Peace in Colombia is far from perfect but after decades of war farmers in the Caquetá region are speaking up for their rights and demanding a better life.
We finally reach the house, gasping for breath and surveying the tops of the hills we have climbed.
Dalia and Rafael giggle at our expense as they split open a pineapple and pour the juice into cups for their visitors. Under the Colombian sun, high up in the hills that lead to Ecuador, nothing has ever tasted so sweet.
If Dalia and Rafael can negotiate the climb better than their Irish visitors, it is no surprise. To them, the hills, valleys and fields that surround their home are more than just a link to the local village: they are their source of life.
The fields sustain their animals and grow their crops, the rivers offer fish, and the rough pathway that snakes through it all provides them with a route to the closest market. They know every dip, every bump and every climb as though they were extensions of their own bodies.
And if Dalia and Rafael are much quicker at climbing these hills than their visitors, that is also no surprise because these days they have an extra spring in their steps.
Like much of Colombia, this area in the south of the country was left devastated by over 50 years of armed conflict between left-wing guerrilla, right-wing paramilitaries and the army. With various armed groups fighting for control of the land, people like Dalia and Rafael were caught in the middle.
“The area was controlled by [rebel group] FARC,” says Rafael. “They killed my brother because they got the wrong information. Somebody said he was informing and so they killed him.
“They would often come to our house and ask us for money or cows and we had to give them what they wanted. They used to arrive at anytime – midnight, three in the morning – and they would say ‘you have to take us to this place’ and I had no choice. I felt powerless and humiliated.”
Today, peace in Colombia is far from perfect, but it is a greatly improved situation.
Having been at the mercy of armed gangs for decades, ordinary people like Dalia and Rafael are becoming braver, speaking up about their rights and demanding a fairer and better future.
Farmers in southern Colombia are organising themselves, forming groups and establishing markets. Gone are the days of passive acceptance; these days the farmers of this region are asking questions, offering solutions and demanding answers.
They don’t have to live in fear any more. They don’t have to dread knocks on the door in the middle of the night, or the sound of men approaching from behind the trees.
Today, Dalia and Rafael make sure that politicians work for them, and not the other way around.
“People who run business and have economic power usually see farmers as people who don’t have any ability to run things so they want to keep control of us,” says Rafael. “The candidates [for local election] all said ‘why are you farmers presenting proposals?’ So we said, ‘so you think we’re only good to give you votes? Now you will know what we’re good for’. Now the current Mayor is from our group. Those politicians now give us respect. Now they have to call us for meetings. I feel very proud.”
Their journey has not been an easy one, but after years of living in the shadows Dalia and Rafael can finally step into the light.
High in the sun-soaked hills of southern Colombia, life suddenly tastes sweet.
This blog is published to mark Blog Action Day
, a day when blogs around the world discuss issues relating to human rights.
Or you can find other human rights blogs via Twitter today by following the hashtag #BAD13
Watch our short film telling Dalia and Rafael’s story