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  • Mar 27, 2023
  • 5 minutes

Yurumanguireño of Respect: no to crops for illicit use, yes to peace

Linda Y. Posso Gómez

Colombia is a country full of contrasts. More than half a century of armed conflicts which generated
a shield in the heart of black communities of the Colombian Pacific. A shield of nonviolent resistance.
This is what has allowed for the black community of Yurumangui in the District of Buenaventura,
which is today a territory free of illicit crops and has become a benchmark in the country, to
think from their experience the praxis of peace in the post-conflict.

By the of the 90s, the war in Colombia had already penetrated the heart of the black communities in
the mid pacific zone. The arrival of armed actors meant death, anxiety and loss of autonomy for the
Black communities. With them, cultivation of illicit use it became an uncontrollable phenomenon
that ended breaking the social and cultural fabric in the territories where it spread. But Yurumangui
was the exception.

Yurumangui is a river, a community, an extended family. A territory made up of thirteen villages, which
are forms of rural territorial subdivision and are characterized by being small territories belonging to
a larger political administrative jurisdiction. The paths are located along the Yurumangui River, in
the rural area of the Buenaventura district, one of the most important ports of Colombian and Latin
America. This reality is seen by many as both an advantage and disadvantage, depending on who you
ask. On the one hand, for national trade, the geostrategic location of the port is vital in terms of exports
and imports. On the other hand, for the communities that inhabit in the territory, this reality has
systematically generated the violation of individual and collective rights.

From the end of the 20th century and the beginning to the 21st century, war began to come with
force and with it nonviolent resistance arose in Yarumangui, which although relatively new to the
phenomenon of conflict, has always been a life mandate for the communities. It is about the use of
practices, strategies and methods based on cultural and ancestral dynamics of the community at the
service of protection and self-protection against an external actor with a lot of power, in the
traditional sense of power. That is, with the ability to dominate through force, understanding of an
asymmetric relationship where one orders and the other obeys, or in Raymond Aron’s terms, which
has the ability to destroy.

When the illegal armed actors arrived in Yurumangui and the idea of coca cultivation as a form of
work, profit, and economic growth began to take hold, a context of uncertainty and concern was
generated. A precedent already existed, the Yurumanguiereño were closely aware of the reality of
the Naya river, a neighboring community permeated by illicit crops and in 2019 was considered the
territory with the highest prevalence of crops in the Valle del Cauca (one of the 32 departments in the
country). They had seen up close how this community had become divided, how they lost
autonomy in the face of armed actors and how there was a rupture in the social fabric. That, they
did not want.

For Yurumangui, community autonomy it clearly what prevails as the collective territory of black
communities. This is how, through the General Assembly, a territory was declared “free of illicit
crops, free of heavy mining and free of single crop farming”. However, this was not enough to
counteract the pressure of the illegal armed groups that in 2007 decided to plant twenty-seven hectares of coca
leaves, overriding the community’s mandates to not cultivate. Undoubtedly there was a lot of pressure
from the armed actors, death threats were daily life for those that decided to interfere. But, the
yurumanguiereño, as a community decided to develop a strategy of nonviolent resistance and
confront the power of the opponent.

They developed the campaign “I am a respectful yurumanguiereño: I do not plant, grow or consume
coca.” This campaign had a priority to counteract the actions of the violent. Around three hundred persons were
organized and mobilized to carry out days of manual eradication of the crops. The nonviolent action
took place for three days, a caravan of boats mobilized the population and was accompanied by a
constant dissemination of messages demanding for community autonomy, they made posters that
motivated community strengthening, rejected the incidence of illegal armed actors and the violation of
the right of territorial autonomy. In addition, during the manual eradication days, community pots were
made, a practice that reveals unity and strengthens the extended family relationships that
characterized the territory.

This generated serious threats to the female and male leaders. Opposing coca cultivation was seen
by many as an affront to the armed groups. The intimidation became constant and there was a
latent risk. However, the community decided to stick to its mandate and began to speak out
officially against the illicit crops. Their voice was heard not only locally, but in national and international
spaces. Despite the accusations and threats, the strategy set a precedent, marked a different course
not only for the community but for the country. In a county that is characterized as the largest
producer of cocaine in the word, there was a territory that was opposed to growing coca, which
despite having all the conditions of unsatisfied basic needs, strategic location, armed actors, and
adjoining communities cocaleros, they resisted cultivating. The community grew stronger.

Years later, new attempts to cultivate coca emerged, although there was already a solid leadership
that, from homes, schools and community centers, advocated to position the campaign “I am a
respectful Yurumanguiereño, I do not sow, I do not cultivate nor use coke.” This time it was not an
armed actor, it was an inhabitant though. Some say that it was regarding a foreigner. What is certain
is that a new movement for eradication was formed. The Yurumangui have made it clear that they will
carry out manual eradication as many times as necessary.

But the message was not only for the armed groups that wanted to enter the territory but also for
the national government that for many years has developed a policy of forced eradication and
fumigation with glyphosate. The message was accurate both ways. They did not want coca in them
territory because with it comes dispossession, the rupture of the social fabric, the loss of identity
and autonomy. Nor did they want forced interventions because it finishes with food sovereignty and
destroys the territory that is life itself.

What began as a campaign of nonviolent resistance, combining various methods of persuasion and
rejection, became a mandate for the community. In 2017, in Colombia, the magazine Semana
awarded the prize for “Best Leaders of Colombia” to the community of Yurumangui and they were
named Cultivators of hope.” Currently, this community continues to be a benchmark for advancing
organizational strengthening as key point for peacebuilding in the country.

Yurumangui does not know how long it will have to resist the violence, the crops and the various
threats that come to this territory. We trust in the new government’s commitment to total peace,
the idea of negotiating with all the fringe groups that operate in the territory. Meanwhile,
nonviolent resistance has been and will continue to be the way to build peace.

This article arises within the framework of the research work called “Buenaventura: A cradle of
resistance and peace building.” As an author, I recognize myself as a young, black, Bonaverense
woman.

Linda Y. Posso Gómez
Originally from Buenaventura, Colombia. Sociology. Master in International Relations, mention in
security and human rights.

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