EXCLUSIVE: 'The War We Are Living' An Afro-Colombian Story

In Colombia’s Pacific southwest region, gold is abundant. So much so that it has helped sustain the livelihoods of the region’s Afro-Colombians for generations. But now, gold has become the center of friction between local people and militias in the area. The tension has been captured in a new PBS special called The War We Are Living, premiering tonight on PBS at 10 p.m. ET.

Clemencia Carabali and Francia Marquez are two Afro-Colombian women who form part of a tightknit group of female leaders who have stood their ground firmly against a legal system that often does not enforce the laws that have granted Afro-Colombians lands. Carabali and Marquez have received death threats and face the nightmarish possibility of being displaced. Colombia has the largest displaced population after Sudan.

The War We Are Living is part of PBS’ five-part series Women War & Peace. Latina.com got the chance to interview producer Oriana Zill de Granados and co-writer Pamela Hogan about the episode. Read our exclusive interview with them below and check out the sneak peek for The War We Are Living below:

What kind of a struggle are Carabali and Marquez facing? 

Pamela: I can only describe what these two powerful women are up against as a “David vs. Goliath” story. Carabali, Marquez and their communities are up against a legal system that frequently does not enforce laws granting Afro-Colombians land rights, armed groups who threaten and carry out targeted killings to frighten communities into fleeing their homes, and the daily spectre of being uprooted from the land.

Oriana: It’s important to remember that both Carabali and Marquez are mothers of young children, which makes their work as community leaders that much more challenging. Not only are they serving as advocates for their communities, they’re also navigating daily decisions about the education, nutrition, safety, and health of their children.

In what way has displacement affected these women?

Pamela: In the episode, Carabali says, “displacement means the end of the family.” She has seen how uprooted families suffer: the children's education is disrupted, unemployment is rampant, and families endure poverty. 

Oriana: In a way, these struggles have underlined for both Carabali and Marquez the urgency of their struggle to secure and safeguard their communities’ land rights. Because they know so intimately the cost of displacement, they are uniquely compelled to act—and the stand their ground.

Why is this story important for Latinas in the U.S. to know about?  What can Latinas here in the U.S. learn from these two women?

Pamela: This story is important because all of us need to better understand the changing role women are playing in building peace in Latin America. It’s perhaps especially important to Latinas in the U.S. because it’s a story that has traditionally been overlooked in American media. I think of Carabali and Marquez as everyday heroines and role models for Latinas—and for each of us who one day might be recognized for her leadership. 

Is there any way to help these women?

Viewers can learn more about ways to help support and protect the rights of women in La Toma and other Colombian communities by visiting the Get Involved feature at our website, where we have compiled a list of NGOs and advocacy groups related to The War We Are Living story.

Anything else you would like to add?

Last December, several months after our filming ended, the town of La Toma won an incredible victory in Colombia’s Constitutional Court. The court upheld the community’s legal right to previous consultation and suspended the mining permit that had been issued to an outside investor. The verdict may invalidate up to thirty other mining permits in the area.  Sometimes David does beat Goliath!

Watch The War We Are Living on PBS. See more from Women War and Peace.