Kolumbien: Virgelina Chará

Peace cannot be reached with bullets because then so many lives are lost. You cannot buy it or sell it with blood. It is a process that must be built from within the family.

— Virgelina Chará

Virgelina Chará is an African Colombian, born half a century ago in the Valle del Cauca, in Colombia. She has been threatened with death five times and cannot remember how many times she has been displaced from her home. She has been arrested, kidnapped, beaten and persecuted. She has seven children, three grandchildren and she never rests “because of my desire to live and to live with under dignified conditions.”

“They have threatened me with death,” says Virgelina Chará when talking about her life, which has lasted for half a century, punctuated by displacements and persecutions. She has been threatened with death, five times during the last 20 years. She was the first of four children born in Cauca, in Colombia. She was Afro-Colombian and poor, raised by her mother and grandmother: “I worked from the age of six helping my family.” From ages 12 to 18, she worked as a maid in Calí. She managed to go to school in the evenings and graduated from the primary level at age 24. She returned to Cauca, where she worked with miners and peasants who had been forced to sell their lands: “When you are helping people in the community, you realize what is going on.” And what was going on was that she was threatened with death. She escaped with her five children and began a journey of living underground and fleeing persecution. She joined the revolutionary Movement 19th of April until the peace agreement was signed in 1990. The Movement 19th of April, known as M-19, was a Colombian insurgent group that used guerrilla tactics and was demobilized in 1990 with the signing of the peace agreement. Many of her companions have been massacred and tortured and Virgelina Chará's children, who now number seven, have been threatened. In 2002, she arrived in Bogota, as always escaping from death. There she works as a legal adviser to the Cooperativa Multiactiva Interétnica Nuevo Horizonte Limitada (Inter-ethnical Multi-active Cooperative), a cooperative that fights for human rights and gives training courses in maintenance and nutrition. She says that she is on a list the government has of people that may be killed, but that does not stop her from taking risks. “It is because of my desire to live under dignified conditions.”

Cooperativa Multiactiva Interétnica Nuevo Horizonte Limitada (Inter-ethnical Multi-active Cooperative)