42 families saved from eviction in Colombia

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Written by Alan Whelan on Wed, 2009-12-23 15:03

Life is desperately unfair for the poor and voiceless of Colombia, and justice is not a concept with which they are familiar. But you, our supporters, have changed the lives of 42 families in a very specific way.

Martha Gomez' husband, Eian, was murdered 21 years ago in the town of Uraba in Colombia by a paramilitary group. Martha said his body was left "like mincemeat" for refusing to cross a picket line in a plantation where he worked. His death was a warning to others.

This wasn't the end of her suffering. Martha revealed that her parents, 72-year-old Juan Jesus Canas and 64-year-old Clara Rosa Hernandez, and her sister, Nubia Canas, were assassinated by paramilitaries in 1997. Her mother and sister were raped before being shot.

Martha fled in fear with her nine children to Bogota city and settled in Soacha, a poverty-stricken slum. She learned she may be entitled to compensation from the government for the land she had abandoned. She joined a cooperative of 42 families who approached the mayor for help in relocating to a rural area to grow food. The mayor offered the co-op a rubbish dump.

Martha started her new home under plastic sheeting, scavenging for food with dogs and rats and trying to find items worth recycling. "Some days there was food, some not," she shrugged.

After two years the mayor helped the co-op to secure land outside Bogota. He suggested they borrow three million pesos (approx €1000) to produce runner beans. The crops didn't grow and the loan interest almost doubled the amount to be repaid. The group couldn't pay, and the land owner wanted to evict them because the government hadn't paid either. Martha and her children thought they would be homeless again.

Through an appeal on Newstalk radio station Trócaire supporters donated enough money to allow Martha and her co-op pay off their loan and secure the legal rights to their land. Thanks to you, 42 families now face a future free of fear where they can live in peace and security.

Trócaire works in Colombia to help poor people who have been displaced by the years of conflict gain access to land so they can build homes, grow food and support their families.