Francis McDonagh, programme officer for CAFOD, said: "International Women's Day is a good time to send a message of greeting and support to the women of Latin America and especially to our brave friends in the Golosinas Amazónicas cooperative in Colombia, who are carrying on a business in the midst of many obstacles and also bringing to their country and to the wider world the sweetness at the heart of the Colombian Amazon. " (en español)
Golosinas Amazónicas is a fruit-processing cooperative. It is based in San Vicente del Caguán, a frontier town in the Amazon region of Colombia. It was carved out of the jungle forty years by settlers from other parts of Colombia. The materials to build the parish church had to be brought by river because there were no roads, and even now when the bishop visits his parishes, he travels as much by boat, canoe and on horseback as by car.
Golosinas was the brainwave of a group of local women. They noticed that so much delicious local fruit such as arazá and cocona, was hardly known, even by the people of the town. They talked to and got the support of CIFISAM, a CAFOD partner that promotes sustainable agriculture as part of the local diocese's social programme. They then got themselves trained in the various skills required from how to select fruit to how to store and process it.
By 2002 they had diversified from jam and sweets into juices and fruit yoghurts, and had obtained a health licence to sell their produce in other towns. They were also providing a market for local people to grow and pick the fruit.
San Vicente del Caguán hit the international headlines in 1999 when the then Colombian President, Andrés Pastrana, started negotiations with the FARC guerrilla movement. He formally declared this part of south-west Colombia as a safe haven for FARC and a site for peace negotiations.
San Vicente became the capital of the 'peace process'. Negotiations were held in a specially built compound on the edge of the town, and diplomats and journalists became regular visitors, and customers of Golosinas. For a while, San Vicente was an oasis of peace in a Colombia racked by violence between the guerrillas, the army and the so-called 'paramilitaries'. The latter are private armies funded by Colombian business and drugs to fight the guerrillas.
In February 2002 the 'peace process' in Colombia broke down. The guerrillas retreated into the jungle. The army went back into San Vicente and made occasional forays in pursuit.. The unofficial municipal police force created by the local mayor during the 'peace process' fled. In response to guerrilla threats, the mayor left the town and the municipal administration shut up shop.
Worst of all, the paramilitaries appeared, and bodies started appearing in the streets, bodies of people said to be supporters of the guerrillas, including a boy who had repaired guerrillas' boots in the shoe-shop where he worked. 'Everyone from outside treats us as guerrilla supporters, but we weren't given any choice about becoming their safe haven,' complains a religious sister who has worked in the region for many years.
Despite the new pressures, the tension and suspicion, Golosinas Amazónicas continues its work. On International Women's Day 2003, they are CAFOD's example of the millions of women in Latin America working, against heavy odds, for a better world.
Con motivo del día internacional de la mujer, CAFOD (Agencia Católica para la Cooperación Internacional) saluda a las mujeres de América Latina y, de manera especial, a nuestras valientes amigas cooperativistas de Golosinas Amazónicas en San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá, Colombia, que, en medio de muchas dificultades, llevan adelante un trabajo empresarial y al mismo tiempo difunden por su país y por el mundo la dulzura profunda de la Amazonía colombiana.