Corporación Casa Amazonía

Sandra Vargas

This case is based on an interview with Sandra Vargas, on May 27, 2020.

Calle 3a N° 12-28. Barrio Las Américas. Mocoa, Putumayo. Colombia
+57 (311) 5002748 - (311) 2225756 - (8) 4200834


MOCOA, Colombia

Mocoa is the administrative capital of the State of Putumayo, located at the southwest border of Colombia with Ecuador. With an estimated urban population of 3,600, this is one of the largest cities in Colombia's frontier to the Amazon region.

But despite the richness in biodiversity, given its character as a natural bridge between the Andes mountain chain and the Amazon rainforest, Mocoa has been affected by several socio-environmental conflicts that include the following issues: 1) Land disputes between different indigenous groups and Afro-Colombian communities, with campesinos (peasants) and private extractivists, which include legal and illegal activities (i.e coca growing, gold mining, and oil drillling, etc.); 2) natural disasters associated with both geologic conditions given the lack of bedrock in the area, and climatic phenomena that includes climate change; and 3) extreme violence between left-wing guerrilla groups, paramilitary organizations and the National Army, leaving behind one of the largest number of massacres and internally displaced populations worldwide.

In 2017, Mocoa was affected by a devastating avalanche of mud, rocks, and flooding that killed over 300 people in roughly 30 minutes. After four years of advocacy efforts to expedite the implementation of recovery plans, reconstruction efforts remain inconclusive which has exacerbated community vulnerability to homelessness, future disasters, and additional violence.

The Organization

Corporación Casa Amazonía

“Casa Amazonía Corporation” (COCA), legally created on April 5, 2005 is conformed by women that had been working on projects with local associations, youth, children, teachers and displaced women that were linked in different ways to the Putumayo [1] Chapter of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

An issue that surfaced after more than three years of field work in the area is the fragmentation of the social and spiritual net of the population, as a result of an over 20-year-old process of extractive and illicit economies, and the constant violation of human rights from different armed actors that work in the region. This situation led us to join hands with communities to search potential alternatives to mitigate the effects of this problem. The need to take root and to strengthen cultural identity, gender equality, environmental protection, and the sense of belonging emerges as a result of these discussions”. (

We are an organization of women who are human rights defenders from a gender perspective and differential approaches. The populations in which our actions are focused are women, children, and indigenous, afro and rural youths from rural, dispersed rural and popular urban areas of the Putumayo department.

The communities we work with are found throughout the department, in the 13 municipalities that Putumayo has. The department is divided into three zones: Upper, Middle and Lower Putumayo. We work a lot in indigenous reservations and councils, Afro Community Councils, villages led by Community Action Boards and Educational Institutions


Our general mission is to promote and consolidate democratic alternatives for the development of a cultural, social, community and environmental identity that encourages the sense of belonging, rooting, respect and promotion of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, equal gender, ethnic and age group relationships, joint work with national and international organizations to strengthen a policy of peace, social coexistence and sustainable human development, with a cross-cutting focus on gender and the environment.

The principles and values ​​of this organization guide its actions and the interrelationships that are established with the participants in the common tasks that are proposed, with the State and other relevant social actors:

  • Constant recognition of Human Dignity.
  • Human rights as a frame of reference for intervention
  • Respect for regional and national cultural diversity
  • Intervention based on action without harm
  • Research as a basis for the recognition of reality and its approach.
  • Collective construction of knowledge based on dialogue.
  • Innovative methodologies supported by the differential, gender and generational approach.
  • The promotion of participatory democracy.
  • Strengthening ethical life projects.
  • The construction of proposals, values ​​and experiences of Peace.

From the recognition of transversal and constitutive elements of their actions:

  • Transparency
  • Action without harm
  • I respect
  • Responsibility
  • Quality

A dignified life as a fundamental value


Casa Amazonía is not a membership organization.

Governance Structure

Casa Amazonía has a basic team of civil servants who carry out their work based on administrative procedure manuals that support the processes and procedures for the execution of projects, internal administrative management and performance in accordance with what is stipulated by Colombian law.

Space and staff

Casa Amazonía rents its space and has an average of 5 people working for the organization, which are 90% women.

Coalitions and partner organizations

Casa Amazonia works locally with the Association of Indigenous Women (ASOMI), ASMUN Consultoria [1], ACSOMAYO [2], ASOMIC, Regional Council of the Nasa People, FEDECAP [3], Coordinator of Andean Amazonian Women. Nationally with the MINGA Association, National Network of Family and Community Agriculture (RENAF). Internationally with the Sucumbíos Women's Federation and Lola Mora Collective.


The Leader


When, how and why did you join the organization?

