“¿Who dies the most? The people from the Colombian Pacific.”

When I saw that situation, I started to think about how to get the kids to not take to guns. First, I started handing out lemonade; I would take out a big pot and gather the children and youth and talk to them.

When I had a large group, I started to introduce them to the idea of music, dance, and lutherie, and began a work that I didn’t think would happen. They started to believe in the process of culture, of art. Finally, we began to create an association called “Centro Cultural Artesanal de Música, Danza y Artesanía” with the idea of continuing to protect them, a safe place that protected them from all the violence.

We began to rehearse and learn to do things we did not know how to do. Many people came. We were even recognized by UNHCR (United Nations Agency for Refugees) in Nariño, who even gave us tools for lutherie.

Still, we were in the process of getting the boys away from the guns. It is usually not their fault when they end up getting into violence. They have needs to fulfill, because even when in Tumaco people work in shelling, fishing, and some agriculture, it’s not enough to make ends meet. So we strated to work with the families. We told them that, through art, we could help their children get ahead.

Many people were interested and helping me with this initiative. But once they saw what hapened to me, they did not want to continue.

Don gu stops speaking.

Don Gu had to leave Tumaco in 2018 after receiving threats and an attack outside his home. He went to Bogotá, where he works with Fundación Gratitud and is looking for a way to continue supporting young people, so they don’t fall into the nets of violence.

Don Gu | Fundación Gratidud

Don Gu speaks:

Today, I still teach music and lutherie workshops. It has been a very tough life. Doing something for someone makes me happy. People who don’t know what hunger is, criticize the person who takes a gun. But they don’t know how difficult it is in the villages for parents to have some money to bring food to their children.

I do not justify it, but it is a reality that the State is not interested in. The State does not have eyes for the Pacific people either, and it is the only one that can protect them. That is why it is up to the people themselves to arm themselves with energy.

I want to create a school in Tumaco where young people feel safe, where they are going to learn an art and share without getting hurt. I’m looking for resources for that. And that school will have the same name as the center which I started: “Centro Cultural Artesanal de Música, Danza y Artesanía.” That is the only way to protect our young people, through art and culture.

Tumaco is a very rich and poor town at the same time. It is the center of the Pacific, which is why it has also become a territory of much violence.

It has one of the best ports in Latin America, through which many things should come to us, but that’s not the case. Tumaco has no aqueduct. We still bathe with coca, which is a sign of how backward and how forgotten the town is.

Another issue is that Tumaco was damaged by coca. When coca arrives in Tumaco, we don’t know where it comes from.. In Nariño, the replacement of coca crops for illicit use faces great challenges amid state neglect and conflict.

Don Gu stops speaking.

For the peasant communities, indigenous of the Awá people and afro-descendants, coca became a cancer during the last three decades, due to the so-called “war on drugs”, the militarization of the Colombian geography through Plan Colombia, and the sprayings with the herbicide glyphosate. All this pushed the coca growers from Putumayo towards the piedmont forests and the Pacific coast of Nariño.

The conflict generated by various irregular groups that benefit from the production of cocaine hydrochloride affects the inhabitant’s social conditions, who see in the inclusion of their territories in the first stage of the Integrated National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS) an opportunity to improve their living conditions, following the signing of the peace accords between the national government and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016.

The increase in coca cultivation in Nariño is worrying. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) “Monitoring of territories affected by illicit crops 2017,” this area of the country ranks first in terms of area planted with coca leaf, with 45.735 hectares, of which 19.516 hectares (42.6 percent) are located in Tumaco; followed by Putumayo, with 26.589; and Norte de Santander, with 28.244 hectares. According to the international organization, the three departments account for 60 percent of the total area planted in Colombia.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.