(“…for the right to the city, and the right to decent housing”)
By Francelias Lancheros: Activist and long-time Community leader, member of the Commision in defense of the Alto Fucha, and inhabitant of Alto Fucha.
This blog was written as a reflection after the Refresher Course "Peacebuilding in peri-urban areas in Colombia: nature-based solutions for community resilience" that IHS held in Colombia at the end of last year.
Photo Credit: Huertopía
FUCHA means girl, woman, life; we are in the highest part of the mountains of the town of San Cristóbal Sur (Bogotá, Colombia). We are seven neighborhoods: Aguas Claras, La Cecilia, Los Laureles Sur Oriental, Manila, Montecarlo and El Pilar. We are named after the Fucha river, the largest and most abundant in our territory; where trout, a few meters away from the big noisy city, swim happily. Here, you can hear the sound of the running of its crystal clear waters at more than 3000 meters above sea level. The Fucha River is accompanied by an immense natural wealth: mountains with a variety of native species, rich in water basins, fauna, flora, where the variety of birds stands out, such as the mountain turkey, the woodpecker, several species of hummingbirds. Here we also find several species of animals such as opossums and foxes; according to the forest ranger's stories, we even have endemic bears walking in our southeast hills of Bogotá.
In the seven neighborhoods, we have a population of approximately 5,400 people. We have two schools, a public kindergarten, and a few community centers. We believe that the best families live in Alto Fucha; people who stand out for protecting, caring for and preserving our environment, without losing their culture, their ancestral roots, their simplicity and humility.
We work hard to defend our rights: access to decent housing; staying in our territory; enjoying a healthy environment and clean air. We know that we are privileged to live in the middle of this exuberant nature. We care about beautifying and enriching our environment; we care about maintaining our cultural heritage, which is why, for example, every year we accompany the pilgrimage to the Virgin of the Rock. Every August, this event is the perfect excuse for local people to meet, and also to encounter visitors from different parts of Colombia and the world. It is a space where we meet to celebrate, talk, discuss and strengthen ties of friendship. It is also the setting where we share the gastronomic variety of our territory: native drinks such as "chicha" and "masato", we accompany them with a good "arepa" with “chorizo”, a traditional sausage that we make directly in Alto Fucha. This annual event is, without a doubt, the largest festival in our territory.
In this great urban forest reserve, the “old road” stands out. An old path that crosses our lush high-altitude forest, and that reaches the meeting of the three streams: Upata, Palo Blanco and La Osa. These streams finally make up the great river Fucha. Within the colonial vestiges that show the historical importance that this territory has had, the reserve still houses an old wheat mill. At the time, the mill was strategically located, and there the wheat of farmers from other regions was processed. This path was used by people from neighboring municipalities to Bogotá, such as Ubaque, who were transported by "mule back" and brought their agricultural products to the capital. Likewise, these travelers brought edible products to their municipalities from Bogotá.
We will expand on the description of this path, since, without a doubt, it stands out for being a refuge of peace and tranquility, right on the edge of a chaotic city of more than 7 million inhabitants. This forest reserve is the setting to be in contact with hundreds of arboreal species. Inside, “the Forest of Silence” stands out; a paradise of flora and fauna that shelters species such as mosses and trees over 70 meters high. We enter the “Forest of Silence” barefoot to feel the energy of “mother earth”, and listen to the running wind, the song of the birds and the sound of the threads of water that run through it. For us, this forest is the paradise inside our mountains.
“The Forest of Silence” is just the gateway to the majesty that is home to this great ecological reserve. If we go further, we will find the "Cruz Verde" moorland, a unique ecosystem, which is located over 4000 meters above sea level. In this, and all the moorlands, the frailejón (i.e. high altitude plant), traditionally known as a water collector, reigns; the moorlands are ecosystems specialized in the capture and redirection of water. In "Cruz Verde" there are hundreds of water sources; it is a high mountain area crossed by fog. It houses the "Laguna de los Patos", station of the annual migratory path of several species of birds. This ecosystem has been traversed for generations; It is an ancient path where those who preceded us left multiple traces of their walks through these forests.
We have an ecological "jewel" in our hands. This territory is privileged, not in vain, we have faced attacks for decades and from different francs (i.e. public and private), with the aim of disposing of our land or displacing us. Hence, the only option we found has been community organization and articulation; we have learned to defend ourselves and that is why we have managed to remain. Our strategies have been diverse; we have focused on community and social work. Alto Fucha has many social and collective organizations (e.g. Huertopia, Arto Arte, Brillo de la Montaña, Fucha Films, Entrelazadas), and we have managed to lead our struggle and make our problems known nationally and internationally.
Along this path, we have achieved great things, and self-management and self-construction have been fundamental tools. One outstanding case was the conception and self-construction of the “House of the Brainstorming”. This is a community space that, keeping the proportions, has managed to go around the world. It has been a benchmark in several senses: from the formal, for its particular architecture, but above all because it is the materialization of community organization. The House of Brainstorming is a symbol of resistance that, despite being located in a specific neighborhood of Alto Fucha, has been welcomed by the communities of the seven neighborhoods.
This space has hosted for almost a decade, from artistic manifestations to social mobilizations. Biennials of community art have been held there; stone sculptures have been carved; we have coordinated the cleaning of our river; Various murals have been conceived and implemented that have captured the history of our neighborhoods. But, above all, in this community House we have articulated and resisted; there we organized against two projects that tried to deprive our neighborhoods: the “Butterfly Trail” and the "Linear Park of Fucha river”. Together as a community we have faced these challenges, with the sole objective of building a sustainable territory and this has become a permanent commitment.
With this clear objective, we have articulated various strategies: creation of urban gardens; recovery of public spaces; and training in human rights. We have aligned ourselves around a single phrase: "for the right to the city, and the right to decent housing".
Despite the difficult economic and social conditions present in our daily lives, as a community we have organized ourselves to care for, preserve and protect our environment. We are aware that from our latitude and with our community practices, we can be a reference in contributing to reduce global warming.
Finally, on the one hand, from these green and imposing mountains, we will continue to fight to be an example of organization and commitment to the environmental challenges that the world faces. On the other hand, we are focused on documenting this experience and knowledge, and thus not reverse the hard work of resistance we have done and the achievements we have made. Through this continuous community organization, we want to guarantee that, if it is the case, the departure from the territory and from our houses is of our own free will and in the best conditions, never displacement by megaprojects imposed by the state or private interests.