We were working with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, aka UN Refugee Agency), when we arrived in the department of Putumayo in 2003 to work with displaced children and women. When we entered the department, the number of women that arrived with their families, women, heads of families, was impressive, because we were in the middle of the Colombian armed conflict with the presence of paramilitary groups. Then, there was the guerrilla and there was also the army and there was also the police, so we were surrounded by armed actors.

When we realized how terrible the situation was, we started working with the children, we dedicated ourselves to a very supportive and solidary work with human rights, and in that passage, there were almost three or four years going to the territory, going to Puerto Asís, going to the border with Ecuador, and in that moment we decided that it would be nice to organize ourselves as an NGO, because UNHCR itself told us, organize yourselves as an NGO,  we will continue to support you; and we got together with two other women, there were four of us in 2003, we decided to organize ourselves as an NGO and to continue with the hard work we already were doing. We organized ourselves as an NGO, we named it Corporación Casa Amazonía and linked it directly to the coca leaf, because that was really what had us in a very deep conflict, the issue of the coca leaf, of coca as a plant.

We got together and what we did was think about the many women, men, boys and girls who were displaced, because this was an impressive thing, we began to ask ourselves, “Where are those people who have not been displaced and who continue to do resistance in the territories?”, and that's when we decided that we had to enter the territory, we couldn't stay only in Mocoa and Puerto Asís, where the majority of the displaced population was arriving, we had to go further. Finally, UNHCR did not support us, it no longer continued to support us, but we were very happy because we remained as an organization, as Casa Amazonía, as “Las Cocas', as the organization that we are today.

We started looking for funds, and we got together with other women and started doing a women's process that was very cool. We began joining organizations, because the situation was very critical, then the peaceful route of women appeared. We started, then, to get together several women, some that were in processes and others not in processes. At that moment, we started to make a diagnosis of the situation of the women in the department of Putumayo, who were in the middle of the armed conflict.

We would go there, and we had to sleep with our shoes and clothes on, because at any moment the paramilitary groups could arrive or there could be attacks and we would have to run or hide. Those were quite strong times. This is where Casa Amazonía was born. This is also where a special women's movement was born. There a whole process was born also with young people, with boys and girls in 2003 - 2004.

I was born in Santander, in [the Department of] Bucaramanga, I am a social communicator, but my line of work has always been the more humane aspects, like human rights. It has always been in my blood, in my conscience, in my adventurous spirit, in that spirit that does not calm down with inequality. I don't know where I got so much “pingada” (foolishness) from, but it really is like that voice that runs through my blood, of not letting war, weapons, armed actors and social inequality conspire to extinguish our voices and our hearts.

I have always been in that line of rebellion and more than rebellion, of not allowing those things to rule our life, or setting the guidelines in life. It seemed to me that that could not be. Weapons could not set the rhythm of life for us and the armed actors could not set rules on how to live our life, rather than that, we had to go further in the search for human rights. I have been a very convinced reader, because I am a social communicator thanks to Oriana Fallaci, who was my inspiration in that moment. I started with this whole issue of women and rights, and communication, we started right there.

I am from Santander and throughout my training process, I have always been involved with rights. Imagine, I am from the University of La Sabana, pure Opus Day. I was the one who created the student council around that time of Opus Day, so I think it comes from there, as a result of rights. Then a job came out in Carmen de Bolívar, with all the massacres and all this stuff, we lived there, and I saw the corpse trucks arrive, the only thing I saw was the feet of the people from all over that area, I said to myself, “this cannot be possible”. It is a very hard story, then I left Carmen de Bolívar, and that's when I met Valentina González Villegas, who today is my founding partner of the corporation. We learned many things there and we came to Putumayo through an organization that called us, called CEDAVIDA [1], with UNHCR funds. That is how we ended up in Putumayo 16 years ago.


Grassroots organization

Casa Amazonía is a grassroot organization. It is really Valentina and I who created the organization. We started from the dream of having a women's organization, in defense of women, children and girls’ rights. We are not a gigantic organization, when we have projects, we can be ten, twenty, but when not, we remain the same two or the same three. We are a grassroot organization, because we are here in the territory, what we do is have permanent contact with grassroots women in the municipalities and in the small rural neighborhoods (veredas).

We consider we are an organization with roots, because we are here in the department and we were born here in Putumayo, and I think that is what makes us “more grassroot”, that we have constant contact with women who have always caught our attention and with whom we have knitted a relationship. They are those grassroots women who have never been listened by the State or by anyone, so we decided to get together and “comadrear” (gossip), as we say, and it is perfect, and to knit dreams, ideas and rights.

