Colombia is still in the middle of the peace process. After decades of violent conflict, the Colombian government and the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejército del Pueblo / Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army) signed a peace agreement in 2016.
'The attacks on oil infrastructure, which have had a serious impact on ecosystems and communities, have decreased as a result of the demobilization of the FARC. However, areas where they used to be in control or at least have a presence are now more attractive for extractive activities,' says Luis Enrique Orduz. He is one of the coordinators at the organisation PODION, which advocates in Colombia, among other things, for the protection of the rural and indigenous population in the context of large extraction projects.
Caught in the Middle
During the armed conflict, a particularly inhumane mining model developed, which in parts still exists today. Apart from the negative consequences for the environment and biodiversity, the local population suffers massively. In order to extract fossil fuels, both the territory and its inhabitants were completely controlled by actors from different conflict parties through acts of violence and intimidation. Indigenous communities were wiped out and social leaders were persecuted and murdered.
'Since my childhood I have been overwhelmed by the richness, beauty and perfection of nature,' explains Orduz. During his law studies, he joined a study group on sovereignty and nature. 'There I had the opportunity to discover the political dimension of extractivism and its effect on nature and communities.'
Colombia's public policy favours the implementation of large-scale extractive projects. On site, however, territorial conflicts between different actors flare up time and again. These include armed groups operating illegally, political movements arising from the demobilisation of the FARC and private actors with an interest in the extraction of non-renewable resources.
The socio-environmental consequences of such projects impair the human and territorial rights of rural communities, which prevents a dignified life in these regions and hampers peace initiatives and processes. The communities are caught in the middle. Organisations are fragmented and processes to protect territories are stigmatised.
The potential for social, political and economic conflict is huge.
The Organisation as a House
PODION supports affected communities and grassroots organisations in gaining a better and more comprehensive understanding of the effects of the extractive projects in their territories. In the course of this, PODION provides information and promotes the development of networks for mutual support between organisations and communities. The aim is to strengthen organisations and the technical and argumentative skills of the communities.
'The organisation is like a big house. It is a house that has a foundation, a few pillars and a roof. The foundation consists of people's thinking, our words, care, memories, friendship, trust and affection. When this foundation is solidly built, the organisation can be constructed on it. Then it is possible to anchor the following pillars on it: responsibility, dialogue, hospitality, solidarity, participation in agreements, teamwork and cooperation. These pillars allow an organisational process,' explains Orlando Cardozo. He is the person responsible for the region Tolima west of Bogotá, where he is in charge of mobilising social organisations. 'The roof of the organisation protects us. It protects us in unpleasant situations. This roof is equality, critical thinking, conflict resolution, the fulfilment of common needs, dignity, concern for life and the defence of the territory. This is what protects our community.'
These words are from one of the videos produced by PODION as an accompanying educational measure. In the video series 'Seeds for the Defence of the Territory' members of the organisation devote themselves to various topics such as organisations, fracking and agroecology, and explain them in an understandable and appropriate language. 'The videos are aimed at the communities and organisations we work with. They are part of the training strategy and were created because we were unable to conduct face-to-face workshops as planned,' says Orduz. In Colombia, severe restrictions have also come into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, participation should continue to be made possible. It is an essential part of PODION's work. Particular emphasis is placed on the participation of women and young people. Coordinator Orduz explains: 'Women as a collective tend to have a close relationship with the territory – a bond that is stronger than that of men. Participation and interest are strongly shaped by women. It is also necessary to encourage the participation of young people in order to promote generational change.'
Which was the most valuable lesson he learned through his work at PODION? The knowledge available in the population. The knowledge that the communities have regarding the use and management of their territory.
Closely linked to this is his motivation. 'It is maintained through contact with the people and communities that we work with. Some of them live in precarious conditions. Nevertheless, they are good-natured and cheerful, show initiative and make proposals to create better living conditions for a community.'
About Luis Enrique Orduz
Luis Enrique Orduz, who studied law, is committed to social processes to defend the livelihood of farmers and indigenous groups in the context of extractive projects. He has been working for PODION since 2014 and has been responsible for the coordination of the zivik funded project since 2018.
The Colombian organisation PODION is engaged in supporting rural and indigenous populations in the context of extractive projects. Other topics include the protection of biodiversity and conflicts over the rights of use of natural resources. PODION offers trainings, project consulting and feasibility studies for national and international organisations and is committed to a national network for democracy and peace.