It’s been two months since members of the Association of Affected Peoples of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project (ASOQUIMBO), started liberating lands on the farms along the road that connects La Jagua with Villa Fernanda that belong to multinational company Emgesa-Endesa-Enel. These new actions, in defense of the territory and rights of the affected population, have received various police notifications of imminent removal of those on the lands, attempted infiltrations by Emgesa-Endesa-Enel, almost daily flyovers of helicopters, and the militarization of the territory with the permanent presence of anti-disturbance police, ESMAD, as a tactic of intimidation.
Nonetheless, the communities continue to insist and demand that what they need as development is not more dams, but a Campesino Reserve that produces food. Daily activities that folks are engaged in include repairing the abandoned houses, cleaning vegetation with machetes, creating composts and natural fertilizers, and planting crops for consumption and for sale. Before the first month on the land had past there were already seeds of beans, yucca, corn, pumpkin and cilantro in the ground and germinating from the rich earth. "We want to live from these lands as we always have, but we also want this territory to be better. That folks stop throwing trash and that the wildlife returns like before," expressed youth Duvan Muñoz.
The youth collective, Jaguos por el Territorio, has been key in experimenting with and pushing for the use of agro-ecology in the growing of food. At times it has been an uphill battle, since most adults have spent a lifetime using agro-toxins to grow food and are not always keen on learning new methods for something they have done for so long. The youth have also been vital in the coordination of the security, which has been active round-the-clock with guards on detail throughout the different farms since the first day on April 14th.
During this time of land liberations other incidents related to the Quimbo have continued to occur in Huila. On April 25th a police notice was issued evicting all the fisher people from the shores surrounding the Reservoir of Betania. The subsistence of the fisher people of Campoalegra, Yaguará and el Hobo has depended on the fisheries of Betania since the dam was created in 1987. The fisher people are demanding answers as to why the company refuses to include this sector as part of the affected population. In the municipal head of Gigante there was another incident where people from the community of Rioloro chained themselves to the entrance of the local offices of Emgesa in order to pressure the company to comply with their obligations to the community.
On May 14th there was another violent eviction of a farmer in the area of La Honda, Gigante. Don Gustavo, known as "el Guajiro" peacefully resisted when the ESMAD launched five tear gas bombs at his house and then proceeded to drag him from his home, which they destroyed and burned down afterwards. Don Gustavo does not know what happened to his cattle after these acts of State violence. Emgesa has more upcoming evictions planned as construction of the dam continues, and, even though the company has not complied with the environmental license, local governments continue to comply with the wishes of the company and not the needs and rights of the local population.
On May 27th, a researcher and great proponent of the Campesino Reserves, Dario Fajardo, visited the farm La Guipa to meet and share with the people liberating those lands. In addition to touching upon the importance of the creation of Campesino Reserves as a fundamental tool in establishing peace in Colombia, he highlighted the importance of the rural environment, the countryside that the people so adamantly fight to defend. Fajardo explained, “It’s been a long time now that society has tried to make people feel like the countryside, the rural environment, was not important anymore because we were on our way to becoming a first world country. Academics spent their efforts trying to erase the idea of rural farmlands." The actions of the people liberating these lands make more than evident that, at least in the area of El Quimbo, the importance of rural areas has never been erased.
On the banks of the Magdalena River it is evident that the last owners of these lands left them deforested, with serious problems of erosion and soil degradation that is worsened every time the river grows. The people participating in the land liberations are holding mingas, collective work parties, to plant native trees to reforest these lands in an attempt to re-establish the ecosystem balance between the dry tropical forests and the river. "We are holding these work mingas, where everyone works together, equally, and planting trees on the banks of the river that are currently naked, grassy lots. If left that way, when the river rises it will take everything with it. When the banks are sufficiently protected and reforested, we hope to integrate citrus, avocado, and cacao trees further inshore," explained Sandra Alvarado, a peasant from the region. Emgesa had destined these lands to go to the Autonomous Environmental Corporation of the Upper Magdalena, CAM, to be reforested and close off access to local communities who have always lived and worked these lands. The peasants liberating these lands are showing that they are capable of implementing sustainable development to meet their own needs, without destroying their territory.