Monday, March 10, 2014

Checkers anyone?


So they asked me if I wanted to play checkers.   It was clear from watching a couple games that I was going to be in serious trouble.  I've played a lot of checkers, but not with "queens" that can move and jump unlimited straight-line spaces with possible 90 degree jump turns at the end of each jump.  Did you get that?  Me either, and that's why I was worried.  I actually won two out of three games, mostly on blind luck.  Following my Dad's poker-playing advice, I quit while I was ahead.

Trying to explain my work here is just as frustrating as trying to explain how Colombian checkers are played.  You need to try it yourself.  In Las Pavas, where I was the past week, the game is framed generally as the small farmer good guys against the multinational palm oil bad guys.   But after the sun went down on Thursday night one or two of the palm oil workers living in "the big house" next to the community's temporary shelters started heaving bricks over the fence and onto our corrugated metal roofs. Insults were thrown along with the bricks.  Maybe they were drunk.  It was loud.  You couldn't see who was doing it.  It was scary, but there wasn't much risk of bodily harm as far as I could see.  It went on sporadically for nearly two hours.  It felt more personal than a land dispute.  How it ended up is not today's story.

There is a history of bad feelings between the palm oil employees and the agricultural cooperative, ASOCAB, that comprises the Las Pavas community.  The most direct threats and assaults have come from the employees, who are mostly campesinos that live nearby with their families and see a potential court decision against the palm oil company as a threat to their economic future and the fault of ASOCAB.  Whether this is true or not is not relevant.  The point is that they believe this to be true, and they feel it perversely unjust that all these international visitors, including gringos like me, are working against them.   Conflicts are anchored in what people believe to be true.

It is easy for us to paint the palm oil company and the political system weighted toward investment in large companies as the bullies.   At the same time, we need to acknowledge that even if the courts decide tomorrow in favor of ASOCAB, a local conflict will remain between alienated neighbors.  It will have no reason to subside if we keep handling it the same way we are at present.  Non-violent activism can also produce unanticipated "blowback".   Just like losing my queens in the checker game, I wonder what else we're not seeing on the horizon.


Grandma Joyce said...

So good to hear from you with each blog. Such complicated work, with hopefully unconditional love. Our prayers and thoughts are truly with you.

Steve Goering said...

Phil. Your comments are doubly (sp) interesting this week. We have been participating in a local Christian Ed Class on Non-Violent Peacemaking at the local UCC. So often we forget, that the third way of Peacemaking is almost never easy, never straight forward, and requires sacrifices. Anything worthwhile requires sacrifice. Steve G

Joseph McQueen said...

Great observations, Phil. You've reminded me that it is both easy and counterproductive to demonize others--others who turn into alienated neighbors instead of reconciled sisters and brothers. Can't wait to see you and to hear your stories.

Joel said...

A note of thanks for these reflections Phil. Safe travels to Armenia, and home again.