Foundation and Evolution of Casa Amazonía

We have been very judicious in giving women the voice they need. It seems to us that the voice cannot continue to be in the professionals, we always have the floor because we handle it well and we have been taught, in some way, how diplomacy must be worked on. That idea, that women who are spokespersons have to be very well spoken seems to us that it got out of hand and sometimes we feel that those who should speak are grassroots women, because they are the ones who have put up with everything since the war began, from sucking up tear gas, putting up with bullets, to witnessing the strongest fights with the armed actors and with the government itself. It seems to us that sometimes those stories that we know through interviews or through the same experience, they have so much more in their heart and in their body and in their blood.

This exercise of giving a voice to other women, of giving them the opportunity, of speaking to other women, girls and young women, at that time it was also so cool to be able to say, “Go ahead and talk, you have to empower yourselves by this too, because it is not possible for us to carry your voice everywhere, and for you not to be the protagonists, we can´t be the ones who are saying that this is not fair”.

That’s how I think right now, and I am currently in that fight with UN Women, for example, and with international women's organizations, because they are putting the spokespersons in female doctors who have done the exercise, I am not speaking ill of the female doctors, or the researchers, but the voices should really be much more recognized in those grassroots women, not in us, the ones who have done research. The research is valid, obviously it is very valid, because today we are on March 8th talking about women, precisely because of those voices and those struggles they have endured, but we must also recognize that history that is in the voices of those grassroots women, who have suffered from all angles and who today, already have the ability to speak. Why? Because Casa Amazonía, and I am going to speak from the Corporation, we have done a very judicious job to create in them the possibility of speaking in public. They didn't have that. The fear of speaking in public or the fear of expressing themselves, the fear of saying things, from their feelings, which is the most beautiful thing… that fear did not allow them to express themselves. I think that an important achievement from the corporation is being able to give them those voices. That they speak for themselves, that they have the possibility to express what they suffered, what they have felt.

What we do is a “round of word”, people are very given to listen their complains, but in a beautiful way, but sometimes the heart has to come out and sometimes the heart comes out with anger and says very interesting things, but also, for me it should be like that, let it be from the heart and with anger, because sometimes saying it with tears and with rage sounds more than when one adorns it with so many words.

We are very radical when it comes to changes in our organization, where we do not feel well or where the issue of protagonism is the key. When the goal is to seek personal benefits, and collective benefits for women, we have also been very radical in that regard.

We founded the Alianza Tejedoras de Vida, in 2003 or 2004, when we went to make the diagnosis and after a very judicious hard research work with grassroots women, and I am including indigenous women, Afro women, and farmer women. We were in the middle of a very arduous job, and a person arrived and ended the good organization, the person arrived imposing other ideas. We had come together to politically be part of the assembly and to be able to manage many things politically for the benefit of women, but that divided the group. Some protagonisms began to develop that were not the ones we wanted to bet on, so we left, we didn’t continue. We resigned to this project (Alianza Tejedoras de Vida), fortunately, in a good moment and with all the dignity in the world, still holding our head high, and we continued to work with women.

I think that it is necessary to highlight the process itself, it is the work that we have been doing with women. We got together again four years ago, in a popular women's movement, where the base is the grassroots women. Those are the women who have the struggle in their territories, they give the fight and we give the fight, but it is how we come together to demand women's rights, because we bring together coca-growing women, women, ex-combatants and women from the borders who have never been heard.

Colombia has three borders, with Peru, Ecuador and Brazil, I am talking about Putumayo specifically. We have a border with other municipalities, large departments, and then those women who come from such dispersed rural areas are mostly not heard and, in that movement, we have achieved a voice for several of them and I think that is the great achievement the moment. We don't have resources because, with resources or without resources, we try to remain united. Nowadays, technology makes communication a little easier, like in this case, and that allows us to come together in the struggles, come together to fulfill dreams and to make a real and true impact, to continue dreaming, and to allow us to continue dreaming.

Now we have to start looking for resources so that we can continue to get together and continue working, but as we are going, its going well. We hope to gain more strength because we need to get together more, but I believe that the purpose of us as Casa Amazonía, was to have that get together with grassroots women, ex-combatant women, women who handle the issues related to the coca plant, women who grow coca-leaf, women leaders of community action boards, which is another figure that is very interesting. That's what we think has been nice, that and bringing together young women.

Major achievements and challenges

Well, one of the achievements is that we have not been eliminated, despite being so small, they have not been able to defeat us, not even the pandemic has been able to defeat us. We have not been defeated by the demand for international cooperation, which at times we feel that it is very unfamiliar with local contexts and demand a number of things from us that I say, "you should come to the territory and see how we work here." They should not ignore how it is that it is possible and how do we work here, I feel that we have been such warriors, big warriors.

