88,000 hectares with 6,278 inhabitants live in the Peasant Farmer Reserve Zone, El Pato-Balsillas, an enclave in the Eastern mountain range, Alta Amazonia, Caquetá department, Colombia.
John Elvis Vera S.
Since 1997, they have been working to consolidate their special self-governing zone, managing their own “Development Plan”.
Those who live there are essentially families of peasant settlers, who arrived over the last 60 years to live out their dream of a free and dignified life, just looking for their own “piece of land” which would guarantee them food, shelter and peace. The Pato-Balsillas was a place where people arrived towards the end of the 19th Century, when rubber extraction attracted the natives of the Huila and Tolima departments, to today’s region San Vincente Del Caguán.
We can be sure that the political and administrative centre of this Farmer’s Reserve is Guayabal. During the week, the population of this village of 80 dwellings does not exceed 300, but on Sundays there can be more than 1000 people.
The Zone has good temperatures and is 1,282 metres above sea level. The people are very hospitable and friendly and there is a notable presence of women involved in economic, commercial and productive activity in this area.
Today, there is the presence of an army post and a police office. The latter –which was not present until recently – is now located in the Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture). These are the contradictions that can be seen at this stage of the peace process in Colombia, of which not everybody agrees to.
The repair and planned expansion of the road which runs between Neiva and San Vicente del Caguán, will bring new players to this beautiful region. Many already want to get involved in such a promising land located in the foothills of the mountains in the Amazon.
Balsilla, Guayabal, Los Andes – with its striking and imposing cemetery – Chorreras, Las Morras, La Capilla and Puerto Amor, are just some of the names given to the villages, sites and trails which can be found by any visitor to this region.
The Municipal Association of Colonos del Pato (AMCOP) and the Communal Action Boards of the 26 trails which make up the outstanding ZRC, are constantly activite in the community directing and driving the area towards it’s future.
They produce coffee, beans, bananas, avocado, cocoa, milk and cheese, wood and other products. This is how the inhabitants are trying to consolidate their position as self-sufficient when it comes to food and to strengthen their economy to allow them to follow their autonomy and self-management projects.
Of course, the peace process between the government and the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Forces) generates both high expectations and fears. They fear the new times ahead. Their “traditional authority”, the FARC, are no longer present. The presence of the state increases little by little. Therefore, the communities demand that the Colombian government live up to their promise to create the conditions for true social peace in the territory.
The Veredal Transitory Zone “Miravalle”, which has in general been welcomed by the nearby communities, presents some disadvantages as well, such as the over use of the bridge leading to its deterioration, vital infrastructure to maintain contact with the rest of the zone. The agencies involved had not, at the time of writing, repaired this damage which was caused by the transport of food and goods in heavy vehicles.
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Peter Savin)