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Catatumbo and the struggles of peasant and indigenous communities

Despite the prior, peasant and indigenous communities have overcome the social, political and economic issues with self-management strategies with the sufficient offer of basic goods and services, producing settlement mechanisms in territorial disputes and formulating food sovereignty projects in-line with environmental protection and their life plans.

Listen: Catatumbo, amid a power struggle (in Spanish.)

The situation is disturbing: as of January 1 of 2020, the Comprehensive Victim Care and Repair Unit (UARIV, for its Spanish acronym) reported 341,412 victims of the armed conflict in Catatumbo, which is equivalent to the total population of Iceland. Likewise, and according to the Information Network of the above-mentioned unit, the municipalities of El Tarra and Convención have reported 26,074 and 24,061 displaced persons and 1,267 and 1,223 killings, respectively.

And as of January 26th, 25 social leaders had been slain, a sample that the armed conflict in the region is still alive, historically influencing marginality and stigmatization of social organizations in Catatumbo.

The research project entitled “La organización social en el Catatumbo: formas de lucha desde la base (Social organization in Catatumbo: Base struggle forms”  shows how transformation approaches of conflicts and undamaging actions for building a characterization applied to the context, acknowledgment of conflicts communitarian boards and identification of the empirical impact of the armed conflict. Furthermore, they used popular education tools, and a pedagogic model focused on the context of the communities to identify and boost local capabilities and peasant perspectives of territorial interventions.

The result of the research project was an input for the Intercultural Agenda for Peace in Catatumbo 1 which summarizes –from the perspective of structural, cultural and symbolic violence– the strategies used by social organizations to build peace in their territories, their dreams and building political education school methodologies for the region.

Read more: The Catatumbo 2030 Region: four possible scenarios (in Spanish.)


In face of the impact over the community, la organizing base, defined as the closest local expression to the rural areas and peasant organizations, have struggled to debunk the warmongering image, mobilizing networks and tools for peacebuilding, food sovereignty, social justice, respect for human rights and dignified life, managing conflicts and self-managing territorial building processes, proposals, and strategies included in the Intercultural Agenda for Peace.

Despite the communitarian effort, the current government intervention could destabilize the relationships within the community, due to its assistance-based character that revictimizes people and does not answer to the demands of the inhabitants and also its punitive incidence produces harm to the population.

However, communitarian strengthening is dynamic and has set critical bases for interaction with the logic of an economic development model imposed by the central government.

The work of a social worker in this area

Building peace means searching and maintaining change processes, not sustaining static results. Social workers have flexible tools for uncertainness scenarios that allow strengthening the action experience reflexive act, interpreting and feeling the territory, and keeping a constant conversation with the community. In this manner, the capabilities and strengths of the social worker and the community are fine-tuned.

The intervention over this territory from state agencies and others should be focused on assertively balancing the historic debt, following the “action without harm” focus; the academy commits to become sensible, contextualize its pedagogic, political and research contents, and also actively participate with a territorial initiative for peacebuilding.

Understanding the communitarian dynamics allows strengthening the criticism perspective and breaking the academic bubble that separates universities from communities and the daily life of the Colombian countryside.

An effort for Catatumbo

The efforts to transform the reality of Catatumbo should include practical mechanisms to determine a response to the crisis, enclosing it toward an anticipated future instead of the crisis and its dynamics defining the future.

The complex and multiple character of the communities should be valued and boosted for their physical, social and cultural space; accounting for the immediate issues as well as a relationship pattern system that requires efforts for descaling the conflict; looking for a constructive change amongst a belligerent scenario lies in recognizing, understanding and repairing what has transpired from different perspectives, in other words, have the availability to create new ways of interaction, relationships, and structures with a perspective toward the future.

Building peace should not be a cliché sentence but a dynamic social process, a global strategy that embraces, produces and sustains a series of processes, approaches, and stages necessary to transform conflicts into peaceful and sustainable relationships.

Education is a strategic instrument for transformation, for building territorial peace, it is an intentional, indispensable y sensible “strategic capability” and “relationship building” process implemented for those involved, that includes empowering concepts such as consciousness, conflict preparedness, structural visions and goals, practical thoughtfulness and assessment.

Speaking of the Catatumbo region in this article is not directed on emphasizing the media stigmas, despite the constant hostility of the armed actors of the region, but to praise the toil of the communities which are searching for strategies to face the tensions, struggle and protect their life.

* This article shows one of the results of a joint project between the academia and the social peasant organization, for strengthening the dynamic participation platform committed with building peace in the Catatumbo region. This effort was carried out as part of a solidary extension project undertaken by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia –Bogotá Department of Social Work entitled, “Formación política para la construcción de paz territorial desde las comunidades de El Tarra y Convención (Catatumbo, Norte de Santander)” (Political education for territorial peace building for the communities of El Tarraand Convención (Catatumbo, Norte de Santander)”.

1 Álvarez Gómez, P. y Patricia, S. (2018). Nuestro sueño es la paz. Bogotá: Editorial El Búho Ltda.



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