I believe that in terms of specific achievements, it is how we continue to come together despite the distances, despite not having money, despite the scarcity of resources that one sees, the dance of the euro, the dance of the dollar in gigantic women's organizations. Just about Colombia, I would have to talk about the Casa de la Mujer [6], I would have to talk about Ruta Pacifica del La Mujeres [7], etc. There are like eight organizations at the national level that do a lot of things, but I don't see them locally, and they speak for women across the country and locally I don't see them. We hardly see Ruta Pacifica, but the organization is very big… Another organization, Sisma Mujer [8] is also one of the great ones, but you don't see them locally either.

They are like very broad processes, but you don't see them locally, so I highlight that inspiration that has given us to be small but great, that is where it lies. There were four of us, now we are two and it turns out that of those two, we are already one hundred, one hundred without resources, but with our hearts set on the fight and on generating cool processes for change, I would like to highlight like that. Resources are very important, because that is what allows us to come together, but at this moment it hasn’t been easy because we do not have resources, However, these cell phones and the possibility of WhatsApp, (which fortunately was discovered, and that fortunately out there we can communicate, even if it is five of us), or this zoom thing have also allowed us to hold meetings, that we have be deeply appreciate it. But we do have to meet, because most of the time our cell phones get tapped. In a country like Colombia, which is increasingly complex with the issue of human rights, and those of us who advocate for human rights get tapped the most. cell phones get intervened and well, the normal thing in this country. It should not be normal, but it happens.

Achievements from the projects

The achievements are all these that I have been mentioning to you, with black women we had a project with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) or USAID resources. The great achievement with black women was being heard. They had never had the opportunity to reunite as Afro women, as black and racial women, to talk about their own justice, to talk about their ways of justice. What was achieved was their empowerment and to be able to do a super interesting exercise, of recognition of the power of the Afro woman. That was a milestone in everything that has been done, talking about Afro women specifically, being able to talk about self-righteousness, about the power of Afro women as healers, as a medicine woman. I think that revendicated a lot the rights of Afro women. It was a short process, but very nice, very interesting. Women who did not know a lot from their stories, when they found the subject of their praising, with their culture, their own culture, to find again the meaning of what the Afro woman is from their culture, from their arrival in Putumayo, from their theme of slavery, from the theme of the gold mines. This was all very interesting. It was extremely interesting to claim those rights for them.

In the projects of ethnic generations, we work with boys and girls and the emphasis is on indigenous boys and girls. Obviously, it is a gigantic achievement to be able to talk to children. It is not new; we have been with this project for five years. It belongs to the State, but we put our hearts, our efforts into it, which is talking about the rights of boys and girls, because we are convinced that other worlds are possible from the change that we generate in them, because really, as they say here in Colombia,
“an old parrot does not learn to speak”, on the other hand, we can generate very big changes when we start from the conscience with boys and girls.

All those projects that are very interesting, always have the COCA brand and the COCA brand has to do with experiences more from the participatory perspective, more from the circle of words. In here we have no hierarchies, instead we have heterarchies. We are all on the same level, we all participate. I think we have managed to end many myths from hierarchies and making it heterarchy is more beautiful. Generating such autonomy in the communities, from their beliefs, from their rites, from their worldviews, because the idea is not to go and change them, because they come with them, it is about how we transform them to be much more human and more personal.

I think these are the achievements or what we have done with people, with women and with children. I do not take men out because we have managed, for example, to get men to do yoga. The man from the “billar” (billiards), a place where men play pool and drink, the last “billar” on the rural town, a paunchy man with a gigantic mustache, trying to do yoga, that's wonderful; and that they sit in conversations from the same level with women is wonderful because they usually do not go. Look, for us it was very inspiring to see the ex-combatants (men and women), all sitting in a temazcal [9], singing and forgiving and healing everything from the war. They were women and men there, involved in a heat but also forgiveness ritual, it was super intense. It is also about the fact that they are human beings who took up arms and did everything in this country, and today we are stuck in this temazcal, singing songs of forgiveness. I believe that we have done a beautiful exercise from within, from collectiveness, because for us collectiveness is much stronger and by strengthening the collective, I believe that better things can be done.

Shelter network after the avalanche

With the network of women's shelters, we had to do a very big exercise, because in the shelters there were cases of sexual abuse and things like that that were… Well, obviously a shelter is guarded by the military and well, we don't believe much in the military. We have never believed in the military or in weapons. There will be some beautiful hearts, but the truth is that when someone wants to be an armed actor, he or she does not have the best heart in the world, in fact, I once had a fairly strong dialogue with a priest, because he was the one who blessed the weapons to go and kill and I told him, why do you bless weapons if the weapons are going to kill. I think that topic left the priest a little touched, because it had touched me before.

