LA SECRETA, Colombia – In the foothills of northern Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, farmers who were displaced by violence have started remaking their lives with a sweet project: the production of high-quality honey that they hope to sell abroad someday.
Honey, along with coffee, is one of the products that people are pinning their hopes on in La Secreta, a small mountain village that, like so many others, suffered from paramilitary violence during the 1990s.
“Because of the vegetation, this honey is organic as it has no trace of pollutants, fuels or insecticides, giving it added value,” Rodrigo Torres, territory manager of the government-created Land Restitution Unit (URT) in Magdalena and Atlantico provinces, told EFE.
Tragedy struck La Secreta on Oct. 12, 1998, when more than 50 armed paramilitaries burst into the village and tortured and murdered 10 people for purportedly backing leftist guerrillas, prompting the remaining residents to abandon everything and seek safety in the cities of Cienaga and Santa Marta.
Six years later, they started returning to La Secreta and, in 2012, began receiving support from the URT to carry out agricultural projects.
“When the paramilitaries demobilized here in 2006, we came back and we found that everything was gone, our coffee plantations, all was lost,” recalled Gleidys Rios Garcia, who was born and grew up in La Secreta.
More than 31,000 paramilitary fighters demobilized between the end of 2003 and mid-2006 as part of a peace process with then-President Alvaro Uribe’s administration, while under Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos, a peace deal was signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group.
With the repopulation of La Secreta and the agricultural projects, together with a land titling program, the village’s residents now have hopes of overcoming their extreme poverty.
“These people have formed several associations. In the case of beekeeping, around 36 families own 10 apiaries with 30 hives that produce some 90 kilos (198.4 pounds) of high-quality honey annually,” the territory manager of the URT said.
The honey is sold locally for the time being, but the idea is to sell it in Canada, the United States, Japan, Belgium and Australia, where the village’s coffee already is being exported, Torres said.