By Ana Laura Zavala Guillen, 2011-13 Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford
Over the last three years, as a doctoral researcher, I have been studying the loss of territory by San Basilio del Palenque, a town located in the Colombian Caribbean, due to the armed conflict, business developments, state demarcations and the war on drugs. San Basilio is considered the last Colombian Palenque, communities built by runaway slaves during the 17th century as shelters.
As a human rights lawyer, my main aim for my research is to serve as evidence that the community can use in their claims against land grabs. On 15 June this year, I arrived in the town of San Basilio del Palenque, just in time for the celebrations that commemorate the Patron Saint of the community: St Basilio. I feared the high temperature and celebration preparations would prevent people from joining the seminar on The Role of the Archives in times of Peacebuilding.
But participation actually beat my expectation, with 40 attendees, including students, academics, activists, campesinos, community leaders and local representatives. They exchanged ideas about the importance of the archives to the current community land claims, as part of the peace process that has been taking place after more than 50 years of war.
Historic moment of peacebuilding
As a peace fellow, I have been committed to furthering discussions about how to take advantage of this historic moment of peacebuilding in Colombia. The Peace Agreement, which was signed between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) in November 2016, permits ethnic communities to make claims for territory lost during the armed conflict. San Basilio del Palenque falls into this category and my findings can contribute as evidence for territorial reparation.
Another purpose of my work is to create a local archive in San Basilio, allowing the people and younger generations to examine and interpret the colonial records. Much help is still needed to fulfill this dream, and we expect that the Rotary International family can extend us a hand in the search for territorial justice for the disadvantaged communities in Latin America.