In the shelters what we saw was that everything was completely militarized and that there were cases of sexual abuse, that there were disappearances of boys and girls because we were not aware of how a tragedy of such magnitude was handled. What we began to work in, in those shelters, (and not only in the shelters, but with the risk management unit, and with the oversight bodies that we formed at the time too), was the issue of prevention of violence against women, boys and girls. Doing that exercise also generated us as a group of cool women, with whom we were able to claim rights, especially economic ones, because when you lose everything overnight and you are left without a home, without family, without food, without a place to live, and living in one of these places, well I think it was too emotionally strong. That emotional work, which is also one of the strengths of Casa Amazonía, the psychosocial work that I forgot to mention, is one of the strengths of the corporation and that psychosocial work on economic rights is still there. We continue to work with women, we continue to meet women and I think it was one of the achievements also at the time.


In terms of challenges, getting resources and being recognized as strong local processes, because I insist, international cooperation, UN Women makes visible what they are most interested in, organizations that are heard worldwide, even if they do not have an echo locally. If they make noise then those are the ones they support, and it turns out that those are not, they make noise on social media, I would imagine, I do not know, or they come here and gather 10 or 20 and then they talk nice and that's it, and it turns out there are many more other powerful grassroots movements that we could be doing our struggles from the grassroots, without so much noise, without so much drumming, so much trumpet, but doing things, because sometimes that assures us that we don't put ourselves so much at risk. Sometimes being so visible, puts us at risk and when we work more low-key, sometimes it allows us a work of more science, of more tranquility and I think it is more beautiful. It doesn't give us many awards because they haven't really given us awards, the award is carried by each one in the heart, I think doing a grassroots work lies in that.

Relationship between the different groups

That is a task that has been very difficult, because obviously xenophobia has been framed to us from other points of view, but when we sit down to talk between Afro and indigenous women, we learn from each other, and that is what we promote. It was very difficult at the beginning, but I believe that there is a gigantic task, which has not been put into practice in a big way, and it is putting together those worldviews, those stories, recognizing the great differences, but still be the same, being women but with different worldviews and stories, bring together those great powers of Afro women, indigenous women, farmer women, bring them together from the heart with passion. With all the differences, that task remains to be done, because in here we are divided, all the time it is division, there are indigenous women, there are Afro women, there are farmer women, all divided, but it turns out that we are still women, we are still life-giving women, we are still combative women, we are still warrior women, we are still women at heart, we are still crying women and we are still fighting women, and we need to work on how to concentrate, focus, meet from those differences, to strengthen ourselves as women. I believe that this is a task that we have already began to do and we have achieved very beautiful things, respecting each group and how they see things, and their worldviews. We have to get together from there and you have to work on it a lot, a lot, and a lot more. Preventing ideas, that the black woman smells bad or that the indigenous woman is dirty. That is the imaginary that we have and I say it because I have heard it in these meetings.

And when they see, for example, that Afro women come to ASOMI [Association of Indigenous Women], which has a small hotel with a restaurant, a small stay there, Afro women get there, with their colored make up, the indigenous women also with their colors but submissive, all beautiful, so are the ones that provide them with food, is it that they don't cook good? They do cook good, they can get dressed, they bathe themselves. We have to demystify what the Church put in our heads culturally, because the church has a lot to do in this characterizing in such a biased way. We meet in those spaces and see that we all cook good and that we all have cool stories to tell and that we all have a different perspective, from the perspective of medicine, Afro women through midwifery, but also indigenous women to through midwifery with its uses and customs. This is an impressive wealth, but one that has never been recognized. That mixture of thoughts, that mixture of smells, flavors, sensations, that is about to be done more deeply and I think it is a task that we have to do.

Citywide Planning Activities

At the local level, we strongly advocate because, without advocacy, not much can be done, but the department of Putumayo has very high degrees of ungovernability, so we began by advocating with the governor-elect and then he was removed after three or four months, right now we have that situation; however, we have had a lot of influence locally, nationally, with women's movements at the national level and internationally, with UN Women; but, I insist that it is time to change the methodology. We have advocated and made achievements, such as this year, after 15 years of struggles, we can say that we have a Gender Commission in the department, only until this year we achieve that, because we have two deputies, men, allied to our causes, not the two women who were there.

That has also been in review, it is not the women who are committed, but the male allies, who have allowed that today we are talking about that possibility. We have managed, for example, to have a guarantee table for women human rights defenders, in the midst of all this that has been happening, the number of femicides, threats against women leaders, etc. That allowed us to have a table, which is also in the Assembly today.

