Colombia: The struggles of Barrancabermeja documentary

This nine part documentary created by Taline Haytayan of her experience as part of the Peace Brigades International organization in the strife ridden Barrancabermeja region of Colombia captured my attention throughout. It follows the Feminine Popular Organization (OFP) group which works together to prevent violence against women and violent conflict in a region where people have been trying to live in the middle of crossfire between two different guerrilla factions, the army and the paramilitary forces. At the moment, many of the women who head the OFP need constant protection due to threats on their lives, murders and disappearances of group members. The videos have English captions throughout, telling the story of the OFP, the struggles with oil refineries, candle lit vigils against war rich with cultural artistic expressions, hip hop as a protest against war and violence; a creative outlet for youth in the community, peaceful marches, government policies that affect the community negatively, testimonies from victims of armed violence and provides reasons why Plan Colombia[en] and the practice of coca plantation dusting are detrimental to the wellbeing of the communities.

Barrancabermeja [es]houses the biggest oil refinery in the country and is also the home to the Petrol Christ, a giant steel figure meant to represent Jesus with water spraying from the tips of his fingers. The first part explains a bit of the history of Barrancabermeja and its struggles with the oil refinery industries, and follows the strike run by workers against the new policies that pushed out many locals out of their only means of livelihood. It also tells the story of the OFP, or Feminine Popular Organization, which runs soup kitchens that feed about 600 people at each of the different kitchens on a daily basis.

The second and third videos follow the women of the OFP during the preparation and at the event: the day of the candle-lit vigil for peace and against war and violence, where the rally cry was :”not one boy, not one girl, not one cent for war.”

The fourth video shows the May 1st work day peaceful rally, and brings into the conversation the ESMAD or mobile riot police units which are present in most of the peaceful rallies, and gives arguments as to why they are against these means of control, as well as against several other government policies.

The fifth and sixth videos explain the work the women of the OFP do, through soup kitchens, organizing rallies, giving talks, making different types of services available for women of the community including legal assistance and housing for those refugees from internal violence, providing workshops with creative and marketable skills for women in the community to be able to make an income to help financially at home.

The seventh video presents written testimonials by victims of the violence and crossfire. Basically the same story repeats itself in each gutwrenching tale. Guerrilla are in the region, then the paramilitaries come and accuse them of working with guerrillas because they don't give them the information they wantt, they leave and the guerrilla comes back and retaliates with the community for being “snitches” and speaking to the other team.

The eighth and ninth video explain a bit more about why coca farming is sometimes the only option many people have to survive: non-existent infrastructure make any other type of farming for profit not possible, since there would be no way to effectively market the product, and if possible, wages wouldn't be enough to live off. However, the government is intent on eradicating coca plantations and they regularly dust them with chemicals that not only kill the coca plants but also any other type of plants in the area, including those products of subsistence farming. And still, with all these struggles, life in Barrancabermeja goes on.


  • Renata Avila

    It is scary when I realize that is the same story in Latin America, civilians in the middle, always facing the problems and sufferings of armed conflicts. The transition processes are not better for them either.

  • Felipe

    There is a hidden hole in my heart that I’m not totally familiar with. The bright shinny ‘lucre’ and its pursuit
    seems to be the heavy, heavy rock of gold that blocks the truth in that hole and keeps it’s beauty from ever seeing the light of day.

    Thank you so much for this article on Barrancabermeja. More of a resurrection rather than an epiphany stirs my emotions soooooooooo mucho.

    Thank you sincerely, Felipe

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