EL CARMEN DE VIBORAL, Colombia – Sixty-year-old Gladys Ortega Rodriguez, whose husband and one of her sons were killed by Colombian paramilitaries, is a rural resident who has managed to get out of the spiral of violence that surrounded her and is now a small, but successful, palm grower.
With a lively face and short hair, she is one of 11,000 peasants who decided to take advantage of the government’s “El Agro Exporta” program, whereby farmers in 200 towns – 70 of them located in zones heavily affected by violence – are improving their agricultural productivity and quality and are exporting their products.
The local economic alliance, which was formed this past week in the town of Carmen de Viboral, in northwestern Antioquia province, is focused on producers of cocoa, tilapia, beef, dairy products, palm products, Hass avocadoes, mango and pineapple for export to Europe, the US and Canada.
“In 2000, I lost everything, my family, my husband, my son and a stepson. The paramilitaries killed them,” said Gladys, who lives on a little plot of land in the Campo Tres sector in the town of Tibu in Norte de Santander province.
After her tragic losses, Gladys fled the region and ended up in Bogota, where she found herself in dire economic straits, but she said she knew that the government was helping people who had suffered from violence and so she returned to her land because “It’s mine.”
“It was difficult to start again,” she said, but – with one of her sons and other neighbors – she planted 7.5 hectares of palm trees and those trees today produce excellent clusters of fruit.
She said that with her earnings from her palm fruit export business, she bought herself “a new car.”