Fierce

In Colombia, Women Are Cleaning Up The Remnants Of Its Bloody War

Twitter / @HI_UK

In Colombia, women were directly impacted by the more than half a century-long bloody war between the military and the guerrilla rebel group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo (FARC). Their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers were killed. They were often subject to sexual violence, including rape and forced abortions. Today, three years after a peace pact was made between both armies, the women are now cleaning up the conflict’s deadly remnants.

In war zones throughout the South American country there are leftover explosives. Guerrillas planted landmines in towns, by schools and homes, as well as fincas years ago, prepared to ambush their enemies when they needed to. While the land is no longer occupied, many still fear walking through affected areas, knowing the risk they take stepping on a mine and detonating a bomb that could take off their leg.

Humanity & Inclusion (HI), an internationally funded humanitarian aid organization, is working to remove these mines — and it’s largely powered by women. In fact, 40 percent of the group is women and some, like Erika Romero, also lead teams.

“In the armed conflict, the mines were the most effective mechanism to do damage. Mines don’t discriminate,” Romero, HI’s base manager in Caquetá, told Teen Vogue. “Mines aren’t going to just target people in the military. The mines are going to take down civilians, the most vulnerable population. They’ve taken down children, animals, mothers, farmers.”

From 1990 to 2017, more than 11,000 people were killed or injured by mines and explosive, like grenades, mortars or bombs, that remained after the war.

This makes the women’s work essential. Before they started, 31 of 32 of Colombia’s departments were sullied with mines. That’s down by three. It might not seem like a lot, but the work is dangerous, making it meticulous and time-consuming.

Still, it’s labor that excites Marifer Culman Ortiz. The 19-year-old wakes up each morning, puts on her shatter-proof mask and anti-explosive gear, and begins her day in the minefield, moving away scrubs in the jungle and hovering her metal detector over the ground until she hears a long beep.

“It’s a very beautiful kind of work,” Culman Ortiz told the magazine. “That is, you have to go out to these areas and free them from many dangers like mines. Then people can pass through these pathways without fear that they’re going to step on the ground and lose their leg.”

Without women, this crucial work couldn’t get done. In the rural communities largely impacted by the war, there’s still a distrust of outsiders. This complicates the work of deminers, who often count on locals to identify areas where mines might have been planted. Those from the area are more comfortable speaking with familiar faces, who tend to be young women eager to rebuild their communities.

“Families are not going to trust people they practically don’t know and give this information because they could say ‘No, it could put my family at risk,’” Andrea Trujillo Ramirez, one of the women who works with the organization in the community she grew up in, said. “When we [women] go there, they almost always give us the information because they aren’t scared of us.”

Trujillo Ramirez was raised in a farmhouse near an encampment-turned-demining locale. Her childhood was plagued by war. She remembers hiding in bathrooms and under beds to protect herself from bullets as well as her mother pulling her out of school so she wouldn’t be hit during an unexpected, but common, shoot-out. She knows the pain of losing an uncle to a land mine and a brother, a member of FARC, to a clash with the military.

“The importance of this work is that I don’t want my family to have this experience of pain that I have had to live,” Trujillo Ramirez, who has a 7-year-old daughter, said.

While the Colombian government and the rebel group signed a peace pact in 2016, many fear that new conflict may soon arise. The government, which promised reparations for victims, reintegration of former combatants into society and developing the country’s destitute and rural areas, haven’t carried their vows through. Most recently, Colombian President Ivan Duque, who was elected last year, has questioned the accords altogether.

Former FARC rebels, upset by the unfulfilled pledges, have returned to war zone areas, carrying guns and sparking fear into many community members who are familiar with what a war-torn Colombia looks like.

This puts the women’s work at risk. They now face being at the center of violence themselves for attempting to detonate the remnants of yesterday’s brutality — a danger that could potentially put an end to their demining efforts.

“There would not be guarantees that we wouldn’t be forced out,” Romero said. “We could be at risk for the work we do with the communities so we would have to stop.”

For now, the women continue cleaning and hoping for a safer time ahead.

