Two Sides of Life in Colombia

For the past week a small delegation of WILPF members from the Section in Colombia and 5 other countries of Europe, the Middle East and Latin America have been in Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia. We went to learn the realities in greater depth and prepare recommendations to present at the International Congress in Bolivia for WILPF actions concerning that country, home to one of the world's longest and most murderous civil conflicts. One of the striking aspects of the Colombian conflict is that the Government refuses to admit it exists...insisting both that the conflict has been resolved by military force and that it never existed. Our WILPF delegation met with many NGO representatives, UNIFEM, and the Colombian Presidency's advisor on women's equality. We learned the tremendous complexity of the history,the escalating role of multinational corporations, and the stunning scope of the ongoing violence which has evolved over the decades since the 1960s, or depending on your history, the 1940s. The capital, Bogota, is a sophisticated worldly city of art, culture, and beautiful mountains overlooking well-kept parks and elegant buildings. However, looking to the south of the city one sees the endless haze over the newer sectors of crowded and improvised housing where many of Colombia's nearly 4 million people forcibly displaced by conflict are living and trying to eke out their survival. In Colombia`s tourist mecca, Cartagena, we stayed in the heart of the historic walled center, a few blocks away from the beautiful restored colonial house belonging to Nobel Laureate Garcia Marquez. Then we went just a few minutes away, up a hillside next to one of the tourist sites, the colonial convent of La Popa, to visit some of the displaced women with whom WILPF (LIMPAL)Colombia works. We visited their 2-room cement houses, achieved with years of hard work and saving, perched precariously just over the international airport runway, on land owned, it turns out, by the same man who is the mayor of the city who mysteriously says that it would cost the city too much to buy it for the displaced! The most painful part of the testimony from the displaced women, to me at least, was when they talked about their homes they had lost, their lands far away which provided a dignified living, their community of social and family support, the beauty of the countryside that they have lost. However, they also spoke of their pride in learning new skills and the support from WILPF and other organizations in learning their legal rights and how to organize with other women to fight for them. Mary Day Kent

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