A flame that goes out, an example that remains

News - 2020-02-06
Luz Perly Córdoba, the peasant leader who died the third of February in a car accident in Arauca, left hundreds of memories of her peasant work. These are the memories of her legacy of love and peacebuilding, collected at various hands by the staff of Forum Syd Hub LAC.
Luz Perly

Luz Perly Córdoba, the peasant leader who died the third of February in a car accident in Arauca, left hundreds of memories of her peasant work. These are the memories of her legacy of love and peacebuilding, collected at various hands by the staff of Forum Syd Hub LAC. Our work as an international civil society organization is only possible thanks to the trustful relationships that we establish with the organizations we work with, so we build friendships with the people who lead these processes. To these organizations and their leaders, we owe our presence in Colombia and the region.

Luz en 2020

“In my region, we peasants dream of peace, but we are flooded with armed groups. We need to strengthen ourselves as organizations because the State is not being able to protect us”- Luz Perly in the Self-protection seminar organised by El Espectador 2020 in Bogotá, May 2019. (Photo: Forum Syd)

In a café in Fortul, Arauca, Luz finished giving the final touches to the statement that gave rise to the Network of Peasant Women. She read it to me out loud, confirming that this process that began in the commemoration of Women's Day was tempered enough to lead the resistance movement in the struggle for land and territory in the department of Arauca. She, a seasoned peasant leader, smiled at the work she had accomplished and repeated the slogan "never again an organization without the decision of women" ... "Now, my dear, let's drink the beer to go." It was then that she made it clear that she was not going to let me stay alone at a hotel in town, “things around here are risky, my son, now with the visit of the president this gets complicated and there will surely be people interested in making trouble, we better go to the farm of ACA” (the Asociación Campesina de Arauca, “Peasant Association of Arauca”).

Unfortunately, in Colombia we have become accustomed to receiving daily the tragic news of the murder of a social leader or of a former combatant. Many of these people are friends or companions with whom we have worked hand in hand in the territories. But this time, the cold water bucket fell on us with a dose of irony; our dear Luz Perly, the woman with whom we have been working for the rights of peasants for several years, the leader who was in prison for almost 18 months for a judicial set up, who lived in exile in Switzerland, the candidate for the Nobel Prize for peace for her libertarian struggle, the woman who was threatened and persecuted for defending the peace process and its implementation (which is why she had a security scheme provided by the National Protection Unit), died in a car accident on the road that from Arauquita leads to Fortul. The driver lost control of the vehicle, and Luz and two bodyguards lost their lives.

That Tuesday morning everyone in the Hub LAC office felt that we were leaving the “Luz” (“light”, in English) of hope and strength to continue supporting the peasant struggle. We sought energies among those who were at the office and in solidarity we understood that now Luz had become a seed.

I remember that with the first star lights we arrived at the ACA estate. Perly kept on talking throughout the whole trip, she was happy for the leadership of women, she talked to me with great enthusiasm about the distribution of beans that were being produced by the Association, we talked about the human rights situation in the region and the dream of having an agroecological school ... In the house, we had dinner together with Anderson, president of the ACA and Rodrigo the treasurer, "my old ones" she addressed them with love. Between colleagues and in a solidarity environment (so scarce nowadays), we continued talking until dawn; she told us about the imprisoned friends, about her time in jail, about exile in Switzerland, about her Gordo (“Fattie”, her husband), about the peace agreement to which she and her colleagues were putting in everything, about her little farm where she planned to plant organic banana. That night she showed me her small studio where she carried out tests to fix the farm's soil and thus ensure cleaner crops; she blended agronomy with law and with the defence of life. She explained the most complex things in a simple way, with an Araucanian accent and with a peasant simplicity. "My son, it is time to sleep, tomorrow we will show the farm, besides you are not very good at staying up late."

Among so many responsibilities, she was a member and spokeswoman for the National Coordinator of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana Growers (COCCAM, acronym in Spanish) ) and spokesperson for the Cumbre Agraria (“Agrarian Summit”) movement.

I remember her tireless work and fiery eloquence from one of the first times I interacted with her. She was in Bogotá for several advocacy meetings, with our accompaniment. We shared a taxi on our way to one of the meetings, during the journey she received a call from a journalist of a national radio station, who wanted Luz to share a statement pertaining the issue of the substitution of illegal crops (at that time Luz was a spokeswoman for COCCAM). It was evident that the journalist with whom she was talking was confronting her, because Luz was now raising the tone and firmness of her words, of course, without being offensive. I was surprised by her clarity in handling the situation that had gradually become tense and uncomfortable, making clear the positions of a movement that at that time felt already betrayed on their willingness to bet on a substitution plan that would bring peace and sustainable development to the territories. At the end of the call, the fierceness with which she had approached the interview quickly dissipated, a mischievous comment from Luz was followed by a shy laugh from all the passengers in the taxi.

Returning to the farm, that day we toured the whole place, to the sound of Rodrigo's jokes, the seriousness of Anderson and the laughter of Luz. For more than two hours they were pointing at the plain and drawing in the air the projects of the Association in the territory; where the agroecological school is going to be; how they are going to develop a small peasant farm that respects the environment; where the self-consumption crops will be cultivated; where the food produced by the associates is going to be received and how the machinery, obtained in the heat of the struggle during the 2013 national peasant strike, would be very useful to fix the land of many men and women...

Those dreams, their dreams, the dreams of Araucan peasants for life and land, are now seeds. With them we remain to continue to accompany them. The example and memory of Luz pointing to the horizon of the Araucanian plain enables us to continue walking.

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