Standing Rock in Colombia: A Real Vision of Peace After Decades of War and Displacement


I am writing this from Colombia, where we – a small group from the Global Campus from Tamera/Portugal, Bolivia, Brazil and Canada – have been invited to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the peace community San José de Apartadó. Peace activists, farmers, local indigenous people, representatives of embassies of various countries and of the United Nations, as well as human rights lawyers are meeting in the remote region in the tropical northern part of the country to honor a peace community, which has been in existence for twenty years – despite all attacks, violence and murders. It is horrifying to read the reports by the peasants and the indigenous people – the women and men who are daily risking their lives to counter the policies of displacement with their commitment to life and hope.
In this country, in which the FARC guerilla’s agreement to disarm is being celebrated before the eyes of the world as the beginning of a new time of peace, the misery of the poor people, the indigenous population and those persecuted has in reality increased. It is the same the world over: Those who have truly earned the Nobel Peace Prize and who have been practicing non-violent resistance for decades, these communities and committed peace workers are being persecuted and maligned and often have to pay for their commitment with their lives.

But they cannot be silenced. They are driven by the same power as the resistance movement in the United States: Standing Rock – “Defend the Sacred.” Their challenge, their suffering and their chances of survival are the same there as here. They will never make it on their own, but with the help of a planetary network that recognizes and supports this fight for survival with all its might, we can prepare for the planetary global system change: away from globalized violence toward decentrally organized peace communities that are creating a new foundation for the future on Earth.
During the past few months, “Standing Rock” in the United States has been in the news worldwide. Again, it looks as if a movement has been conquered. But what to many looks like a sad ending is only the beginning for us – the beginning of a worldwide peace movement that will no longer be silenced.
What happened in Standing Rock?
The Standing Rock Tribal Government, and with it representatives of several hundred First Nations, led the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is supposed to run through the Missouri River close to Cannon Ball Creek. What began as a vigil to which approximately 600 people had gathered in North Dakota since April of last year, quickly grew to 20,000 people and resulted in a worldwide solidarity movement. In reality, this was about much more than stopping a pipeline. Their motto “Defend the Sacred” ignited unusual magic for political activists. The spiritual and the political world were aligned in a way that hadn’t happened before. This was the kind of high magic that made headlines worldwide. Suddenly, political action and spiritual prayer practice joined together. And this was possible without belonging to any religion. In spite of the most difficult weather conditions, in spite of violent interventions on the part of the government and the corporations, the group would not yield. On the contrary, the river of supporters continued to swell. At their center, they kept the Sacred Fire. Their amazing authority and their commitment to stay with non-violence gave them a power that attracted more and more sympathizers. In the beginning of December, more than 2,000 veterans of the U.S. army arrived in Standing Rock to show their solidarity with the indigenous tribes. They publicly apologized for having followed false orders, which they today deeply regret. They had to realize that the United States was built on a genocide and humbly and sincerely, they asked for forgiveness. It almost seemed as if non-violent resistance had won: President Obama, who was still in office, promised to stop the building of the pipeline for the time being and subject the matter to judicial review. The change in government destroyed all successes that had been achieved. A signature by President Trump was all that was needed to order the continued building of the pipeline and ruined all the movement’s efforts around Standing Rock.
Was this perhaps the end of a budding movement of a kind that we had never seen before? Was the impotence of non-violence being demonstrated to us again? Or did this courageous action of a few radical people only constitute the beginning of an encompassing system change that is happening on Earth?
What happened there is happening worldwide. It looks like the fight between two powers – the fight between white and black magic; one power that focuses on the sanctity of life, truth, humanity and the cooperation with the forces of the Earth, and the other power being the power of violent globalization, egomania, domination and money.
The situation on this Earth is coming to a head, so that the question that needs to be asked is: Will humanity survive or not?
