(Translated by Elaine Fuller, CSN Volunteer Translator)
On Thursday, the 21st of January at 7:30 in the evening, several Colombian army helicopters landed in the rural area of Platillos in the district of Maracaibo, municipality of Hacarí, Norte de Santander. They carried members of the military along with an informant and persons identified with armbands of the Technical Investigation Unit of the Attorney General’s office. They arrested three campesinos (peasants) from the area without giving any reason.
This past Friday, social organizations issued a report on these events: “In the operation they raided the home of Albeiro Quintero who serves as public prosecutor on the community action board. With him they encountered his wife and children, along with three workers on the farm, two of whom were identified as Eimer Butista, secretary of the community action board and Heider Quintero, a member of the board from this community.” This report was verified and signed by various social and agricultural organizations such as the National Agrarian Coordinator, Congreso de los Pueblos (The People’s Congress), la Campaña Somos Dignidad (the ‘We are Dignity’ Campaign’ ) and the Equipo Juridico Pueblos (the People’s Legal Team).
One social leader from the area declared that after the arrest of Albeiro Quintero and the other two campesinos, the intruders demanded that the community leader’s wife surrender an underground bunker, under threat of taking away her daughters. Amid the confusion the army searched through the house and stole 7 million pesos, as well as a financial accounting book belonging to the community action board and money that the wife had saved from Families in Action (Familias en Acción) for her daughters.
Another source declared, “They stole the license plate from Albeiro Quintero’s motor scooter, ownership documents of his car, and did damage around the house.” This source also reported that the campesinos never knew the motive for the arrests – only that they were to be taken to Cúcuta where they would be interrogated. The report and the leader of the Maracaibo region were in agreement that within the group of assailants there was an informant who revealed the supposed existence of the bunker.
Also, the report confirmed that the detained men are social and community leaders: “They are dedicated to the town and are members of the community action board. They are not associated with any kind of illegal activity.”
“The State should take responsibility”
According to Jimmy Moreno, spokesman for the People’s Congress, these actions conform to long-standing government policies in this territory. “With these arrests the intention is to continue criminalizing the social movement. Since last year, they have not stopped the threats, the killings, the confinement of communities, and violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law.”
Moreno declared that the army’s actions represented a deepening stage of the neoliberal model. He also asserted that the State’s use of these intimidations to try to stop demonstrations worries the People’s Congress; as they are part of a reemergence of paramilitary activity, and the result of a strategy that treats social conflict like a war. “We reject these actions and the persecution. And it disturbs us that it is occurring in the middle of a peace process; that, instead of listening to the people, the government wants to shut them up. Without question, we demand guarantees of safety, respect of life, and the right to organize and to think differently. Without these conditions there will be no peace; nor will there be change.”
In closing, Moreno recalled that a few days earlier was the one-year anniversary of the assassination of his colleague, Carlos Alberto Pedraza, killed in January 2015. “In his case, there is still no clarification of the facts, and the State should take responsibility for it.”
Popular discontent is increasing
The event in Hacarí took place in the midst of people’s outrage over measures the Santos government has undertaken in the last few months: unfulfilled agreements with agricultural sectors, questions about the peace process, and the sale of energy generator Isagen, among others.
Several sectors of society have organized demonstrations. The Unified Workers Confederation (CUT) called for taking to the streets in February, while calls for a mid-year general national strike are growing.