaced with the new Victim’s Law.
After the march, Anna wrote a few continued reflections:
After a completely peaceful march of 73 kilometres, through sun and rain, the communities of Mampuján, San Juan and San Cayatano succeeded in arriving at the government palace in Cartagena on December 11, where they demanded to speak to the governor of Bolivar, chanting their demands for government compliance with promises of reparation. The governor finally appeared and invited the community leaders inside for a brief meeting about their demands, with the promise of a further private meeting the next day. However, in an all-community meeting that night, the communities made it very clear that they would only accept a public meeting with all of the community members and press present. Things were tense the next day as they journeyed back to the plaza, not sure what to expect, but sure of one thing: they would not be going home without this meeting. Anxiety built as the community waited and watched for something to happen within the building, as community leaders refused to enter without the community. Then something remarkable happened. For the first time in history, an entire community was allowed to enter the building, without being registered or going through an intensive security procedure. The community was allowed to share their stories of displacement and massacre, culminating in their demands for reparations for all they have suffered as part of Colombia’s armed conflict. At the end of the meeting, the governor and other state entities promised the start of a permanent working group to ensure that the sentence will not be forgotten and the community will receive their reparations. So, was the march a success? In many ways, yes. The plight of the community was highlighted and made public, with extremely positive media attention. The community itself achieved something remarkable together and a new feeling of community spirit can be felt throughout Mampuján. People are ready to continue to work together and can always look
back on the march as an example of the power of the community to achieve something together. However, the communities are still waiting for a firm date for a meeting to establish the permanent working group about the sentence. Things have been changed several times and the lack of knowledge of some of the entities who have promised to be present is worrying. However, hopefully using the power of the media attention gained during the march, Mampuján can continue to press the government to act. People are paying attention to what is happening to the community again and this is a very positive sign.