“At this moment I am 51 years old; at 13 I started working with communities, in community action boards, with young people… and I liked it too much”. This is how Edilberto Daza answers when asked where his commitment to the defense of human rights comes from. Peasant leader of the departments of Meta and Guaviare, Edilberto has personally suffered forced displacement, threats, an attack and several illegal arrests. On one occasion, a paramilitary group held him for three days and tortured him.
Like Sílvia Berrocal, Edilberto Daza is in Catalonia as part of the Catalan Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. In Catalonia, Edilberto’s candidacy has been endorsed by the association Acció Internacional per la PAU (IAP Catalunya), in collaboration with the Catalan Association for Peace and Intersindical-CSC. In Colombia, it has received the endorsement of the Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law of the East and Center of Colombia (Fundación DHOC).
This is, in fact, one of the entities through which Edilberto carries out his task of defending human rights. The DHOC Foundation works, following the peace agreements, to verify compliance with the cessation of hostilities and the correct implementation of the pacts. It also carries out peace pedagogy actions and the protection of social leaders, as well as the defense of the land and environmental justice.
To the commitment with the DHOC Foundation, Edilberto adds his participation in the farming association Agrogüéjar-Cafre, from the municipality of Puerto Rico. It is their grassroots organization. Agrogüéjar-Cafre is working on the creation of a farming reserve area in the municipality of Puerto Rico and also a large farming reserve area in the Special Management Area of La Macarena (AMEM).
After more than three decades of commitment to human rights and social justice, and despite the violence he has suffered, he continues to raise his voice firmly. “Every day we tell farmers and the public that they need to report, because it’s the only way,” he insists.
Colombia has been dragging the problem of land distribution for decades.
The peace accords include a clause on land reform, but it is a very complicated issue. Land is owned by very few people in Colombia, and due to paramilitarism, many people have been driven from their land. For a farmer, getting his land titled is a long process and, at most, he will be able to reach 80 titled hectares, maximum. On the other hand, there are large landowners, such as former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has more than 30,000 hectares of land. And you wonder: why can he have so much titled land?
The agreements provide for the creation of a land fund, which must be distributed among landless peasants. But to put it into motion, another problem is being generated. Peasants who have owned their farm for 40 or 50 years are having their domain extinguished because they have grown coca. They intend to expropriate their lands and hand them over to other people through the fund. Thus, we have a double displacement.
The DHOC Foundation verifies the implementation and compliance of the peace agreements. How do you rate the path taken since the signing of the agreements?
In the 14 months we have been in the process*, we have been able to observe many difficulties. When the FARC concentration stage was completed, we found that the areas where the guerrilla members were supposed to gather were not equipped. The government had not even started building the necessary infrastructure. In principle, the people of the FARC were supposed to find homes, classrooms for work and study, health centers… but when they got there, there was absolutely nothing. With the will to continue the process, the FARC people were willing to collaborate in the construction.
But it’s not just about that. At this moment, many ex-combatants still have not been able to legalize their documentation, have not received the first payment, have pending banking, etc. In some areas, the people gathered have had to withdraw because there were no security guarantees and the threat of paramilitaries is constant. And in fact, in many areas they have left because the government fails to comply with the issue of food, health, education…
How is the substitution of illicit crops being managed?
The communities have been very willing to reach agreements with the government, but the executive has not fulfilled the pacts. In some municipalities, just two or three days after signing an agreement with the government, the communities have received the visit of 4 or 5 helicopters with police, ESMAD[antiavalots], prosecutors, etc.
The people have organized themselves, each village [secció administrativa dels municipis colombians]has formed its own group of people, and has gone to defend the crops so as not to allow them to uproot what little they have. There have been clashes with the public force, peasants injured and killed, etc.
Last week they arrived in the municipality of Puerto Rico. The anti-narcotics police went to some houses [tallers rudimentaris on es processa la fulla de coca]and set fire to them. But since we are there in the summer, more than 250 hectares of mountain have already burned. They have burned also also crops, pastures…
Another mission of the DHOC Foundation is to do peace pedagogy for the socialization of agreements.
We have organized trainings of between one and three days for the communities. We explain how the peace process has gone and what agreements were agreed in Havana. But it’s not easy. We are a non-profit organization, and we only have resources from some international projects and organizations that support us. The Colombian government has not invested a single peso in peace education. Because of this, many people still do not know what was agreed and signed in the peace accords.
Both the DHOC Foundation and Agrogüéjar have had international support from the IAP organization. What impact have these actions had?
It has been very important, because it has reduced the persecution and stigmatization we suffer. Every time we travel to do a workshop or visit the communities and have IAP support, we don’t find many inconveniences. In this sense, the attack against leaders and human rights defenders decreases.
The support of international organizations has a great impact, both in terms of personal support there, in the region, and also from Europe. Now, unfortunately, many of the financial resources that have been sent from the European Union have not reached the communities. It would be necessary to see how a direct relationship could be established between the international organizations and the Colombian entities that develop the projects in the territory.
* This interview took place on February 12, 2018.