The story of the peace community San José de Apartadó and the deceptive peace process in Colombia
We experience a similar drama when visiting the peace community San José de Apartadó. On March 23, 1997, a group of 1,350 peasants, who did not want to be displaced from their fincas like so many others before them, started the peace community as a neutral zone that would not cooperate with any of the warring parties. Active forces of peace were present when the community was founded, such as the Jesuit father Javier Giraldo and the philosopher Eduar Lanchero, as well as Gloria Quartas, the peace mayor of Apartadó at the time. Since then they have been supporting and protecting the decisions and activities of the farmers, who with great personal commitment are working with non-violent resistance against corruption and violence in Colombia. What they have created an island of humanity in the middle of a brutal war. More than 200 members of the community have since been murdered, for the community is standing in the way of economic interests: As in the entire country, here too, peasants are displaced by military and paramilitary forces, so that the multinational corporations can exploit their estates – for palm oil and bananas, oil, mines and dams. In the beginning, parts of the guerilla – who once were formed to protect the peasants – also took part in the violent persecution of the peace community and were responsible for several murders.
For those who are not familiar with the history of this country, is could see as if the war has now ended. President Juan Manuel Santos is being celebrated as a peace president. The world breathes a sigh of relief. Only a few people look behind the scenes to see what is really happening in this country. The so-called peace process between the government and the guerilla organization FARC has been going on since 2012. As through a miracle, FARC remained by their decision to lay down their arms and create autonomous zones for farmers within the country. Their suggestion, for which they gave up their armed fight, consists of a great vision: Within the country, they want to create autonomous zones for the fighters of the past and in them they want to join together with farmers and parts of the indigenous population to create village communities that will ensure the sustainability of each region. They speak of this as being decentralized “micro-socialism.”
But almost all its suggestions were watered down in the negotiations in Havana. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the willingness to undergo a true transformation is only one-sided. The promises the government made remained largely unfulfilled, even for such simple things as building camps for the guerillas to live in temporarily and where they would surrender their weapons. Distrust is growing and by now many leftist forces believe that they disarmed the guerrilla to drive the population into the arms of paramilitary forces and large multinational corporations. It seems as if President Santos wanted to make it possible for those in the rich places on Earth, such as Europe and the United States, to invest undisturbed – as if he wanted to open the doors for the oil industry and all other capital interests to take over the country without too much resistance.
One does not sense any commitment to the earth, to ecological healing or even to reconciliation with all those who for decades have become the victims of war and torture. It’s always the same: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Is the dream of social justice, the solution to the water catastrophe, the acknowledgment of the indigenous traditions of this country and the living voice of this Earth over? And what about the dream of more justice for women? Some 80% of the victims of this war were women.
The paramilitary forces – officially downplayed as “criminal groups” – can now obviously move around freely in the areas that were liberated from the guerilla. Everyone who had the courage to rebel is being co-opted. First, they will be silenced with money, and if that doesn’t work, they will be slandered, and finally the paramilitary does not hesitate to resort to murder. In recent months more leaders of the resistance movement were murdered than during the previous years. As usual, most of the paramilitary’s deeds are covered up by the military and the courts. The peace community itself is also surrounded and occupied by the paramilitary, and their leaders are threatened and blackmailed. We held long conversations with one of the leaders of the peace community, who was recently robbed – possibly by the paramilitary – with a gun pointed at his head.
“Perhaps some of us must continue to lose our lives, but we do not see any other way forward than the path of non-violent resistance,” he says. These words almost broke our hearts. During the past few years, we witnessed how their children and youths blossomed through the establishment of a community of trust, overcoming their traumatization. We can under no circumstances allow the violence to start all over again, where they or their parents are threatened or murdered.
In the meantime, the army is trying to get the international aid organizations to withdraw from the threatened areas. The reasons they put forward is that they wish to prevent an escalation. They are supposedly no longer needed, since the war is over. In reality, in the opinion of many opposition groups in the country, they are to be expelled so that paramilitary units can operate freely.
What does peace work mean now? 
Is there a world that sympathizes and sees that the threats against the oppressed population is increasing instead of decreasing – not by the guerillas but by the paramilitary? Are the fascist forces again about to triumph? Have the forces of peace lost – as they lost in Standing Rock?
What does peace work mean? It is easy to understand those who in such moments give in to an infinite rage. And yet we all know that revenge and anger do not take us closer to our desired goal.
