Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation

Retaking land in Colombia

by Catherine Millar

ANNCOL September 2003
www.globalresearch.ca   September 2003

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/MIL309A.html


The author of this text, Catherine Millar is a FARC-EP combatant.  Global Research is posting this testimony of a young FARC guerilla, initially publishing by ANNCOL. Global Research considers this testimony to be informative and publishes this article as a service to its readers. Global Research does not necessarily endorse the FARC movement in Colombia.

It was a day like any other during that time - dull gray with persistent morning dew that gave the impression it would never lift.

The personnel grouped at 08.00; the service officer ordered everyone to come as quickly as possible. We hurried along, murmuring, “This means that personnel are being sent out,” and we were right. I heard my name called and 11 more after that, making a squad of 12.

The mission: To travel to several districts, meet the locals, find out their needs, explain to them about our organization including the reason we’re fighting, who we are and any further details that are necessary in such cases.

We departed enthusiastically. Most of us didn’t know each other. When one departs like that, one leaves with the expectation of there being much to learn. After 4 days of marching, we arrived at one of the districts. It was an area of little vegetation and unfertile soil. The majority of its inhabitants weren’t owners; they were renters with a few yucca, corn and bean crops.

We went from house to house talking. For some of them it was the first time they had seen guerrillas. Many of them hid, especially the women and children. Many of the children grabbed hold of skirts in search of protection. The men were reasonable. A few mangy dogs barked at us, the severe hunger they were undergoing was patently obvious. Such hunger was also a clear indicator of the situation their owners and the general community were undergoing.

Bit by bit, we gained the men’s trust. The women brought coffee, if they had it. If they didn’t, we had some in our rucksacks, which we prepared ourselves. Gradually the conversation progressed and the tension dissipated. It’s never easy in these situations; there’s always a degree of mistrust. We were in uniform and the villagers associate uniforms with the Government Army, which had mistreated some of them on past occasion. They still held in their memories the cases of “disappeared” men and murders during attempts to retake land. Passing from house to house, we completed the mission in that district and moved onto the others with similar characteristics.

The general impression we got was that everything had gone well for us, although we still needed to make more contact with the peasant farmers. We decided to review what we’d done with the specific aim of speaking less and listening more in order to find out what their main problems were and what possible solutions we could find in conjunction with the local community.

Mission to retake the land

We had taken on the task of learning all the villagers’ names, all of which we had previously written down in coded notes. We called everyone by name, even the children, because it shows friendliness and good manners to call people by name - it breaks the ice and gives the feeling of being amongst old friends.

However, the peasant farmers could rarely remember our names; some called us by variations, others completely forgot, but this didn’t matter since the important thing was the feeling we were displaying toward them.

In this manner we started listening to them, and learned of their main problem, which was to have their own land to sow. Paying rent always left them with very little earnings. The landowner collected rent from them without caring whether it was summer or a long winter, or if they’d lost their crops. None of this stopped the landowner from religiously making his money by renting his pieces of land.

With the support of many farmers, we decided to retake the land. Some of them didn’t want to because they were afraid; their previous experiences had not left them with happy memories. A list was made of those who were resolute and it turned out to be a majority who decided to fight and win. We organised everything. There were various preliminary meetings: land to be retaken, restrictions, tools etc.

Everything ready for Monday

We chose Monday at dawn as the time. Three guerrillas, dressed entirely in civilian clothes, were to mix themselves amongst the peasant farmers. We took donkeys laden with valuables including a few small animals (hens, cats, dogs and a caged bird). The caged bird caused me discomfort. It pained me because it brought back memories of prison. The wires of the cage seemed to me like the thick, heavy iron bars of the prison.

However, the little bird looked beautiful, flittering around and singing. It did this differently to others of its species ­ I’m sure of this. It’s trill sometimes expressed rebellion, other times nostalgia and others still the pathetic expression of crying. Carrying the cage in my hand along the path, I thought about opening it. I also thought about her owner, inspired by those songs, which were as colorful as her feathers. No one knew of the soaring pains in her soul; the immense desire she felt to go out in search of freedom was just like the little bird’s.

We arrived at the land that we were going to take possession of. The men began to construct small, improvised dwellings, the women to prepare food. All the while the impassive children continued treating everything as it were a grand adventure. They ran and jumped into the small stream to look for fish. For them, it was a wonderful outing.

Three guerrillas went directly with two of the farmers to the foreman’s house. He was a short, fat man who turned white with shock when we told him, “We’ve decided to retake these lands. Tomorrow go to your boss and tell him everything and at the same time tell him that the FARC need to talk to him.”

We bade farewell and when we were leaving, the foreman called me aside. I was the only female guerrilla in the group and he said to me, “I don’t have any land either. My boss is good but if this works out, keep me in mind for one of the plots of land.” “OK,” I responded. In my mind I knew he could be a good ally. “If things go well, we don’t want problems.” That would be terrible for all the farmers who have had so much hope.

We shook hands and the foreman’s natural colour returned to him. He seemed calmer.

The landowner arrives

For many exhausting days we worked with the farmers, assisting and overseeing their security. The army didn’t interfere. The sowing and division of the plots had commenced. We also started thinking about a name for the new district. “La Tierra” (The Land) was chosen as the name, and that’s how it stayed.

After a few days the foreman arrived and informed us, “The owner has sent me to tell you that he’s coming to talk with you tomorrow. At what time can he come?” We suspected it might have been a trap, but we had to take the risk. We told him to say yes and the exact spot we would meet.

We took a few precautions including securing ourselves in a strong position from where we would see him coming from afar. Some of us would be on lookout duty in case anything happened. We stayed in civilian clothing with a few pistols.

A heavy-set man with white skin and clear glasses arrived. I ordered him to get out of the car alone, in order to speak with him. I greeted him formally. His hands were warm and delicate. I looked him in the eyes and he asked me, “Are you a guerrilla?” “Yes. I’m from the FARC,” I answered him. We sat down and I began talking about poverty, about the needs of the landless peasant farmers. I talked and I talked. He didn’t interrupt me. Shortly, my eyes filled with tears and a knot formed in my throat. Suddenly, I was left speechless. He merely said, “I greatly admire your social conscience.”

He confirmed that he was a doctor and that he owned two farms. His behaviour was different. It wasn’t aggressive like the big landowners who, when you touch their property, kill, burn and devastate indiscriminately.

Since he didn’t want to lose the land and he saw the farmer’s decision to remain, his face assumed an expression of resignation and he said, “I will deal with the Colombian Agrarian Reform Institute.” (INCORA)

A parcel from the owner

We continued taking land, which was divided into plots. The families worked at cultivating. They laboured on other farms four days a week in order to survive. The remaining time they worked on their own land to get ahead.

The following month, I received a parcel from the landowner. It was a book with the following dedication: “In great honour of your social conscience”

It also contained a note explaining that he wasn’t going to fight for what he saw was already lost and that INCORA had promised to repay him the purchase price, so he would be able to recover the value of his properties.

It was a source of grand satisfaction to experience such a victory as well as to see the happy faces of the farmers who had finally managed to own something themselves. The community didn’t forget the foreman’s assistance; he had assisted them in the taking of land for the farmers.

For various reasons, I never returned to those lands, but I remember the determination and the good faith of the farmers as if it were yesterday. They showed the same faith that all the world’s poor people demonstrate when they are prepared to fight for their rights, for their dignity and for their freedom.

 © Copyright ANNCOL 2003  For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .