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Colombian Woman Working for Peace

 Interview by Batya Weinbaum

1430 words


In the last decade of the twentieth century, Colombians have been unprotected as homicide has risen and many have experienced murders, kidnappings and forced displacement of their families. In the mid 1960s,  revolutionary guerrillas were fighting the capitalists. In the 1980s and on, the eruption of drug traffic brought organized criminality to its height. Victims of the violence are 90% men, leaving a void for women to rise in economic development and political leadership. The violence of the 90s claimed 95 per 100,000 in 1993, as opposed to 20-39 deaths per 100,000 between 1960 and 1980.


This is an interview with Bridget Gonzalez. She is 54 years old, and was born in Santa Fe de Anteioquia in Colombia. She comes from a small town near Panama, in the north. She makes cloth, clothes for children, and T-shirts with emblems of her community, a Community of Peace, for people to wear. She was interviewed in a Colombian television journalism documentary. Very few journalists in Colombia have come to cover the resistance, however. Our discussion occurred during Summer University in Tamera, in Portugal, an international intentional community that brings together people to talk about cultures of peace and to work together for political change. The night before the interview, we had seen the film by the Colombian journalist in which Bridget Gonzalez had appeared along with other leaders of her Community of Peace.


Question: I noticed in the film that many women were leaders. Were women leaders in the communities they came from before the escalations of killings? Or did this occur because the husbands and male leaders were killed off, as we saw in the film?


Bridget Gonzales (BG): Yes because many of the women had their husbands killed. Before they had the part of housewife and working out, but there was discrimination. They worked as housewives in painting, arts, making clothes, painting cloth, wood, processing fruits, marmalades, jellies.  The women now play an active part, but not before all the men were killed. Before the men did not like that their women entered into the field to work. But if their husbands were killed, they had to play this part. It was hard at first. Because no one was trained, no one knew what to do. They had to make all the work, from 5 in the morning, from making breakfast ‘til dinner. If they had children, the children were in the kindergarten. The women then went to work. The childcares were before by the state, but now by a religious organization. They started an institution that did the obligations of the state to care for the children.


The women of the community now make coordination of the groups. Each group has its own task. I was coordinator of the workers picking little bananas. Each Sunday we would go, to coordinate the work of the week for the whole community. There were groups of men and women but I was in charge of a group of five women and one man. There were other groups of just women.  We worked to make sandwiches of bananas, marmalade of bananas, banana juice. We also worked with beans, rice. We couldn’t do the processing ourselves because we didn’t have the power or the machines. We didn’t have the machine that took the skin off the rice. We couldn’t process things like with oil. We had no refrigerator to keep the rice.  We had a carpenter to make furniture but not these other things. We did primitive work, of cacao. It was the way to earn money for the women and the men. But the group of women worked with the group of agriculture to save some from the military and the government. We had ten machines—levels. We got a lot of these through international cooperation.


Q: Can you explain the process of change? From daily life before to cooperation like this?


BG: I was married at 14. But my husband, I wasn’t able to be with him. He was beating me. I separated from him. I went to my parents again until I was 18. Then it was very hot but I stayed with my parents. I went to look for him again because I didn’t want that my marriage would be lost.  But the man had made me pregnant. He was still beating me up. At 17 years I couldn’t take it any more. My first baby died. After three and a half years I got pregnant again. I had the baby who was able to accompany me and I was able to get up and move. Then I separated from him finally. Because he started to beat my child. Then I was very angry and said he couldn’t beat my kid. I returned to my parents. I started to work in the town , in another town and then to work for a banana company, a company from the United States. I began to be active in the union. The majority were women, one owner and many women, but men also. There was discrimination. Women weren’t able to work in the same way. They earned the same amount. But the men were able to work different hours, until 11 at night. The women were working ‘til 12:30. We began at four in the morning. Then the men worked different hours. We only slept three hours. We started demanding rights. Men worked 3:30 in the am ‘til 11 at night, women from 4 am ‘til 12:30 at night. We studied all this and saw the difference and demanded our rights in work. We formed a union. I was seeing that the union was very pretty and very important. We wanted to be paid extra hours, night wages on top of day wages. We were three women more than everything that had a resistance very strong, stronger than the men. We were saying how could we work this long it is going to kill us. We can work longer but want to be paid.


Then the union was huge, a great manifestation all over the region. After time was passing, we saw the kids needed games, paints. We wanted the right to be human. We wanted peace between the Communist Party Patriotic Party. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) was a part of Patriotic Union, a coalition. There were other guerrilla liberation fronts, because the peasants didn’t have water. We wanted to know why there was a military structure. Then there was a plan of the government against the Patriotic in 1988, then we saw a change. FARC started attacking peasants in order to supply themselves. Other organizations were born to self-help, for the people to protect against military and paramilitaries. We wanted to assert our own rights. That is how we started our community of Peace. March 23, 1997, we declared ourselves neutral. We stopped giving FARC whatever they wanted—water, oranges—when we declared ourselves neutral. They decided, if you aren’t with us, you are with the Colombian military. So at first they started to kill our leaders. 20 % of the people of the community of peace have been killed. But the state is the hardest of all. The government and the guerrillas, or paramilitaries, they are both hard on us. But the state is worse. They don’t help us logistically, they don’t give us justice or  protection of our rights. The army is there, but they don’t help the civil population.


Q: What about your family: Do they support you I all this? Your parents, your children?

BG: My parents and kids live in San Jose. One child of 23 is a woman and she is not married. I haven’t seen her for 9 years. I don’t know if she is living or dead. No one has seen her. No one can find her. Perhaps she is dead but I do not know for certain.  It’s hard but you have to keep on living.


There will be international demonstrations in front of Colombian embassies around the world on Sept. 21, 2005, in support of this community and demanding investigations of murders that occurred there. The community also invited visitors to lend them support. Batya Weinbaum has written extensively about women’s roles in the peace movement in other parts of the world, and about the role of women in revolutionary struggle in Latin American and elsewhere. For more information on the Colombian situation, see Frank Safford and Marc Palacios, Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society. Oxford University Press, 2002.



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