By Irene Escudero
Arauquita, Colombia, Nov 8 (EFE).- Planted along the banks of Arauca river and painted as murals on houses, cocoa is seen everywhere in Arauquita, a town that has long suffered from state negligence in Colombia.
Cocoa producers in the Department of Arauca, bordering Venezuela, learned how to get respect from guerillas, survive the damage caused by ongoing attacks on oil pipelines and stand their ground when the cultivation of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, started.
More than 6,500 families’ livelihoods depend on growing cocoa in Arauca. They have joined farmer cooperatives to deal with low prices imposed by companies buying the raw grain.
The price before was “very low, very bad,” explains Hugo Castro, a farmer from the village of La Pica and son of one of the cocoa farmers who founded the Compracar cooperative, as he walks through the facilities where three young men scrape out fresh cocoa beans from the pod.
“Arauca had no guerilla warfare,” says Domingo Perez, vice president of the municipal committee of cocoa farmers in Arauquita, despite the fact that he arrived at the peak of the conflict in 2000.
However, he clarifies that guerrillas came following the discovery of the Cano Limon oilfield, which got “the world’s eyes on Colombia.”
“The only thing left of the oil is the pollution, the hollow, the deforestation, the change of the river beds and the violence,” says the agricultural engineer, referring to the fact that the oil was what attracted the guerrillas.
Taking advantage of the lack of justice, education and employment in the region, guerillas learned to take power. They used to put on armed uniforms while walking through farming towns in Arauquita, where the state has little to no presence.
People there started to “accept” the presence of guerillas from both the National Liberation Army (ELN) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), or rather “learn to share the territory with them.”