Last night, members from the community of Las Pavas stood in the national spotlight at the National Museum in Bogotá where they won the the National Peace Prize. Holding the prize, community leader Misael Payeres, announced, “Our primary hope is in God—that one day we would see justice. We hope is that this prize will continue to plant seeds of peace and reconciliation for all Colombians. That is the biggest prize I ask for all Colombians.”
The three thousand hectares of land on which the farm of Las Pavas is located has been in legal contention for seven years. The community has experienced displacement, eviction, victimization and today continues to face threats and violent attacks from armed private security guards of palm oil company, Aportes San Isisdro.
In the last year, hundreds of crops – plantains, yuca, corn and rice – were destroyed, either axed down or poisoned. At least thirteen houses have been destroyed. Livestock were stolen and their access to pastureland restricted. Community members have been beaten, shot at and, most recently, the community gathering house was burned down. In spite of the violence, the local police have not been responsive to the security needs of the community.
We have accompanied the community of Las Pavas since 2009 and witnessed the unwavering nonviolent spirit and persistence of the people. They inspire us to the ways of peace and courage. We are extremely delighted and celebrate with the community in their recognition as a leading force for peace in a country poised at the crux of a peace process. Juliana Vargas of the National Peace Prize selection committee recently visited the community; she told them, “You were selected by a committee from 89 nominated national processes who are also doing amazing work for peace. But we chose you because you showed us a nonviolent way forward. You are our example.”
“This recognition means that the time is right. We were victims to start and now the State recognizes that we were victimized again,” continued Misael. On November 12, Unidad de Victimas, the government body that recognizes and investigates claims of forced displacement, affirmed that the farmers from Las Pavas are in fact victims of forced displacement, and are included without reservation in the national registry of victims. In late 2011, the community was accused of lying – that they were not forcefully displaced; this accusation has now been refuted. This recognition guarantees them protection and humanitarian aid under the Victims Law. “With all that, we do not hold grudges against the perpetrators or the state. Today we give them the hand of forgiveness,” said Misael.
The Las Pavas case file now lies on the desk of the Consejo de Estado, the highest court in the land that deals with government administrative disputes. This ruling will be the final step to land ownership for each of the 123 families.