Thousands of families in southern Colombia, displaced by the civil war are putting there hopes in a movement which aims to end the need to pay rent in order to live in the city. Vocez de Esperanza (Voices of hope) is one such group consisting of 2000 families who are trying to collectively purchase 31 hectares of land to create a new style of Comuna in the 21st century. In country which strictly adheres to the neoliberal model and one of those which receives most military aid from the US this is a dream which puts their lives at risk.
In February this year Miguel Morales, a Colombian farmer from humble beginnings otherwise known "The Leader" or "The Voice of Hope" began to speak to street merchants and others working informally in the city of Popayan about their living conditions. Speaking personally and discretely with diverse groups of marginalized populations from all over the city they began to form a plan to fulfill their dreams of having their own place to live. Something almost unthinkable for millions of the displaced and unwanted citizens in Colombia. What was in February a group of 50 families has now become 2000 and is growing given the desperate housing shortage and subsequent high prices in a city with massive unemployment and no free public services. The majority of these 2000 families have been displaced by paramilitaries, guerrilla, police or the army in a war which continues in Colombia despite the self praising claims of triumph in the "war on terror" announced so proudly by outgoing President Uribe.
On the 9th of March hundreds of these families who have integrated in the group called "Voces de Esperanza" (Voices of hope) took over abandoned lands belonging to the department of Cauca. On the 12th of March they were forcefully removed by 20 armed police officers and 50 members of the special forces (ESMA) using tear gas and which left 3 injured and hundreds of women and children terrorized. Since then the group has moved from place to place wherever they have been able to gain permission. Currently there are 1300 families living in make-shift houses of plastic and tents without access to toilets, running water or electricity, there are 700 other families who would join them if there were more space on the property. The desperation of these families and the living conditions are difficult to imagine. For now the biggest problem is what they will do when their period of rent expires in 10 days. The 31 hectares of land land under negotiation has been stalled in an effort to make formal and legalize every step of the process in order to make it more difficult for the government to prevent the project going ahead and to secure international aid. Government bribes prevented other land owners selling to these politically organized, unwanted citizens. They have also been prevented from renting other lands in the meantime by the governments attempts for the movement to fail.
More broadly "The Leader" spoke about other plans to secure land for 10 000 families and for these new developments to work towards self sufficiency and an integrated local economy. He hopes for the model to expand nationally and internationally ending the need for long term renting. He also speaks proudly about the ideology he is fomenting amongst his closest companions who aim to maintain his personal security. His most obvious inspiration is Che Guevara who he quotes and wears proudly various insignias of his image. A group of 30 personnel work in shifts to protect the property 24 hours a day and to deal with internal disturbances. For now the internal structure of the organization consists of a committee of 10 members who volunteered and who were seen as the most capable and politically aware, 7 men and 3 women. This group was formed in part because of the necessity to create a group in the formation of the foundation "Voces de Esperanza" which is seeking aid from foreign donors and the support of the United Nations and the European Union. The need for greater participation and democracy in resolving problems is likely to present itself as the movement progresses. For now all important decisions and problems are brought to the leader either by the committee or the people themselves. He then takes it upon himself to deal with the problems.
For now the greatest hope for these people and their children is that soon they will collectively secure the title to the land they are attempting to buy. If they can achieve this each family will then be allocated a lot at a cost of around $500 per family. From there the battle for water, electricity, roads and other basic infrastructure will begin. The threat of violence from local and national authorities who are unwilling to conform to their constitutional duty secure housing for the Colombian people is ever present. As with any popular struggle which breaks from the barbarian capitalist model those involved in the movement place their own lives, and those of their families at risk. "The Leader" has had 3 attempts attempts made on his life and the lives of his 14 year old and 3 year old daughters threatened. He suspects the government is behind the attacks. Success for this group of 2000 families could provide inspiration and a new model for the reformation of Colombia beginning with new models created by those least supported by it’s current leaders. A change in government in the upcoming elections could mean a shift from repression to support in the struggle for the poor to secure land and financial security as is the case in Venezuela and in many of the popular struggles of Latin America’s past and present.