Read: This Queer Colombian Muralist Is Changing The World One Wall At A Time

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Colombia Is On Alert After Six Candidates Running For Mayor Have Been Murdered In The Past Six Weeks

Things That Matter

Colombia Is On Alert After Six Candidates Running For Mayor Have Been Murdered In The Past Six Weeks

Stern / Instagram

Yesterday saw police in Colombia arrest two people in connection to the death of Orley García, the mayoral candidate for the municipality of Toledo. But the wildest thing is that García isn’t the first mayoral candidate to have been killed this election cycle in Colombia. In fact, he’s actually the sixth

The most heartbreaking death was that of Karina García.

Pinterest / The Guardian

The 32-year-old was running to be the first female mayor in the rural municipality of Toledo when she was attacked. Following a day of campaigning on September 1, García was returning to her hometown of Suarez when the car she was traveling in was shot at, before being set on fire. Six people died from the attack, including García’s mother, three local activists and a candidate for the municipal council, who were also in the car at the time. According to authorities, a grenade was used in the attack. Somehow, though, García’s bodyguard, who was driving the vehicle, survived.

Before she was killed, Karina reported receiving threats and asked for security.

Twitter / @JZulver

A reward of almost $44,000 has been offered for information leading to the capture of the dissidents who were responsible for the murder of Karina García, who is survived by her husband and three year old son. It seems like a case of too little, too late, though, as García had already reported to authorities that she was on the receiving end of death threats. It was only in August that four armed men confronted members of her campaign, ordering them to take down banners and posters supporting her candidacy. García took to social media, calling on authorities to protect her and her fellow candidates against harm. “Please, for God’s sake, don’t act so irresponsibly,” she said in a video posted to Facebook on August 24. “This can bring fatal consequences for me.”

Authorities are blaming the killings on FARC rebels.

Instagram / @stern

And just who are FARC? The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, on the most fundamental level, are a guerilla movement that began in 1964. Motivated by Marxist-Leninist leanings, on paper they’re a peasant force that promotes anti-imperialism. However, what this means in practice is that they kidnap, ransom, drug run and extort their way into opposing Colombian authorities and consolidating power. By the time 2016 rolled around though, the group was running out of steam. This led to a ceasefire accord between FARC and the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos. June 2017 saw FARC hand over its weapons to the United Nations.

Yes, FARC legitimized itself legally but several dissidents disagree with that decision.

Instagram / @leperejulot

Obviously, that’s not the end of the story. Despite the peace deal, and despite the fact that FARC had officially announced its transformation into a legal, political party, there are still plenty of dissidents out there who disagree with the change and still operate under the original FARC doctrine. What’s most likely sparked the recent mayoral candidate killings is FARC’s announcement, on Youtube no less, that it’s resorting to violence due to the Colombian government’s failure to comply with the peace agreements from 2016. Of course, Colombian officials heartily disagreed with this statement, and responded with offensive strikes against FARC.

This has basically turned into tic for tac killing.

Twitter / @Citytv

And the repercussions of the violence and killings are far-reaching. Beyond the devastated friends and family left behind, this also spells trouble for the democratic process in Colombia. Because who’s going to risk running for office, if they’re risking not only their own life, but the lives of their friends, family and coworkers? And who’s going to even consider turning up to vote, when the candidates themselves are being murdered, left, right, and center? It’s hard to conceive of cultural and legislative change in a country where part of what needs to be changed is what’s preventing change in the first place.

The other thing to keep in mind is that this is the exact kind of violence that people are fleeing when they arrive at the US border and make an appeal for asylum.

Instagram / @every_day_donald_trump

It’s a legitimate fear: the operation of gangs and cartels negatively impacts on the safety of the citizenry, as well as influencing the way that the entire country can be governed. However, because US legislation under the Trump administration states that asylum seekers cannot be granted refuge against gang violence, it means that these people have no choice but to go back to their country of origin and continue to risk theirs and their family’s lives. Something’s gotta give – otherwise, we’re going to see a lot more deaths at the hands of these gangs.

At this stage, we can only keep our eyes peeled for more news coming out from Colombia, as the elections are to be held October 27, across almost 1,100 municipalities. Unfortunately, with the murder of the sixth mayoral candidate in Colombia, this marks an even more violent election season than that of 2015, which saw the deaths of five mayoral candidates.