We have achieved, for the department of Putumayo, these two exercises and therefore advocate, so that the exercise of the many groups of women here in the department is recognized. I think those are like the two real achievements through strong advocacy, the one about the table for women leaders and the one we are celebrating today, which is the Gender Commission in the Departmental Assembly (the Departmental Assembly is the governing body of all the politics in the department).

We also have public policy for women, that is also at the departmental level and in municipalities we are working to achieve that too, but they leave ridiculous resources for public policy for women, for example, if I am going to tell you how many resources they leave for the public policy of a municipality… for the department, for example, they leave 16 million pesos, that's nothing, but that is what they leave for a public policy and with that we can’t do anything because it is not enough, but that is what they tell us we have, it is very complicated.

We have public gender policy at the departmental level as well. It is already down because it is time to update it again. It is a public policy that was made five years ago, and it is time to update it again. The Assembly, as I was telling you, is of departmental order, it is political, it is of the political order of the department, that means it is also a national policy. The struggles that we have given ourselves are for those demands and we have achieved them that way.

Work with ally organizations

ASOMI, the Association of Indigenous Women Chagra de la Vida, is funded by ACT, Amazon Conservation Team, they have another type of financing. What we did was strengthen them as indigenous women on the issue of gender, because indigenous women spoke little about gender. They always talk about men and women and well, the collective, what has always been worked on, what we did at the time, was to work and empower them on the specific issue of gender. Right now, we are working with them on a voluntary basis. We are more about volunteering than anything else. We are working so that they have the political part, so that they can intervene in political decisions, we think is very important that they can be deciding for them too, in everything that has to do with budget decisions, from the Putumayo Government, and not only budgets, but everything that has to do with community development in their communities. In here we have 14 indigenous towns. Each indigenous town has its worldview and its perspective, so, when we get together, what we do is strengthen the political perspective, as well as advocacy. Advocacy is key, that's what we build on, specifically.

With the Asociación Minga, we are also a focal point for them, but it is also a matter of volunteering to set up the territorial table, which we are also about to sit in, the Territorial Peace Table next week, on Thursday, but it is a more political approach, not a gender one. It is a more political work that they support, for the meetings of the organizations, and now, they do international and. national advocacy. It really is more from that approach. They are allies, and that is how we know each other, as allies With Minga, for example, we have known each other for maybe 15 years, since we have been here, in the territory. Those are more strategic alliances than anything else, because we are in the territory. Taking advantage of the fact that people are in the territory is cool because we have all the information firsthand. Asociación Minga is nationwide. ASOMI is a local association, here in Putumayo. They bring together seven of the 14 indigenous towns, and they are women. because men, have the UMIYAC, which is the Union of Indigenous Yagé Doctors of the Colombian Amazon; basically, we are all locals.

With the Asociación Minga there is a very large work of political advocacy for human rights at the national level, but it also has a very high impact at the international level, so, when I refer to them, we are a point of reference in the Putumayo department with other organizations. For example, the Asociación Minga comes here once a year or twice a year and we get together and sit down and have meetings, and we see what the current state of human rights is like, what is happening in the territory at this time with the issue of crop eradication and the presence of new armed actors, because we have this situation again with a lot of groups of armed actors doing and undoing in here. Threats go, threats come, so the exercise with Minga is to call them and tell them we are in this situation. We need them to give us a hand for the complaint and they do that, basically it is reporting it, nationally and internationally, it is basically that. The work, for example, with women specifically, is not there, it doesn’t exist. We are talking about specific communities, mixed communities, or the community in general.

Work around reconstruction

That point is very important, so important, but it has not had any relevance at all in decision-making with local governments. The reconstruction of Mocoa and everything that happened, we had to do it separately. You realized that Oxfam was one of the funders and well, other international organizations contributed and helped the whole issue of gender focus, but locally the misgovernment is huge. It is going to be four years since the Mocoa tragedy, the vice-president came eight days ago, who has been here for a long time to tell us that we had to resume and that we had to come back, as if everything that has already been done and everything that has happened is known, because each ruler comes with a different proposal according to your own interests.

It has been very difficult because there has not really been a clear position from the political power. Impossible, it has been impossible, so we give ourselves the chance to be in all spaces, but really it is very difficult, I think, now that it is going to be resumed, that supposedly they will bring investments again, those investments remain in the pockets of the politician on duty and not in what we have been doing as the oversight agencies. We have to take up the process again, because if they are going to make investments again, we have been there, again. We have to go back to make an impact, but I tell you, we change governor every so often, there have been three governors in a year, that on the one hand and on the other hand, the mayor, because he is a very new mayor, who I think is also quite unaware of everything we have done as oversight agencies, we would have to sit down with him again.

