Communities United For Peace

PIA Team Visits La Merced, Caldas, Colombia

On March 23rd, 2014 I had the privilege to travel to Caldas, Colombia to conduct fieldwork as part of my Practicum in International Affairs (PIA), which is the last project requirement before graduating.

I started my PIA in the fall of 2013 with a project that was created by a fellow classmate of mine, Jessica Wohlander, who also came with me to Colombia this past summer as part of the International Field Program at the New School. The project is in the community of La Merced, which is potentially one of the towns that Jillian and I might work with for our oral history curriculum. My PIA is not closely related to our oral history project because the theme is creating a local market system, however, my part of the PIA project is to learn more thoroughly about the conflict in Caldas.

In an academic context, little has been written about how the conflict has impacted the coffee region of Colombia —perhaps because there is a literature gap or because more of the public’s focus has been on harder hit regions. Nonetheless, my PIA group and I decided that we were missing a lot of information about the La Merced that we needed to gather in order to create our final report.

The International Affairs program was nice enough to give us money for our travel expense in order to accomplish this. Jessica and I, quickly gathered all of the resources needed in order to accomplish our fieldwork in one week. Yikes! I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I also knew it would be well worth it.

Arriving in Colombia was in itself one the greatest feelings ever - smelling the fresh air, hearing the people talk with their wonderful Colombian accent, the smell of the plants and overall the happy atmosphere of the people! We immediately settled in and started preparing for the upcoming days.

As I could go on about each moment during my trip there but the most important part was meeting with the townspeople and contemplating how it is that these people faced so much hardship during the conflict and can still be so friendly to a stranger? Talking to them and learning about their life experiences reassured me that coming back during the summer will be the greatest experience ever.

Although, I did not go to La Merced to talk explicitly about the conflict, I did have the opportunity to do so with Oscar Veiman Mejía, the regional editor of Caldas from the newspaper La Patria. I interviewed him about the conflict in Caldas because this is something I could not find in secondary literature. The interview was so intense and emotional at the same time. I am still in the process of gathering the information and hope to share it with you all when the final PIA report is done. I do however, want to share a line Mejía said that touched me in many ways and is aligned to what the purpose of Ni La Historia Ni La Paz Se Debe Olvidar is all about. When I asked Mejía what the government was doing in order to help the victims psychologically of the conflict in the department of Caldas, he said, “The post-conflict work in Caldas can be found from the psychological point of view, in that [compensation to the victims] is not only giving material things and especially with the people that could not stay…but the biggest psychological conflict for me was the people that had to come to Caldas. We would work with those people [that were displaced from their towns and would migrate to Caldas] and to see the face of an elderly that was brutally and forcefully thrown out of his town, that to me is a human tragedy, because the man that grew up in his town with his land and who felt free there was forced to leave it all and come to another part of Colombia that was also in misery and he was nothing there, he was a stranger.”

My hope for Jillian and I this summer is that we are able to gain more knowledge about the current ‘post-conflict’ situation in Caldas, which we believe has not been fully reported on. At the same time, we hope to create space for victims to comfortably express themselves and tell their own stories.

The full interview with the Regional Editor of La Patria will be posted soon.

I want to give a special thank you to the International Affairs program for funding our travel and for making this experience possible. 

Thank you for the support everyone!