My Visit with the Campesino Resistance to El Quimbo in Colombia

A river runs through it. This is a tiny part of the fertile Colombian valley that a Spanish multinational wants to flood. Click for larger version.

Earlier this month, I caught an overnight bus from my home in Medellín, Colombia to a small town called Gigante in southern Colombia. I was cold and scared. I was heading to a place I’d never been before to meet people I’d never met before.

About 20 minutes from the town by taxi, the Spanish-Italian multinational corporation Emgesa, in collaboration with the Colombian national government, is building a dam. This is the usual dirty political deal. Emgesa has its profits guaranteed by law, the electricity is to be sold abroad, screw the environment and 1500 poor campesino families are expected to give up their lives’ work for pennies on the dollar.

This is the tragedy. They are planning to flood 8,500 hectares (21,000 acres) of incredibly fertile land on which these families have made their living and fed untold thousands in the region. Also within the flood area are riparian and other forests. This is the Amazon region. The lung of the world. A center of great biodiversity.

This is not an isolated atrocity. The Colombian government is considering another 32 dams, many of them on the same Magdalena river, many of them by the same multinational. The magnitude of the ecological crisis this presents, the enormity of the human cost imposed by the richest on the poorest and the blatant corruption at work here … please do not let it go unanswered.

And so, in the outskirts of Gigante, a small band of farmers is nonviolently resisting both the Spanish-Italian multinational Emgesa and the Colombian government. They’ve organized with the help of a college professor from the nearby city of Neiva. Despite government cutoff of bank financing and business licenses, they continue to work the land. Despite Emgesa’s purchases of the largest land holdings, they have prevented the removal of workers who depend on their jobs and have no safety net.

I wanted to meet and interview these people. They are heroes. Their resistance is particularly inspiring because they aren’t especially well-educated and they have a deep respect for the earth. (They don’t know who Gandhi or Martin Luther King are!) These are simple people with backbones of titanium. Thanks to the below video, I found out about them.

On my first trip I only managed to see a small part of the valley. It is gorgeous. And peaceful. The air is pure. Insect life is abundant. It’s so green there that, despite being at a lower elevation than the town, it is cooler than the town. The farmers mostly grow cacao. I felt really good there.

I interviewed several of the farmers. They are holding up admirably under difficult conditions. Many people have already moved on. Out of desperation, some have accepted small sums of money for their homes and lands. Many have reportedly already run through those funds. People do not have enough to eat.

I’m working on editing the first few hours of video now. I hope you will join me in supporting these good people. Their fight in defense of our Earth’s lung is our fight, too. No matter your opinion on global warming, we need to support the Amazon’s inhabitants against privileged first-world corporations. It’s not a level playing field unless we give them all our support.

Gigante, Colombia

This is a good fight. These are committed people. They have a good cause and they are fighting it the right way. I’m all in.

The resistance is celebrating the Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi in Quechua) June 19-26th. A large delegation of indigenous people are joining the farmers. The resistance invites people to accompany them in this celebration, no matter where you are from. They have already had accompaniment from Germany, Italy and Spain. They are of the opinion that the presence of people from first-world countries protects them. So please visit if you can. I am available to assist you.

In July they’re planning to (again) shut down work on the dam by blocking the road to the construction site. The presence of people with cameras rolling will be especially critical for this event. I hope to attend.

On the last day of my trip, I was filming an interview near the construction site in which a farmer alleges that Emgesa damaged a critical bridge resulting in extreme hardship for the community. We were detained by someone claiming to be a Colombian army captain. I was compelled to delete the video. Here is a video I recorded shortly after the incident. I was unable to recover the deleted video but will film it again on my next trip.

My first trip cost me $250 USD. Almost all of this went towards transportation (buses, colectivos, moto-taxis, etc.) I stayed in a cheap hotel but next time I should be able to keep costs down by staying with the farmers in their homes (they’ve invited me and prefer this option). If you support my work and would like someone from the United States who has studied and practiced Gandhian nonviolence to accompany the farmers, please send me some funds. Here are some good reasons to financially support this work:



Chipin for a videographer and protective accompanier (me).

  1. I am your eyes on the ground. You can experience the situation visually with my videos, photos and stories. If nothing else, you can live vicariously through my lenses. And so can millions of others who care about the global poor, the environment, the Amazon and justice.
  2. As an obvious gringo (tall, white, blue eyes and brown hair), I’m an effective witness and perhaps even shield for the farmers against corporate and government violence. (This is what they have told me.) The Colombian government, army and police know that they owe much of their continued power on US government aid and training. I am a US citizen. The farmers told me they especially need foreign accompaniment for the July paro (work shutdown).
  3. I speak Spanish fluently. I first visited Colombia 18 years ago and have lived here (with a 16-month break) for more than 11 years now. I can understand different regional accents. I’m very familiar with the culture, customs, food, etc.
  4. I can serve as guide and translator for others (English speakers) who wish to accompany the farmers.
  5. I’ll credit you at the end of all of my videos about this situation.
  6. I am a student of satyagraha (Gandhian nonviolence) and practice it both in my daily life and in activism situations. I am opposed to globalization, colonialism and capitalism. The farmers can benefit from my experience and studies. (I want to learn from them, too. They’re going to teach me how to work the Earth and I’ll share with them my knowledge of English and satyagraha.)
  7. This is an incredibly cheap and direct way to fund effective resistance to globalization and 21st century colonialism.
  8. I live an overnight bus ride away from Gigante. I can catch a bus to Neiva, a colectivo to Gigante and a moto-taxi to anywhere in the valley in 15 hours or less at a cost of $90.000 COP ($49 USD). That’s cheap.
  9. I’m not asking to be paid, only to have my expenses covered: transportation, lodging (should be covered by campesinos invitations), food, water (I should compensate the campesinos for any food and water they share with me) and electricity to charge computer, camera and phone batteries. I’m a frugal vegetarian with a primitivist streak, so I’m easy to please.

I can also receive Bitcoin, though it’s not easy for me to spend on these trips. Checks are impractical. Shoot me an email with any questions: [email protected].

31 May 2012
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