A resident of Mampuján relates his experience of testifying at a judicial hearing.
First Person: Alexander Villarreal Pulido
From the Fall 2010 issue of “A
I felt a little nervous about being part of the group going to the hearing. Until the very last day, I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t sure it would be worth it to miss the days of work. I wasn’t sure I wanted to face the people who displaced my town. I feared that they would know me then, and that they might do something to those of us who went to the hearing. People in the community said it would be dangerous. Even though these men are in jail, maybe they still have power.
But when I entered the courtroom, I felt strengthened.
I found a great satisfaction in facing those responsible for the displacement. For so many years, I had wanted to ask them questions. I couldn’t understand how someone could do so much evil. I wanted to ask how they could be capable of causing so much harm to a human being who’s a person just like them.
I looked them in the eyes when I entered. In that moment, I had conflicting feelings. I felt angry. I felt impotent.
I teared up a little bit when I began speaking. It’s impossible to not cry when we think of the realities that are so sad like those in Mampuján. I felt grief for all the towns of people who have suffered, for everyone who is affected by the war. The problem is not just in Mampuján, but all throughout Colombia.
They looked me in the eyes and said they were ashamed and that it never should have happened, that they shouldn’t have done what they did. They recognized they’d caused a lot of pain in Mampuján, Las Brisas and all throughout the María Mountains.
I started to feel a little bit of peace hearing them recognize that they had been wrong when they said the people in our community were collaborating with guerrilla groups.
In some ways, this dignifies people.
To be thought to be part of an illegal armed group is a stain that causes a lot of harm. I think society puts a label on you, sees you as being less. Society sees you as being a delinquent.
Forcampesinos (farmers) that don’t know war, it hurts to see news reports saying your community was accused of collaborating with the guerrillas and was displaced because of this.
That kind of offense destroys campesinos. It consumes them from the inside out. It makes them feel like they’re nothing, that society doesn’t value them.
When these men said that they didn’t displace guerrillas but an innocent community, you feel that your name has started to be clean again.
In the proceedings, I said to one of the defendants that after hearing him speak, I realized he was intelligent. I said, How could someone as intelligent as you be used to cause so much harm to families here in Colombia? He said that people who have a good mind wouldn’t let themselves be used to do what he did. He said that he wasn’t better than us. He said we were better than him.
He also said he recognized now that he took advantage of people who hadn’t been educated, to become his soldiers — that campesinos joined the group for lack of employment, lack of money, because they wanted something better for their families. He admitted he took advantage of that.
When I heard all of this, I felt a little more peace.
For me, speaking at the hearing was a momentous experience. It was an opportunity to speak for all of thepueblos (small towns) that have suffered in the María Mountains region.
But also, for me, it was something special because I’m one of those people who believes that war just brings about more war.
This was an opportunity to send a message of peace, not just for Mampuján, but for all the communities of this region and all of Colombia.
When the group of us testifying met before the hearing, we decided to give the defendants Bibles. As I thought about this, I said to the group that I wanted to offer my forgiveness to these men as well. Some people didn’t like this idea of forgiving. I explained about how I see forgiveness in the Bible, that forgiveness both heals the forgiver’s heart and gives an opportunity to those who have wronged you.
In court, I told the defendants that I forgave them.
What I wanted to do was to send a message of peace to the people of Colombia and the victims of the armed conflict.
I believed that if I talked about peace that a lot of people were going to believe in this message. We campesinos don’t know how to fight with weapons. We know how to plant crops, how to live in peace.
Our fathers taught us the value of life, the love for the land. They taught us how to work and believe that one works to live and everybody should live in peace. Later the Gospel prepared us to put into practice these principles.
I started to go to church with my mother when the Gospel arrived to our town when I was 8 years old. I began reading the Bible. I began to see God as a God of love and forgiveness. Jesus gave his life to forgive my sins. I know he forgave me when I didn’t deserve to be forgiven.
So knowing this truth, I began to know what I should do with my life, and to know that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of love and forgiveness. Hate only generates more hate and brings us the consequences of the destruction of God’s creation, such as the earth and even the loss of human life.
In the Gospel we learn we shouldn’t let our hearts be filled with hate. That’s the reason I forgave them — to fulfill this passage from the Bible that I had studied and that I had preached to others. People shouldn’t do something different from what they say.
Alexander Villarreal Pulido was 22 years old when he was displaced along with the rest of the community in Mampuján. Today, he is an active member of Iglesia Puerta Abiertas de Mampuján, a congregation of the Association of Evangelical Churches of the Caribbean, and frequently speaks there. MCC, through service workers and financial support, has been accompanying the Mampuján community in its search for justice and healing since 2007. Go to acommonplace.mcc.org to learn more about the hearing and the legal process of reparations for Colombian communities.