PITTSFORD — Jesús Emilio Tuberquia speaks with a tranquility that belies the suffering he says is taking place in his native Colombia.
Tuberquia made several stops during a visit to the Rochester area during early April as part of a monthlong tour of the United States. His mission has been to increase Americans’ awareness of his peace community, San José de Apartadó, noting that the community has demonstrated the courage to nonviolently resist the violence that surrounds it at the hands of government military forces, paramilitary and opposition guerilla armies. The efforts of the community — established in 1997 when 800 small farmers claimed their territory as neutral — earned it worldwide recognition, including nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
Among the hundreds of killings and disappearances that the peace community has suffered, the deaths of one of the community’s members and his children — which happened during Tuberquia’s U.S. tour — was a somber reminder that the war rages on in his native land, he said. And it’s a war over control of land and such resources as oil, he said, noting that drug cartels also continue to plague Colombia as well.
"When you use oil, we pay in blood," he said. "When you use drugs, we pay in blood … for so many of our people who are the poorest on the planet."
Locally, Tuberquia spoke at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva, Allendale Columbia School in Pittsford and the Rochester Friends Meeting House in Rochester. The Geneva audience included students from DeSales High School, and senior Spanish students comprised the majority of the Allendale audience.
Increasing awareness of Colombia’s story among U.S. youths is an important aspect of his tour, he said after his presentation at Allendale, which was arranged with assistance from Ruth Putnam Marchetti, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities in Wayne, Livingston and the Finger Lakes counties. She encouraged students to support Tuberquia’s community by staying educated, advocating for peace and even buying fair-trade products.
"That is the most important, that they know the truth (about what is happening in Colombia)," Tuberquia said about the students he met, adding that creating a future without war will be up to them.
Marchetti said that Bryan Acevedo of DeSales told her how impressed he was by Tuberquia’s community’s stance of nonviolent resistance.
"I liked very much how he talked about living in peace through God," Marchetti said Bryan told her. "As a member of the DeSales community, I respect that sometimes it’s harder not to fight."
Tera Tolentino helped introduce Tuberquia to her fellow students at Allendale. While having learned about the peace community beforehand, she said she was still amazed by the incredible courage and bravery of the people that live there.
"Hearing how family members, friends, neighbors disappear … as part of your daily life (was eye-opening), said Tolentino, 17. "Hearing him speak about it made it so much more real."
Tuberquia’s American tour was arranged by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which is the oldest peace-and-justice organization in the United States, said Susana Pimiento, the fellowship’s codirector. The tour was also cosponsored by Peace Brigades International and the Latin American studies program at Loyola University. Pimiento accompanied and translated for Tuberquia throughout his tour of several upstate New York cities including Ithaca and Syracuse.
The fellowship created an accompaniment program for the peace community in 2002, and people from throughout the world go and live there, she explained. That effort is designed to protect and stand in solidarity with the Colombian farmers, she noted.
"They (armed forces) are less likely to attack in the presence of an international observer," she said during the Allendale presentation. "We also work with other groups in Colombia involved in nonviolence … and represent that the international community cares about what happens in Colombia."
A group of farmers like Tuberquia formed the community in 1997. Its nonviolent stance continues to be a threat to the armed forces around them who have killed more than 200 of the 1,300 farmers that originally created the community, Tuberquia said.
"This system of death in the name of development involves everyone," he noted.
"In this area, you found a violent and complex conflict where the battle for peace every day becomes more challenging," noted Carlos Mario, a seminarian from Colombia who heard Tuberquia’s speech at the Friends Meeting House. "Every day is a never-ending battle for life or death where little hope is found."
To end this system of death will require international intervention, Tuberquia and Pimiento explained. The Fellowship of Reconciliation asks that the U.S. government end military aid to Colombia. It also urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call for a commission to evaluate Colombia’s judicial system that has allowed total impunity for crimes against humanity, and demands a dismantling of the paramilitary forces and respect for the peace community’s neutrality from Colombia’s armed forces.
"The heart of the United States is the Congress and the universities," Tuberquia added. "That is why we have to hit them hard."