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...for its outstanding commitment to peace, family and community in the midst of the most senseless violence.
In 1965 Communist guerrillas first established a presence in the Carare region of Colombia. By 1987 over 500 peasants had been killed and, in a fateful meeting with military and paramilitary leaders, the peasants were given four options: side with the military, side with the guerrillas, leave the region or die. Those peasants who had sought to stay independent of the violence chose a fifth option: to organise non-violently for peace and development. And so the ATCC was born, with the slogan 'for the right to life, peace and work'.
Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos del Carare
Apartado Postal 146
In 1965 Communist guerrillas first established a presence in the Carare region of Colombia. In 1973, when the army came to evict the guerrillas, the opposing armed groups inflicted dreadful violence on the peasants, and in the 1980s this was exacerbated by the presence of paramilitary groups.
By 1987 over 500 peasants had been killed and, in a fateful meeting with military and paramilitary leaders, the peasants were given four options: side with the military, side with the guerrillas, leave the region or die. Those peasants who had sought to stay independent of the violence chose a fifth option: to organise non-violently for peace and development. And so the ATCC was born, with the slogan 'for the right to life, peace and work'.
ATCC's tactics were simple: constant dialogue with all parties (military, paramilitary, guerrillas, government) and an unshakeable commitment to non-violence. They were startlingly successful and only five killings occurred in the region from May 1987 to February 1990, when violence was at a peak for Colombia as a whole. ATCC's peace rally in 1987 attracted 8,000 peasants - two-thirds of all those in the region. In the same year, recognising that peace could not be achieved merely by halting political violence, the Association obtained loans to buy two boats and a grocery store. The shop proved highly successful and was soon providing ATCC with almost its only income.
In 1988 the Association presented its Development Plan to the government, emphasising education, communications systems including roads, peasant and communal organisation and the maintenance of natural resources. This soon began to attract investment from the government's National Plan for Rehabilitation.
Signs of a resurgence of guerrilla activity in 1989 led the ATCC to focus its efforts once again on peace-making. A Peace Forum was organised, bringing together all the protagonists as well as local organisations. Only a month later, however, three of ATCC's leading activists - including its chief spokesmen Miguel Barajas and José Vargas Mateus - were gunned down in their home town of Cimitarra.
The Association immediately called a General Assembly, elected a new Board and determined to pursue dialogue with the armed groups as well as its development projects.
Courage in adversity has been the hallmark of the ATCC.
December 9th, 1990
The speech was held by Salomón Blandón, Excelino Ariza and Orlando Gaitán.
Members of the Swedish Parliament,
Directors of The Right Livelihood Award Foundation,
Fellow Winners of the Award,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have come today to receive The Right Livelihood Award representing many peasant people: the 3.000 Colombian families that are presently living in our region, El Carare, the several hundreds of fellow countrymen who died as innocent victims of the senseless war that razed this region for more than fifteen years; and our three heroic leaders, Josué Vargas Mateus, Saúl Castañeda y Miguel Angel Barajas, who had to pay with their lives their invaluable contribution to the peace and development processes that we, as a community, have been enjoying for the last three and a half years. We also want to honour today the memory of our friend, the journalist Sylvia Dusán, who died with our leaders.
Jakob von Uexkull, founder of the award that we are receiving today, conceived it as a means to support and honour "practical, replicable projects" that would be "the corner stones of a new world which we can enjoy living in". The fact that The Right Livelihood Awards Foundation has selected the ATCC as one of the winners means that its directors have seen in our work one of those practical projects that contribute to the building of a better world. As we express to you our most sincere gratitude for conferring on us such an honour, we also want to assure you, with joy and satisfaction, that you have not erred in making this choice: we are building peace and development in our region, putting an end to the ruthless violence and impoverishment we have had to bear for so many years. We are building on the principle that inspired the birth of our Association and that has guided our actions: "For the right to life, to peace and to work".
* * *
We live on the fringe, isolated and far from the big cities in our country. We are plain, simple Colombian citizens, part of the vast majority of Colombians that a long tradition has kept unseen and unheard. In that same tradition, the mass media and the top economic and political hierarchies, whether national or international, have not had ears to listen, nor eyes to see the efforts and accomplishments of local communities such as ours. You, the Directors of The Right Livelihood Award Foundation, have challenged this tradition paving the way for our voice to be heard and our accomplishments to be seen.
As Colombians we are filled with hope that this gesture of yours will contribute to overcome the awful image that our country has been given, within as well as without our land. An image that has been multiplied by the worldwide diffusion given to the atrocious acts perpetrated by some small groups in our country with the support of many people from elsewhere. We invite the press, as well as the national and international authorities, to direct their attention ever more towards the daily struggle of ordinary common - folk like us to make our lives and those of our neighbors every day a little happier.
* * *
The most valuable benefit we have obtained from working with and for our Association is quite clear: we have learnt lo learn. Our commitment to peace and development in our region means that we have to find new autonomous ideas and solutions to respond adequately to the changing circumstances we have to face every day. This development of our own capacity and self confidence to think and act on our own has allowed all of us, as individuals and as a community, to improve our understanding of ourselves and others. This is the basis for the solidarity that keeps our Association together.
But this marvelous personal and collective experience that we are all living has made it very difficult for others to understand us precisely because of our being so autonomous. Since May 1987, when our organization started transforming living conditions in the region through dialogue and mutual understanding, the presence of those who, because they did not understand us, have attacked us has been as worrying as the group of individuals and institutions that believe in and support what we are doing. However, if this condition has caused us tremendous difficulties, it has also taught us something very important: to be able to build the peace and development we seek we have to understand those who do not understand us. Today we know that understanding this lack of understanding is essential if the social changes we seek are to be achieved without violence.
* * *
The peace and development we have built have not been the result of negotiation: both, in practice, have been our own community decisions. Decisions that we have been able to take on our own account because of the internal solidarity that unites us, because of the capacity we have developed to understand others without passing judgment on them and because of the willingness of all of us to die rather than to kill.
Loyalty to these principles underwent its most cruel test last February with the death of Josuê Saúl and Miguel Angel. But today it is most satisfying to be able to say that we passed that test: instead of accusations and denunciations over the assassination of our leaders we have intensified our efforts to draw nearer to those who declare themselves our enemies in order to show them that for us, in practice, no one is an enemy, no matter what acts those who wish to destroy us might commit. This is how we conceive peace and this is how we seek to create it.
* * *
Accepting this award today pledges us before ourselves, before The Right Livelihood Awards Foundation, before our fellow countrymen and before the international community to continue for ever the work we have been undertaking in our region with never one step back. To fulfill this pledge we must leave the younger generations imbued with the spirit that will sustain them in the face of the challenges that life will thrust at them. This is our most important task.
The Foundation, in giving us this award, has shown us that, yes, there are those that understand and support us. The spirit of international solidarity that we feel today on accepting this award fills us with enthusiasm, with joy and with the conviction that we need to face with hope all the challenges that await us from this day forward.
Thank you very much.
asked in 2005
answered by Donaldo Quiroga Rueda
1. What are your main goals and tools for constructing peace?
The visibility of the civil population's autonomy in the peace constructing process. Showing the possibilities of constructing peace with non-violent means, as for instance through civil disobedience and regional dialogues with the parties of the conflict. Work in order to empower young people in the peace process so they become in charge and in the near future see to it that peace becomes the culture of co-existence.
2. How do you make the military and guerrilla groups listen to you?
Understand and make them understand that the respect for the freedom of thought isn't to question the other but to present the other with the causes and effects of an action. The dialogues have to be transparent.
The community of this region has gained autonomy due to agreements made in 1987. When the community makes a statement towards any of the groups it is because the agreements have been violated. Then they will listen to us in the dialogues.
3. How is the situation in the Carare region today?
The dynamics of the conflict have changed. Today the population has to face a new kind of oppression. The state hasn't sustained the experience of peace and the violent actors take the opportunity to offer money to the young people and they join their ranks. They also buy land from the farmers in order to cultivate cocaine. The problem is that the war is offering a means to survive.
Our work is to protect our young people from the war and to prevent that land is being sold to be used for illegal purposes, that's our everyday struggle. Obviously, without help from the government.
4. How do you work with young people in favour of peace?
We are trying to find strategies within the region in order to promote that classes wholly devoted to the subjects of peace and co-existence are integrated into the educational system - and that those who give these classes are themselves affected by the war or have wrongfully participated in the conflict. At the moment, these are mainly theoretical proposals due to the lack of support. Presently, we try to stimulate young people with peace initiatives of their own and see to it that they come in contact with other young people.
5. How do you do to get paramilitaries, guerrillas and the government to attend the dialogues?
We make them understand that peace and civil disobedience aren't just politics but a means to create spaces within the conflicts for ways to live in harmony and avoid hurting the other parties. Showing respect for the other parties without judging them as stronger or weaker and stating that our dialogue only aims at peace achieved by non-violent means.
6. What effect has the Right Livelihood Award had on your work?
It was very important to receive the recognition from the Alternative Nobel Prize. The Right Livelihood Award represented a significant contribution to our proposal of constructing peace with non-violent means in those difficult times when our founding leaders had been assassinated.
It has given further recognition and respect to the agreements with the different actors since they recognize it as the greatest international support for our process. It makes them look upon us as creators of a peace proposal that the world desires and not just some fairy tale that farmers have come up with. It has also served as an example showing that there are more possibilities for peace in today's Colombia.