Involvement in Climate Change initiatives and COVID 19

We are part of RENA, the network of family economies. We are working on the whole issue of clean food, healthy food. Putumayo has an impressive amount of biodiversity, it is something that you can´t imagine, the amount of water, of trees, there is the jungle, this is life. At one time they said that this was the backyard of the United States, but it is not the backyard, because if this place is not being taken care of, we are not going to live on the planet for many years. This is a deep-water source; this is a birthplace of species. It has no name, the wealth we have here has no name, and in that sense, we have local strategic alliances as well, because everything is very local, since the resources that arrive, due to the levels of corruption, they have us very screwed up. The money doesn't really get to where it needs to go, so everything becomes more communal. We are here taking care of the water sources with the community. We are all going to preserve the water, we are going to take care of the trees, preventing that they cut them down, that the extensive cattle raising does not go away, that the coca-leaf crops do not destroy all the number of trees and jungle that we have, in here we have any number of ancient trees, it is an awesome thing. We are also making war on it, so that all the extractivism that is entering does not advance. We have molybdenum here, we have gold, we have all the minerals in the mountains; at this moment they want to come here and do excavations but we are opposing it, that's the reason of the table that we started on Friday at the departmental level, we are there as Casa Amazonía, putting a stop to the oil companies, because really, what is coming is very difficult due to the issue of the pandemic, they have us on lock down and sometimes we are not allowed to go out, but we are going to start going out, we are already moving. On Friday the entire meeting will be face-to-face, we will be around 40 social organizations sitting with the national government talking about those specific issues, on the one hand, eradication, fumigation, but also, all the impacts that the mining issue is having, because when the farmers do it, it is illegal mining and when the State does it, it is also legal mining, it turns out that the two of them are going to end the planet.

Speaking of oil, this department has a lot of oil, but we have also had these permanent struggles with oil companies because, despite so much wealth, oil is the blood of our land. If you go to the parts where they have already taken the oil you can see that it is already part desert, part semi-desert. They draw blood from the earth, they draw blood from The Pachamama, and that's where you say the struggles are centered today. At the global level you can see Brazil, you see what is happening in Brazil, but you are not seeing what is happening in the Colombian, Ecuadorian or Peruvian Amazonian Region, we are part of FOSPA [10], which also has to do with all the environmental impact in the entire South American Amazon, with everything that is mining and extractivism, but these are still struggles that they want to keep silent. And there we are, fighting, from the smallest thing that is to take care of the river basin, where you cannot throe garbage, where we must take care of those basins, where we must plant trees, where we must be so that they take stone from the river to make houses, which is the minimum, but we are also influencing in bigger issues, like the defense of the territory and advocating against mining and against oil companies. The work is hard, we do not have much time to rest, but we are in everything, little by little, but fighting hard.

About the subject of COVID, the circumstances that we have to endure in here, because of COVID, well you can imagine. Due to the pandemic, on the issue of corruption, I insist on corruption, because this country is very led by it, the vaccines arrived, and it became a business. People in here do not want to go to hospitals, because for each death caused by COVID, they give money, so here people were being killed because of COVID, this is a circus, even when it comes to health.

It turns out that the armed actors did not let people go to the hospital, and whoever went to the hospital for COVID, was threatened by them, because they were going to spread the virus, and the health folks were not allowed to enter either, because then they were going to denounce the amount of coca that was planted by the coca laboratories. It is incredible, look, in these little things that I just told you, there must be a violation of human rights, one, the amount of coca that is planted is impressive, but people could not go out to recover from COVID because they were surely going to report it, because in any case there was like the possibility of asking if there was a lot of coca or not. On the other hand, people did not go to the hospital; in fact, this weekend there was vaccination for those over 80 and they did not want to go to be vaccinated, because they were at risk of being killed, because for each dead person they charged. The subject of COVID is a subject that has shown us, within all the horrible things that war and social inequality have shown us, this subject has shown us even more that. It has also shown us interesting things and it is how coca is grown, but food must also be grown because we cannot starve.

There are so many things that are so difficult, but we have had to put ourselves in another movie as well. The COVID issue is to be rethought in the psychosocial aspect by points. It all went to the biosafety issue. the masks, the soap, the gel, but in the psychosocial issue, zero. It turns out that people are locked up, when they are not used to being locked up, in the midst of an armed conflict, in the midst of a number of armed actors who are making presence and who threaten and who do not let people move, or in the midst of mobilizations, despite COVID, international cooperation doesn´t do anything, it does not participate, it does not manifest itself. Because of these things we say that we are in very bad shape and the emotional blows have been quite strong.

