Leer en español: Incertidumbre en El Tamarindo
We saw the police cars as we arrived. They were gathered around the bulldozer, preparing to enforce the eviction of humble farmers in the Natacha sector of El Tamarindo.
El Tamarindo is a collection of small farms just outside the city of Barranquilla. Members of this community have spent the past five to twelve years on the land, which was vacant and unclaimed when they began to cultivate it. A few years ago, however, owners appeared with title to the property. El Tamarindo is situated in a duty-free zone, established near the port city to facilitate the swift and steady increase in international commerce projected to accompany implementation of Colombia’s free trade agreements with the United States and Europe. Property values have increased enormously in the area, suddenly attractive and strategic for business use. Vast warehouses are cropping up to store commercial goods and construction materials, in some cases obliterating food production and the small farm lifestyle.
The ASOTRACAMPO community organization in El Tamarindo states that approximately 80% of its member farmers are victims of forced internal displacement. They have eked out a new life here after being forced to flee their homes in other parts of the country. Life in El Tamarindo has been simple yet livable—at least it was until the land was sold out from under them. They seek the security and confidence of land to call their own. The Colombian government’s rural development office is working with them on purchasing land in a more rural area, but the steps involved in that bureaucratic process involve significant delays, and the outcome is uncertain.
El Tamarindo’s 900 acres are divided into five separate lots, and residents find themselves slowly squeezed out, with evictions every few months razing crops and houses on one of the lots. Initially they resisted the evictions, confronting the demolition crew while police stood by to ensure that the action—perfectly legal on paper—could take place without incident. Resistance, however, has resulted in several severe injuries. Others report frequent nightmares and psychological trauma. All that pain and injury added to the homes and crops that were destroyed anyway.
On Wednesday, February 26, I arrived with three representatives of the North Coast Presbytery to accompany the community and witness the eviction. The community had decided not to resist and risk greater harm. One of the leaders told us, “I think we’re no longer in a position to keep putting people forward to be abused. If we were to resist, and three or four were injured, but we kept the land, I would be the first to leap and shout, ‘We’ve won! Victory!’ But if we are abused, our people are injured, and we lose the land, is that a victory? No, sir, that is not a victory. . . . We don’t want to shed any more of our blood along the way.”
On that bright, dusty Wednesday morning residents in the area subject to eviction proceedings were emptying their homes of anything of value they could remove, relocating them to neighbors’ houses. Shortly after our arrival, community leaders received word that the proceedings were suspended for the day, the result of a legal action by some of the victims. The tension in the air eased, but did not dissipate. Within a few weeks the order will be carried out, and humble homes and life-sustaining crops will once more be destroyed. The word I heard over and over again was uncertainty. The struggle is uncertain, the future is uncertain. The commitment to justice of those in power is uncertain.
For the farmers in El Tamarindo, hope lies in the promise of relocation to land they can legally call their own. They are organized and active in seeking support from allies in the senate and government ministries, and count on local encouragement from the Presbyterian Church and organizations that defend and promote victims’ rights. “We ask for solidarity,” said one ASOTRACAMPO member, “with the campesinos. Not only with El Tamarindo but all the campesinos of Colombia, who face the same chaos and the same sadness that we do.”
The wheels of progress roll on, driven by powerful people and interests willing to trample the life and livelihood of small farmers. Standing with the members of ASOTRACAMPO, the costs of globalization have a very human face. One woman, a member of ASOTRACAMPO, put it this way: “We work the land because we’re children of the land. And the government, the Colombian authorities, don’t let us work, they don’t allow us to live. Because who can live without eating? Nobody. They have us cornered here, coming and going with weapons pointed at us—we aren’t the ones with guns in our hands. I don’t understand how we poor people are supposed to live here in Colombia.”
Promises of peace arising from negotiations between the government and guerrilla forces also ring hollow here. One community member asked, “What sort of peace is the government promising? We want a peace worth living, so we can sow and cultivate. But if they don’t let us, how will we raise our children?”
Updated 14 March, 2014