Latin America Is Fighting A Banana Fungus That Threatens America’s Favorite Fruit

Culture

Latin America Is Fighting A Banana Fungus That Threatens America’s Favorite Fruit

Jametlene Reskp / Unsplash

Did you wake up and eat a banana for breakfast this morning? Straight out of the peel? Or maybe you chopped it up into a few pieces and tossed it into a smoothie or over a bowl of cereal?  

Or maybe your abuelita fried a few up and served them with some crema and a side of rice and frijoles? 

Bananas are a staple food item around the world. In fact, we consume around 114 millions tons of them every single year. So you can imagine why many people are freaking out over recent news that a banana killing fungus has taken hold. It could literally spell the end for our beloved banana. 

A deadly fungus has infested banana crops across Colombia.

Bad news for banana lovers: A fungus that’s particularly adept at killing the fruit has finally reached Latin America — a major supplier of the world’s bananas — as scientists long feared it would.

Recently, officials in Colombia declared a national emergency after confirming the presence of this deadly fungus, known as Fusarium oxysporum Tropical Race 4 (TR4), in the country, according to the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA)

This is the first time the fungus has been detected in Latin America. However, the fungus isn’t new — for decades, it has been devastating banana plantations in Asia, Australia and East Africa.

This is potentially devastating news because Latin America was one of the few remaining fungus-free regions in the world.

Although this fungus isn’t harmful to humans, it is a “serious threat” to banana production, according to the United Nations. The fungus attacks the plant’s roots and blocks its vascular system — the network used to transport water and nutrients — and ultimately kills the plant. Once the fungus finds its way into soil, it can’t be treated with fungicides, and it’s very difficult to remove.

So what does this mean for the fruit so many of us have come to enjoy?

Well, the fungus attacks the most commonly exported banana, the Cavendish banana. “For Western countries, the vast majority of the bananas we eat are from the same Cavendish subgroup,” Nicolas Roux, a senior scientist at Bioversity International in France, told Live Science in a June interview.

“What we’re having is an almost apocalyptic scenario where we’ll probably lose Cavendish [banana]” Sarah Gurr, Exeter University’s chair in food security, told Wired in an interview.

Also, side note, the Cavendish bananas which are what most of us buy in the supermarket, are literal clones of one another.

Cavendish bananas reproduce asexually, meaning that the plants are essentially clones of their parents. This means banana crops lack genetic diversity, and infections can spread quickly. That’s not weird at all. 

Virtually every supermarket banana in the world is a Cavendish, a strain chosen for its hardiness and easy cultivation. In the 1950s, it replaced the Gros Michel, a comparable banana that was all but wiped out by the soil-dwelling fungus Panama disease. Also known as Fusarium fungus, the blight blackens bananas from the inside out. Once it’s infected a plantation, its fruit is toast. Even decades after bananas have gone, the spores hang around in the soil, with the potential to re-infect crops all over again.

Colombia is just the most recent outbreak. This fungus has been wreaking havoc globally for years.

For the past 30 years, the fungus has wreaked havoc on banana plantations in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Now, Colombia’s agriculture and fishing institute has declared a national emergency after the fungus was found in the northeastern province of La Guajira in June. Nearly 170 hectares (420 acres) of plantations have since been quarantined

So what’s the plan? How will we save the banana? 

A number of ideas have been proposed to help save the Cavendish banana, including genetically engineering plants that are resistant to TR4. Meanwhile, researchers are trying desperately to find a new kind of banana that can survive Tropical Race 4.

Scientists in Australia have created a fungus-resistant variety using genetic engineering. It’s still being tested and would require government approval before it could be grown or sold. 

Other scientists are looking through nature’s storehouse. Unfortunately, 80% of banana fruits are susceptible to TR4. And none of the fungus-resistant plants are ready to replace the bananas that currently fill supermarket shelves. Most of them are cooking bananas, or plantains. Others are wild bananas with tiny fruit that’s inedible; the pods are full of seeds.

The hope, however, is that plant breeders can take these plants and cross-pollinate them, mating them with other, more commercially viable bananas, reshuffling the genes to create new varieties that are both delicious and immune to TR4.