What does it mean to overcome images of the enemy? What should we do if we do not wish to end up as martyrs or revert to hopeless impotence and depression?
We hear a voice from within that many may see as hopelessly naïve: There must be a power that is stronger than all violence. Something wants to and must emerge within us – within all those whose hearts are still open.
What started with the movement of Standing Rock must now become even more determined and powerful and it must encompass the entire Earth! A network of determined hearts needs to arise that helps to find new, well-founded solutions everywhere. This will only work if we learn to come together in solidarity in peace communities. Abandoning the system of violence and corruption is becoming a must. The true exit is an undertaking that encompasses all areas of life: it includes new patterns of consumption, different forms of production, a different way of living together and an entirely new foundation of trust between people. This is the prerequisite for even being able to recognize the sacredness of life and commit to it.
This does not mean that all those who are truly committed to peace have to immediately live together, but they are all connected through their commitment for the healing of this Earth, and in this sense they are joining together.
The healing power of life
The commitment to the sacredness of all life will then act as a transformational wave that goes through all parties and organizations, dissolving all ideologies and external professions of faith. This requires us to be willing to truly serve the process of global healing. We again focus on the higher level of order in life – we call it the “Sacred Matrix.”
“The Sacred Matrix is the original, trans-historical, non-alienated, cosmic or divine matrix of universal life,” writes Dieter Duhm in his book bearing the same name. As children of this Earth and its responsible inhabitants, we are all connected with each other. We are all jointly responsible for the same Sun, the same Moon, the same water, the same Earth, and the same air. The Earth is rich and gifts us all if we cooperate with her. There is only one humanity. After thousands of years of separation and violence, this kind of cooperation must be learned anew. This is why the newly emerging movement will work to establish and protect decentralized community models. Community among people, truth in love, cooperation with all beings – all this must be learned and understood. We therefore need the first places on Earth where models can arise that serve the Earth. We call these places healing biotopes.
How does life organize itself so that it manages to always heal its wounds? Wherever the Earth has been injured, nature by itself grows healing biotopes. How does this happen? This healing miracle is true not only for plants but also for us humans. Life itself knows of a power that is greater than all violence. It is up to us to create healing biotopes that are able to heal old injuries: places, where people develop a new way of living together, trusting each other and cooperating with all living beings. They live by having as much diversity and complexity as possible, and at the same time by knowing of the unity of all life.
There are principles that we can recognize and use. One of them is: All life organizes itself into community. The worldwide destruction of original forms of community is one of the greatest wounds that have been inflicted on humanity. It has made us all governable and forced us into civilizations that we do not truly love. If we again learn to organize ourselves as communities, “Standing Rocks” can arise in many places. In the language of the ancestors, Standing Rock means a place of connection between heaven and earth. Everywhere, where sacred places were to be created, stones were erected for the connection between heaven and earth.
The emergency situation on Earth requires that we establish sacred places in which the original meaning of community can be experienced again: Communities that are based on trust and truth. This appears to be an absolute necessity in order to defend life.
Inevitably, they must have truth and love at their core. The first people must succeed in fully stepping out of the patterns of competition and egomaniac behavior. The word trust is often used, but hardly anyone knows of its true value. Communities of trust must be created. This is what life is demanding of us.
A worldwide movement of solidarity for the Sacred – and a concrete utopia for Colombia
In essence, the peace community of San José de Apartadó is a community of displaced persons, as well as people who fight against displacement from their land. What has been created here requires our international attention and protection. The community can then develop into a nucleus for peace in the entire country. We must recognize and acknowledge their sincere resistance and their never-ending efforts, in order to strengthen the power they need now. Hegel tells us that self-consciousness or self-awareness is possible only through mutual recognition by others. Here we can understand this truth.
We are all challenged to create a simple and compassionate life. A movement needs to be created that is willing to offer a home to all displaced persons. Existing communities can play an important role in this process – in Colombia and worldwide.
