A Tribute to Eusberto Jojoa

The title picture of No. 47 of the journal shows an idyllic mountain landscape, a farmhouse surrounded by vegetable gardens, cattle in the meadow, tropical cloud forest, and the verges of a large lake. This is the region of Cocha1 in the southwest of Colombia, and in the same issue we report on the experiment of managing agriculture for the market and home consumption while preserving the genetic abundance of surrounding nature. But in this world of social contradictions there is no idyll. Eusberto Jojoa, a committed representative of the farmers in the region and a member of our Colombian partner organization Asociación para el Desarrollo Campesino (ADC)2, was brutally murdered last December. We remember him and know that adult education which works for the disadvantaged, learning which enables people to know and use their rights to escape from defencelessness and the apathy of misery, brings both courage and danger to those involved. For Eusberto Jojoa, it meant giving his life. We mourn and press on, for there is much left to do.

When all this is accomplished, I shall die in peace

Eusberto Jojoa: Our Friend the Dreamer

On 9th December, every one of the 20 third-year biology students arrived in Palocabildo with a seedling of yacon, which they gave to each peasant family as a symbol of friendship. Yacon is a plant which produces huge quantities of sugary roots which can be eaten raw, boiled or dried. At the University of Tolima we are committed to promoting it because it is a species that is well able to guarantee a food supply for our peasant farmers.

All the seedlings that we distributed, as well as our knowledge of its cultivation, come from the farm of Eusberto Jojoa in La Cocha, Nariño. He devoted his life to preserving the forest, the paramo and the fauna, and to expanding the gene bank of truly native Andean plants which have always been cultivated by our predecessors.

With profound faith and great joy, he worked in the conviction that the peasant farmers could produce all they ate, in a search for economic independence. His conviction grew out of a childhood and adolescence sacrificed to the daily struggle of the peasant to survive:

"Between the ages of 13 and 21, when I was young, work on the land was harder because we were at it from five in the morning until six thirty in the evening, from Monday to Saturday, felling trees, setting up a place to saw the wood by hand, and preparing for the burning of charcoal. This was after a process of chopping the wood into small pieces that lasted 15 to 20 days; during this time we had to look after it from three in the morning until the fire went out."

Being brought up with this attitude of aggression towards nature, he realized the need to change the relationship between the farmer and the forest, and he set out to launch the Asociación para el Desarrollo Campesino, establishing a Farmers’ Cooperative as a first step.

Thus was born the most effective environmental organization in the country. It spread to other districts in Nariño, constantly driven forward by Eusberto, who gave up time with his family to teach peasant farmers about alternative forms of agriculture and the need to preserve the forest. Eusberto recalled that: "food was good because we produced it on the farm, my family was better prepared and, most importantly, we learnt to dream, to have a family vision of how to plan the farm and its resources."

But the 6th January cut short the hopes of Eusberto, of his family, and of the peasant farmers of La Cocha: our friend the dreamer left us. One day he said of the future:

"...tomorrow I shall dream with my family, my children, my grandchildren, and with the studies that have been proposed, I hope that we may continue our process of conservation so as to guarantee the survival of the coming generations; so that all of La Cocha joins us and this becomes one large biological exhibition hall that will serve as an example to the country and the entire world. Here we have thinking, intelligent, tolerant, critical and above all, transcendental people who want to go further. When all this is accomplished, I shall die in peace."

Gonzalo Palomino Ortiz, University of Tolima

 

Communiqué No. 3/2000

No Leads to the Identity of the Murderers of Jojoa

Eusberto Jojoa was a peasant farmer aged 64 years, husband of Doña Marina Narvaez and father of fourteen children. In 1980 he was the joint founder of the Asociación para el Desarrollo Campesino and later joint founder of the José Gabriel Network of Private Nature Reserves and creator of the Nature Reserve "La Planada del Guamuez". As a member of the ADC, he was awarded the Alejandro Angel Escobar Solidarity Prize in 1988.

Although the killers of the environmentalist Eusberto Jojoa identified themselves as members of FARC3, this group has not claimed responsibility for the murder. The armed men, who were carrying long-range weapons, entered the private reserve of la Planada de Guamuez, on the edges of the Cerro Patascoy. The killers went to his house, a farmstead on the river Guamuez, which rises in La Cocha, a lake situated half an hour from the capital of Nariño.

