María Brigada GONZALEZ de CARTAGENA – Colombia

She is Laureate for the Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life 2006.

She says: “Non-violence subdues terror”.

María Brigada GONZALEZ de CARTAGENA - Colombia.JPG
María Brigada GONZALEZ de CARTAGENA – Colombia

She works for the San José de Apartadó Peace Community.

It takes an extraordinary measure of creativity, courage and faith to maintain a non-violent, environmentally friendly community in a region where state and guerrilla terrorism kill and maim daily, especially when your own child and spouse have died as victims of this terror. (Her beloved15 year old daughter was brutally murdered in December 2005 by a grenade thrown into a small group of members of the community accused by the army of being “terrorists”).

Maria Brigada (52), mother, artist, farmer and educator, is a leading member of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado since 1996. Such peace communities are a new event in the 60 year Columbian Civil War, the oldest on the planet. It involves the civilian population deciding to have nothing more to do with any of the armed groups, and working together to build healthy, self-sufficient communities practicing the principles of sustainable development and non-violence. Such communities need international support as they are being deliberately targeted by the Columbian government and its paramilitaries, who do not want to see other models of social or economic development.

As a mother and farmer, Maria provides the food for her own family. (The community is 80% self-sufficient in food needs). As an educator, she teaches in the local school and is one of the main organizers of the Farmer’s University, a one-month activity where members of rural communities meet in San Jose to discuss how best to preserve their environment in a war torn zone. The communities run workshops on organic gardening, herbal lore, politics, peace, setting up rural businesses, etc. In her own community, Maria Brigada has set up with a few others a medicinal herb garden so that members of the community have access to natural remedies for all minor ailments. Amazingly, the community is entirely alcohol free, which has a significant incidence on the decrease of violence in families.

An artist also, her naive-style creative paintings have travelled the world, saying more than many words could. Finally, living in a very “male dominated culture”, she had to fight hard to create respect in her community. To read all about María Brigada GONZALEZ de CARTAGENA – Colombia, go to the Rural life prize and click on her name.

On Saturday, November 19, 2005, María Brígida González de Cartagena, a member of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, addressed the rally gathered at the gates of Fort Benning to demand the closure of the School of the Americas. She spoke of her community’s continued persecution at the hands of the Colombian military, especially the 17th Brigade, led by SOA-trained General Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe. Just two days before the rally, members of the 17th Brigade had thrown a grenade into a cornfield where a group of San José residents were working, resulting in the death of community leader Arlen David Salas. Despite this tragedy, Brígida brought a message of hope and persistence. She explained her community’s resolve to stand steadfast in the face of brutality, and to demand peace. Brígida was one of many speakers who came to Georgia to share their stories with the crowd of 19,000, imparting messages of peace, justice, and accountability, and fostering a unique sense of community. As Brígida so eloquently explained, community is not defined by arbitrary material structures, but by the individuals who come together to envision new spaces. A sense of hope infused the crowd, focusing collective energy on our goal: to close the School of Assassins and work toward a peaceful future in the Americas. Like any community, those in attendance at the Vigil to close the SOA came from all walks of life, each person bringing a unique perspective to the movement. The weekend’s events provided time away from the larger crowd for people to come together, dialogue, and strategize. During the Labor Caucus, some 80 union members met to discuss their experiences. (Read the rest of this article on soaw.org).

Sorry, I can not get other informations about María Brigada GONZALEZ de CARTAGENA, living in Colombia, but more about the group she is serving, the San José de Apartadó Peace Community:

The San José de Apartadó Peace Community is located in Apartadó, Antioquia, part of the Urabá region near Panama. Founded in March 1997, the Peace Community was set up by citizens who sought to separate themselves from the conflict by refusing entry to all armed groups – guerrillas, paramilitaries and the state security forces. Excluding armed groups has not been easy: about 150 of the community’s members have been killed by the FARC, the paramilitaries, and the security forces. None of these murders, threats or attacks has ever been solved or punished … // … Twice a year, U.S. law requires the State Department to certify that Colombia is improving its human rights record: doing more to cooperate with human rights investigators, suspending, dismissing and prosecuting violators, and fighting paramilitaries. Each of the two certifications frees up 12.5 percent of military aid destined for Colombia. A certification decision is likely during the first half of 2005. Though it is entirely possible that Colombia’s military did not commit the February 21-22 massacre, it is impossible even to contemplate certifying military aid to Colombia until we know more. Civilian Colombian government authorities must first carry out a thorough investigation that takes into account testimony from witnesses and community members. If this investigation finds that soldiers took part, arrests and prosecutions must follow. For now, any certification should remain on hold: it may offer the best hope for clearing up what actually happened in San José de Apartadó. (Read the whole on peaceincolumbia.org).

Even though the villages’ neutrality has been recognized by the Inter- American Commission for Human Rights, the army and paramilitary groups have killed 138 peace community members, while the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has killed 20 since 1997, community leaders and human rights groups say. (Read the whole article on SFgate.com).

San Jose de Apartadó is a small town in the northwest of Colombia, near the gulf of Urabá. Farmers settled there in the 1960s and ‘70s and since then the community has participated in cooperative agricultural and communal living. In March of 1997, the Community responded to the escalating violence and extrajudicial killings of community leaders by declaring themselves a Peace Community, with the support of the region’s Catholic Bishop, and committing to … (Read all the rest on Fellowship of Reconciliation Columbia).

A telephone call I received last February 23 left me shaken and confused. Luis Eduardo Guerra, one of the first and most tenacious leaders of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, had disappeared. Another of the community‘s leaders told me that from what they had been able to find out, it was likely he had been murdered. Groups of people from the community had set off to look for him but held out little hope of finding him alive. More and more calls came in that day and the next until, early on February 25, I traveled to San José with Gloria Cuartas, former mayor of the town of Apartadó. I went with a heavy heart. By then I knew the bodies of Luis Eduardo, his companion Bellanira and his 11-year-old son, Deiner Andrés, had been found. Another of the region’s leaders, Alfonso Tuberquia, who I knew and whose son Santiago I had baptized several weeks earlier, had also been murdered alongside his wife and children. (Read all the long article on ZNet).

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