Visions for the future

Long term, our plans are to continue. To keep making noise, keep being listened to, keep doing those micro meetings so that everything goes turns into macro meetings, macro revolution, starting from micro revolutions. To keep knitting from the base, to continue in those “rounds of word” through the MAMBE, that is coca, that also gives us a lot of strength in word and gives us a lot of clarity in our heads when we are going to talk with them. Seek financing, financing that does not put us against the wall, that is really humanitarian financing, that is the type of financing that allows us to work in the territories and that allows us to do things well done. To keep going on.

I believe that we will continue until the strength of the heart and of being here on earth allow us to do so, continue with the boys and with the girls, continue to strengthen public policies that allow us to be united, because I think there was one thing that international cooperation has done, and I am not saying it because I am here with you, but they didn’t continue to allow women to be divided by protagonism, and for that reason, to continue working with grassroots, continue working with grassroots women, with Afro women, with those indigenous women, with those girls, with those young grassroots women who are so intelligent, so proactive and who still have that possibility of dreaming, is that we do not stop dreaming, because we deeply believe that other worlds are possible. That we have to sit down to write and watch, yes, sometimes you have to start dancing the waltz, but not as they want, they have to come and dance the waltz with us, as we want. I think that is like what we are betting on, to go on, and on, and on.

Lessons from Casa Amazonía

I believe that learning to handle the heterarchy and not the hierarchy, learning to recognize those great differences that we are all made of, learning to be protagonists of the story without having huge egos. Learning to be gimmicky, to be cheerful, I think that politically, joy should be one of the rules, to have sweet words, I say a lot of bad words, but I say them for the humor and for love. I think that makes a difference. Sometimes we are so psycho rigid with words and we are so politically correct, that sometimes we forget to say nonsense, to reach the climax of what we are saying. It should be like that, of course without losing the seriousness, but yeah, I think that can be learned from Casa Amazonía.

I am like that, like a matchstick, Valentina is tranquility, that allows us to have these two figures that are so different, but it allows us to be in different spaces, but at the same time together in the same space, and all those women who have pandered a whole process and that we are like that, it's cool. For example, we already talk about sleepovers at 60. Today we are going to have a sleepover here in the house with grassroots women, we say let's have a sleepover, and we have a sleepover and we stay eating coca until 2 in the morning and knitting.

I think that sweetness and being good to each other. Being good to each other is extremely important. Treating women right, I think makes a lot of difference. For us, all women are the same, with their wisdom and when the doctors from Bogotá come, well, I don't call them doctors either, I call them by their name. If there is equal treatment it is very nice.

What do we have to learn? Everything. Much still. Every day we learn something new. Things are learned every day. I believe that we still have a lot to learn and there are great teachers, I take my hat off to the teachers, who are grassroots women, because if you have to learn from someone, it is from them. I believe the same of women who are ex-combatants, as they went and gave the fight in the middle of so many men, so terrible. It is interesting, very cool. I believe that every day we learn and that is the task, to keep learning.


[1] Putumayo is a department of Southern Colombia. It is in the south-west of the country, bordering Ecuador and Peru. Its capital is Mocoa (

[2] Asmun Consultoria is a Colombian private company that specializes in urban and regional planning (

[3] ACSOMAYO: Asociación Campesina del Sur Oriente del Putumayo [Peasant Association of the Southeastern Putumayo Department].

[4] FEDECAP: Federación de Asociaciones por los Derechos de las Comunidades Afro del Putumayo [Federation of Associations for the Rights of Afro Communities of Putumayo Department].

[5] CedaVida Social Foundation is a Non-Governmental Organization that has been promoting the development and full exercise of Human Rights in Colombia for 31 years, through prevention of diverse expressions of violence, and the development of processes and projects with population groups, such as women, men youth and children that have lived different types of violence (

[6] Casa de la Mujer is a feminist, nonprofit organization founded in Colombia in 1982, currently working for the construction of peace with social justice, with the active participation of women (

[7] Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres is a national feminist movement with political action that Works for the negotiated process of the armed conflicto in Colombia, and for making visible the impact of the war in the life and body of women. It is pacifist, antimilitaristic and builds on the ethics of No Violence, with fundamental principles are based on justice, peace, equity, autonomy, freedom and the recognition of otherness (

[8] Corporación Sisma Mujer is a Colombian feminist organization with a delegation before the Spanish State, which has been working since 1998 to broaden women’s citizenship and to fully enforce their human rights in a context that is adverse to their respect and guarantee, coupled by an armed conflict that deepens and aggravates the historical discriminations and multiple forms of violence practiced by Colombian society (

[9] Temazcal is a ritual, originally from Canada, in which participants assemble in a kind of oven made of blankets and heated stones to collectively make reflections.

[10] Pan Amazonian Social Forum (or Foro Social Panamazónico in Spanish).