His body was found yesterday, Friday 7 January, two days after he was kidnapped. Eusberto Jojoa was the obvious leader of a group of peasant farmers, an organization which had been established in six municipalities of Nariño for 20 years (Pasto, Bomboná, Yacuanquer, Chachaguí, Consacá and La Florida) and was centred on La Cocha.

It is there that Asoyarcocha, an association allied to the Asociación para el Desarrollo Campesino (ADC) operates and has set up committees concerned with production, credit, processing of products and the environment. Its 150 members are all peasant families who have been at the forefront of a process of mutual growth based on solidarity and the principles of sustainable development "on a human scale". They share their products, help each other in groups and have set up research groups to record their culture, resources and values.

These peasant farmers, together with other organizations and citizens, joined together in a Citizens’ Watch to protect La Cocha, and in due course called attention to the threat posed by the Guamuez Multipurpose Project, known as PMG.

In a declaration of 11 June of last year, the Watch stated that: "We reject development built on destruction and on the misery of those who today enjoy the precious boon of a healthy life and a stable future; we reject the intention of turning the makings of a full life and a reservoir of untapped knowledge into a factory that makes electric light."

Eusberto and another 300 fellow citizens who had established the Watch energetically opposed the construction of the hydroelectric project known as PMG "which would lead to the destruction of everything we love".

This and many other initiatives for the preservation of nature and for development on a human scale characterized the work of this peasant farmer who saved an ecosystem and died violently amid the plants that he cherished so dearly, near to the best preserved lake in Colombia.


A Tribute to Eusberto Jojoa

Dear Friends of the ADC

We are still completely dumbstruck by the death of the peasant leader Eusberto Jojoa. He was shot dead on 6 January in a paramo near to his reserve and found by his children.

Without using force, men in uniform collected him from his home and took him away in a boat, but two hours later they tied him up and killed him.

He was not himself surprised by this visit because FARC had been present in the region since the fight at Patascoy, near his reserve, and he had often talked to the group, without conflict and with assurances of mutual respect by both sides. We do not know who carried out this undoubtedly political murder, nor for what ends, since Eusberto not only represented the ADC but was also the most committed negotiator in the region and hence the person most trusted by the population. The whole community attended his funeral, shocked and severely shaken by the terror that his murder unleashed.

Here in Pasto we are doing everything we can to solve the crime. So far, the ADC has the support of the Public Prosecutor’s office and numerous national organizations and media. It is difficult to obtain accurate information since many witnesses remain silent out of fear for their own lives. It is confirmed by many sources that there is a "list" on which local leaders and the Director of the ADC, Octavio Duque, are named.

The work of the ADC has at this very time reached a high point in La Cocha.The environmental protection and development initiative is nationally and internationally admired, copied and acknowledged. A probable success (not yet confirmed) is the inclusion of the paramos of La Cocha in the protected list of wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention which, together with a watch scheme organized by the community, is making it far more difficult to push ahead with the proposed plans for a dam of enormous proportions. The peasant farmers have an agreement with the schools in the region, which have incorporated environmental education into the curricula in the reserves, while the local network of reserves gained 25 more members in the year 1999.

The death of Eusberto is thus not only a severe blow but also a call to continue the work. In previous years, active workers for peace such as Father Alcides, Mario and Elsa Calderón and Jaime Garzón were themselves removed by force from the ranks of hope...

In solidarity, Sara Höflich, Pasto, 10.1.2000

1 La Cocha is the area around a lake situated at almost 3000 m near Pasto. The "Reservas Naturales" programme was developed here by the ADC together with local farmers living in the region in order to sustain rather than destroy the existing resources of the cloud forest and swampy upland, which is called "paramo" in Colombia.

2 ADC – Asociación para el Desarrollo Campesino (Peasant Farmers’ Development Association), partner organization of the IIZ/DVV in Pasto, Nariño, Colombia

3 FARC – Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, one of the most powerful and longest-standing guerrilla groups in Colombia