Mural with flag of the department of
Bolivar where El Salado is located.
We recently began an extension of the Everyday Peace Indicators pilot project in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia. We chose two villages for the pilot: Don Gabriel and El Salado. The villages have many things in common. They were both affected by violence in the late 90s and early 2000s, they have similar population sizes and share many of the same demographics. Both villages were displaced because of massacres. Although the population of Don Gabriel was only directly affected by selected murders committed by the FARC of 50+ community members over some 3 years, they left the village after they witnessed the brutal massacre committed by the paramilitaries in their neighbor village of Chengue in January of 2001. Most of the villagers returned that same year or the following year and some continued to experience violence at the hands of the FARC. However, not much has happened since then. The government has a limited presence in the village, with occasional visits by the mayor (around election time) and some patrolling by the military. For the most part the village has seen no external intervention since the violence. As many told me, “nos han abandonado” (they’ve abandoned us).
El Salado, on the other hand, has become an emblematic case of the violence this region experienced for the massacre of approximately 60 people in February of 2000 at the hands of the paramilitaries. Some of the villagers began to return in 2002, but it was a difficult start and some were threatened and had to flee as far as Spain because of death threats. By 2009, things had become more stable and the government had placed a military guard on a hilltop above El Salado with two armed guards patrolling the area continuously. Around this time, the Fundación Semana (a private foundation associated with the magazine “La Semana”) decided to make El Salado its first project and opened an office with six staff (mostly from Bogotá) in the village. Since then, an estimated 120 external actors with different types of interventions have come to El Salado, most organized or facilitated in some way by the Fundación Semana. This is evident when you walk around the village, kids are playing soccer in new soccer jerseys and cleats donated by James (a Colombian soccer player). There is an enormous library in the center of town, which was inaugurated by Carlos Vives in 2012. Episodes of a culinary show documenting “los sabores que la Guerra se llevó” (the tastes the war has taken) have been filmed here. Everyone has a pair of Toms. Juanes has provided psycho-social support through his organization “Fundacion Mi Sangre.” The village has been visited by dignitaries including President Santos, musicians and ambassadors of countries in the region – the Argentine ambassador ordered a chair/hammock combo (“hamadora”) produced in El Salado in the colors of the Argentine flag.
But it also extends to infrastructure, the road to El Carmen de Bolivar (the capital of the municipality) is now paved, 100 new houses were built by the government (with the assistance of Fundación Semana) and given to displaced families without homes in December 2015, the list goes on. Yet, the village is not as utopian as it seems. There are significant internal struggles, especially among villagers who perceive inequality in the payment of reparations and the benefit of interventions. Many told me “siempre dan a los mismos” (they always give to the same ones).
We have completed the indicator selection with community members and are currently underway with the surveys in both communities. This time we didn’t only collect peace indicators, but also reconciliation indicators. It will be interesting to see how the two communities differ in terms of peace and reconciliation according to their own community generated indicators. The indicators themselves will also tell a story of the differences in perceptions, experiences and priorities in the everyday lives of these villagers. And it will be interesting to see how these indicators compare to the ones collected in communities in South Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa.