For its outstanding commitment to peace, family and community in the midst of the most senseless violence.
The Association of Peasant Workers of Carare was created in 1987 as a peaceful response to the violence in the Magdalena area. In 1965 Communist guerrillas first established a presence in the Carare region of Colombia. By 1987 over 500 peasants had been killed. 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’.
Between 1987 and 1990, the organisation’s successful strategy was dialogue and local peace agreements with armed groups and mediation within the community, achieving the first peace agreement in the country.
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. In the 1980s, this was exacerbated by the presence of paramilitary groups.
By 1987 over 500 peasants had been killed. 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 natural resources maintenance. 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. However, only a month later, three of ATCC's leading activists were gunned down in their hometown of Cimitarra. In February 1990, the president, vice president and secretary of the ATCC were killed in the restaurant ‘La Tata’, where they used to meet. Josué Vargas, Miguel Ángel Barajas and Saúl Castañeda were shot dead together with Colombian journalist Silvia Duzan, who was reporting for BBC´s Channel 4.
The execution was carried out by members of paramilitary groups in association with members of the national army and the national police, as the Regional Prosecutor’s Office and the Technical Investigation Corps could verify, according to a report presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the Colombian Commission of Jurists, which represents the families of the four victims.
The Association immediately called a General Assembly, elected a new Board and determined to pursue dialogue with the armed groups and its development projects.
Courage in adversity has been the hallmark of the ATCC.