Without this worldwide solidarity, indigenous peoples will continue to be exterminated, resistance communities will be destroyed or left to starve – if not through direct violence, then through the powers of defamation and corruption. And affluent societies build ever higher walls to protect themselves against their own fear and against the truth of life.
We must all recognize that the capitalistic societies will not be able to function much longer. The Earth does not allow itself to be treated this way. She is defending herself – it is now a question of ascent or destruction.
But the power of life itself does not stop for governments. Below, I describe a utopia that keeps giving me the strength to carry on during difficult conflicts and not become the victim of images of enemies.
The system change goes across the board. Let us realize that there have been enough deaths. Now is not the time to create images of new enemies. At his core, President Santos also has a loving heart. Let us transform our anger into the absolute militant determination to shake up the old system and awaken the closed hearts. And let us find the courage to open our own hearts again for the uncompromising compassion with the forces of life. I am imagining that President Santos suddenly experiences a flood of compassion. He at once feels like a father, touched by the elemental and pure hope that his peace process triggered. He can no longer avoid the eyes of the Indigenous Kogi people, whom he promised a great peace. He feels he must undertake something because he does not want violence and war to flare up again, perhaps even more fiercely and remorselessly than before, in a country, in which he is seen as the pioneer of a peace process.
The way we think about him co-determines what he will do. He should no longer fear the revenge of all those who have been oppressed throughout the centuries, but instead open his heart for the possibility of true forgiveness. He feels that nature’s cry in his country also demands something of him: The approaching water catastrophe, threatening floods and desertification can only be stopped if there is room for a great rethinking.
It is still difficult to imagine, and yet it could happen: Juan Manuel Santos is part of the destiny of the people in his country. Peace is no longer just a word for him. He introduces a responsible process of reconciliation in his country. Officers and leading forces within the paramilitary are infected by this power. They, themselves, were originally oppressed and abused. They were often recruited by the paramilitary when they were very young, because they did not know any other prospects. What if they were suddenly touched by a great vision of healing. They have for a long time had their doubts. They have known for a long time that what they were doing was wrong. And they have for a long time looked for a way out. Could forgiveness truly exist – even for their crimes? In the beginning just a few, then hundreds of them, come to strengthen the community movement in the country. It was only their fear that made them hard. Now, when they no longer have to fear revenge, they recognize what they have done. Just like the veterans who came to Standing Rock, they sincerely ask for forgiveness. Now, the true process of peace can begin. Protective zones are established, within which there are no weapons and in which sustainable forms of community can be tried out with new ecological, technological and social structures.
If we let ourselves be touched by such a vision, we must change our own dream. Suddenly we become aware of the possibilities of a global wave of peace that will carry us into a powerful process of transformation. If we are truly ready to undergo a deep process of self-tranformation, things will change in other places, too. In his unsettling text “Defend the Sacred – How can the peace movement prevail?” Dieter Duhm writes:
“Can we imagine that new communities might arise on earth, where people and animals, and children and parents, grow up in this kind of friendship? Communities, in which there is no fear and no hostility, neither among human beings, nor between humans and their fellow creatures? Can we imagine a world, in which the concept of enmity has been made obsolete? Are we ready to acknowledge—and put into practice—the necessary ethical, social, ecological, and spiritual conditions, from which such a world can emerge in reality? Are we not then very close to the idea of daring to make such an attempt?”
Our answer is yes: Let us to everything we can to create training centers where peace can be tried and learned. If we succeed in creating the first such centers where peace is lived in a real way, it will have an effect on the entire planet. The peace community of San José could play a pivotal role in introducing the process of forgiveness and non-violence. For years they have been practicing not hating their enemy and not to make any false compromises. We can learn from their uncompromising ways and provide them with the knowledge that we have developed.
Defend the Sacred!
About the author:
Sabine Lichtenfels is a theologian, spiritual teacher and peace activist. She co-founded the Tamera Peace Research Center in Portugal in 1995, has led “Grace Pilgrimages” to different crisis areas and heads Tamera’s Global Love School. She’s the auth of many books including Source of Love and Peace, Temple of Love and Grace: Pilgrimage for a Future without War. For more information, go to

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