by Duane Ediger
“You have to show them that you won’t harm them,” said Don Misael. He moved his hand toward the wasp nest and gently cradled it in his palm. A half-dozen curious creatures explored his hand for several seconds as he slowly pulled it back, then flew back to the nest.
Having established this peace, Don Misael, a leader of the Buenos Aires Farmers Association (ASOCAB), fellow farmers, CPTers and other accompaniers planted a tree sapling to mark the year anniversary of the return to Las Pavas.
The planting closed anniversary celebrations in which over a hundred returnees retraced the steps of their risky return. Reflections on their struggles and the scriptures cross-pollinated. They chased down a community animal and shared a feast of beef and rice. They sang accompanied by accordion, drum and guira, rejoicing in God’s faithfulness.
“My grandfather came here in 1950. The first displacement was by cattle ranchers in 1958,” Don Misael shared around the evening campfire. Since the 1990s, drug barons and palm plantation masters have issued threats directly and through paramilitaries.
Eliud Alvear, a teacher and community leader continued, “Since ASOCAB formed in 1998, we’ve been forced to flee three times by paramilitaries. But we’re still here. Not many Colombian communities can say that. In 2000 we made a firm decision to rely on God, and not to let any armed group divide us.”
“In 2006 we filed for legal title,” he added. “Soon after, paramilitaries forced us off and the palm companies moved in. After more than a year, despair set in. We asked God for a sign. 2008 brought floods that destroyed all 14,000 palms. The workers [temporarily] evacuated. We took this as an answer to our prayer and returned. When we were wrongfully evicted in 2009, our words were not ‘Good bye,’ but ‘See you later.’”
One year ago the Las Pavas farmers returned in time for spring planting. They maintain an uneasy truce with palm oil producers who work on separate parts of the same estate. Soon after last year’s return the Constitutional Court decided that the 2009 eviction of the farmers illegal. But the government rural land agency (INCODER) has failed to move on many land claims including ASOCAB’s. Under pressure from the Interior Minister, the INCODER head resigned April 1 and was replaced by a former leader of the Magdalena Medio Peace and Development Program, a church-sponsored organization that provides legal representation to ASOCAB.
The newly planted anniversary tree is a medlar, which when full grown will bear fruit year-round. It is rooted in land that the community has reclaimed and is again getting ready to plant with yucca, plantain and other food crops.
It also grows in sight of endless acres of monoculture oil palm, the compound of the palm companies responsible for the 2009 eviction, and a wasp nest, all of which have experienced the community’s unintimidated, lived commitment to nonviolence.