Colombia

Peace City

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The Power of Staying Put

In 1997, battered by their country's civil war, approximately 1,500 campesinos from San José, Colombia, established a zone they called the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartada. Henceforth, no armed groups would be welcome in their territory, be they leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, or soldiers and police.

In The Power of Staying Put, a monograph published by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Juan Masullo Jimenéz notes that 210 community members were assassinated in the ensuing years. But the villagers dug in, grew stronger, recovered a lot of the land they'd lost to the paramilitaries, and created a neutral, autonomous island in a civil war. Along the way, he adds, they created a self-managed community capable of "carrying out several state-like activities and building institutions…from which the state was left out." These functions include education, conflict resolution, building trails, keeping common areas clean, and running the local cacao operation.