Memories of a landless worker
29/01/2018 D-Day +424
Norte de Santander
I am not a boss, I am a laborer, and as a laborer you’re on your boss’ side –you want him to do well so that the laborer can at least have a job. With the coca plants, it was much easier for us laborers to earn a little wage, and with less killing. Let’s not say that that changed the lives of us laborers, no, but it was relief, because you could earn some money.
You didn’t get involved in the buying and selling of the plants. You barely made it this way, scraping the leaves off the plant. The one who makes money with it is someone else. There was only one asshole who came here, one of those men with money, and he would put everyone to work. He would then pick up everything and leave. We, well, we would get paid some pittance and we would be happy with it. That’s how we would make a living: working.
I am 55 years old and I’ve seen a lot of things. I saw, for example, Plan Colombia 1, promoted by Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Back then, they would tell us that they were going to finish poor people, end poverty. And it turns out that, indeed, they almost ended us, though with bullets, for they arrived here to massacre and torture. Whether you liked it or not, you were forced to flee, especially in this county because it was said that here even chickens were guerrilla sympathizers. Yes, in those times, the guerrilla did pass though the village, but that doesn’t mean that it was village of guerrillas.
The ones who have received payments are the bosses. But they are receiving the money they would have used to eat, to pay their groceries, and that is not enough for them to be able to pay laborers. And, the thing is, that by receiving those pesos Caño Indio hasn’t thrived, or the bosses of Caño Indio have become rich. No, here, all of them must start from scratch because, and I must repeat myself, there is nothing here. This is practically a desert. The only thing we had here was that plant.
I am socolando, which means that I am in charge of cutting down the forest in the mountain so that other laborers can set it on fire. You can then sow there 6. Right now, my son is the one cutting down the trees. But then, the tree we have to cut, we take it and protect it from the fire, and find a way to sell it. Because once you start lumbering, there’s all this timber. My idea is to prevent it from being lost. Maybe burn it to make sellable charcoal, or perhaps sell the timber as it is. Because that way you can end up with something to at least help yourself. It won’t solve your life, but it can help. Perhaps, God willing, some organism, ICA or Corponor 7 could help us with a temporary permit to commercialize that timber. Because if I take and I’m caught transporting it, I’ll go to jail. As if that was stole, as if it were illegal. And it isn’t. It’s a job, my job.
Everyone here in Caño Indio has his story. Today, what is worrying, is the youth’s future. What will they seize in order to live? Because there’s nothing. There’s no work, there are no projects to talk about that could offer them an opportunity. I, for instance, have my own idea, my own project growing in my head, because there’s no one to carry it out. My idea is an industrial farm run solely by laborers. In that farm, students would spend at least three hours a week learning about plants and animals so that, eventually, maybe there’d be an agricultural engineer here. From that same industrial farm, we would get all the seeds, all the plants and animals, for the rest of the counties, and that would generate employment, and we wouldn’t have to go somewhere else to find seeds.
Now that we signed the agreements –because I also signed as a laborer, as a coca scraper—we made a commitment not to get involved in any illegal dealings. Not coca, or anything else. But I say, if laborers don’t receive any kind of help, we’ll be future coca planters. Logically, we’ll serve whatever the law says –50, 100 years in prison, life imprisonment. But when you are in need, what won’t you risk?
1 Plan Colombiais the name of the technical and military assistance program developed by the United States for Colombia with the purpose of ending drug trafficking, strengthening the justice systems and democratic institutions, and defeating the guerrillas. The controversial plan included aerial spraying with glyphosate over fields and Colombian farmers, and the strengthening of the Colombian State’s war apparatus. According to some, during its 15-year implementation, Colombia became a viable state. According to others, the consequences in terms of human rights violations, environmental damages, and fragmentation of the drug cartels were disgraceful. Aditionally, the number of people forcefully displaced by paramilitary groups, the Armed Forces, guerrillas, and the aerial spraying rose dramatically.
2 The term “Paras or paramilitaries” refers to illegal right-wing armed structures that were formed in Colombia as a counterinsurgency strategy. These structures evolved into criminal organizations that served the interests of individuals seeking to accumulate lands, expand their political, social, and economic power, or further develop their drug trafficking businesses. According to the National Center for Historical Memory, in the Catatumbo region, where Caño Indio county is located, three paramilitary structures of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) ran violent operations: the Catatumbo Bloc, the Héctor Julio Peinado Front, and the Resistencia Motilona Front. During their stint in the region, these structures sowed terror and death and transformed the use and property of the land.
3 The Catatumbo Bloc demobilized in 2004. In 2006, the Héctor Julio Peinado Front and the Resistencia Motilona Front also demobilized.
4 Starting in May 2017, the National Integral Program of Voluntary Substitution of Illicit Crops, a product of the Havana Peace Accords between the Colombian government and FARC-EP, is being implemented. In exchange for a monthly payment during a year of substitution labors, a monetary aid for the implementation of sustainable and food security projects, and technical assistance for those projects, families commit themselves to not planting coca or involving themselves in work related to illicit crops or raw materials derived from coca.
5 According to the UN’s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (Simci, for its Spanish initials), Tibú, the municipality to which Caño Indio county belongs, was the second municipality in Colombia with the highest amount of sown coca, with 12,787 hectares. Caño Indio became the site for the pilot program and rapidly began substituting coca, since, in the beginning of 2017, one of FARC-EP’s normalization zones was established there. The normalization zones are the areas were former FARC-EP combatants gathered in order to lay down their arms and transition to civilian lives.
6 “Raze, cut, and burn” is a traditional form of subsistence agriculture in forested regions like Catatumbo. Farmers cut down parts of the forest and burn those areas so that the ashes will fertilize the soil. That way, when they sow, the ground will be viable and the crops can prosper. When the land is exhausted, farmers must clear new patches of forest, thus contributing to the deforestation in these areas, which is mostly led by the energy megaprojects, mining, and timber exploitation.
7 CORPONOR (Corporacion Autónoma Regional de la Frontera Nororiental) is the regional environmental authority for the department of Norte de Santander. ICA (Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario) is the national institution in charge of Colombia’s agricultural issues.