(Translated by Eunice Gibson, a CSN volunteer translator)
When you know the victims personally, Mr. Minister; when you are familiar with their spirit and their sufferings, their plans, their ideals and the everyday way they live with their tragedies, then the rottenness of the official lies that are being used to try to cover up plans to destroy us causes greater indignation and repugnance.
Bogotá, May 28, 2007
Dr. Carlos Holguin Sardi
Minister of Interior and Justice
Making use of the constitutional right of petition, enshrined in Article 23 of the national constitution, and making use of articles 5 et seq. of the Code of Administrative Procedure, I would like to request urgently that you explain to the international community and to Colombian society the things that happened last week in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. I would like you to explain once again the attitude and the treatment that the national government is providing that Community, while refusing to recognize the provisional remedies that the Inter-American Court for Human Rights has ordered for the Community since the year 2000.
As you know very well, Mr. Minister, since the communications media have reported it numerous times, on Monday May 14, 2007 at 7 A.M., FRANCISCO PUERTA, a member of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, was murdered. Francisco was in the Apartado bus terminal at that time. Another member of the Community saw him in the terminal cafeteria at 7 A.M. and he suggested the two have something to drink. But the other person was in a hurry to catch a bus that was about to leave and said a hasty good-bye. When he arrived at his destination, before 8 A.M., the news of Francisco’s murder was already going around. Government intelligence agencies and members of the armed forces have tried to spread false information about the crime to the national and international communities. Col. Jorge Salgado, Chief of Staff of the 17th Brigade has sent messages to groups and to members of the United States Congress, stating that Francisco was not murdered in the bus terminal, but in a neighborhood in Apartado, in the middle of a fight, and that he had been expelled years ago from the Peace Community. They are trying to attribute these stories to Francisco’s wife and daughter, but they have flatly denied them. By various means, government agencies have tried to besmirch Francisco’s memory; they have tried to hide and twist the circumstances of his death and to implicate him in situations of common crime, in order to avoid the government’s responsibility. In spite of all the government’s misleading reports to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, the Peace Community continues to complain, with supporting facts, that the Bus terminal persists in being a place of privilege for the paramilitaries, a place where they control the comings and goings of the members of the Community against whom they are planning to commit their crimes; all this with the complicity of the armed forces who have strict control over this location.
On that same day it was possible to observe the presence of several groups of paramilitaries at the place called Tierra Amarilla, on the road that leads from Apartado to San Jose, and in the El Mangolo neighborhood, where the Police usually have a post, and where the paramilitaries have also had a very strong presence for the last ten years.
Francisco was one of the leaders of the Peace Community. He lived in the town of Miramar, in San Jose de Apartado, where he had coordinated the establishment of a Humanitarian Zone. When the Peace Community was constituted in 1997, he took part in its creation. In 1999, for economic reasons, he moved to the rural area of Saiza (Tierralta, Cordoba), but when brutal military operations began to burn down the very houses of the farmers, he returned to San Jose de Apartado in the year 2000. He located in the town of La Cristalina and later in Miramar. In 2003 he participated, as the delegate from La Cristalina, in a gathering of national and international organizations. Around the middle of 2004, he began to set in motion the Humanitarian Zones project and he coordinated that project especially in Miramar. In 2005 he was designated an alternate member of the Internal Council of the Peace Community, representing the Humanitarian Zones. That same year he took part in the knowledge exchange promoted by the Farmers’ Resistance University, together with another twenty communities from different regions of the country, in Remolinos del Caguan, Caqueta. In 2006, he resigned as coordinator for the town of Miramar and dedicated himself to working for the Miramar Humanitarian Zone project.
When Francisco’s body was brought to San Jose for burial, a number of police officers that are stationed there were heard to say that they knew the paramilitaries’ plans to carry out more massacres against the Community, but they did not intend to do anything to stop them.
The previous Wednesday, May 9, when some people were coming down from San Jose toward Apartado, in the neighborhood of El Mangolo, where the Police ordinarily maintain a post, they were stopped by paramilitaries who identified themselves as members of the “Black Eagles”, a new name that uses the paramilitary structure in the area. The armed men detained four people; they announced that they were going to kill them; they demanded their identity documents and transmitted the numbers by means of a radiotelephone. They took them to a place where the Police ordinarily maintain a post, en the neighborhood of El Mangolo, and photographed them. Later they received directions through the radiotelephone and they told them that they were not the people they were looking for, but that if they made any complaint about what had happened, they would kill them. They also told them that in the next few days they would be coming to places in the Peace Community and they would be starting to kill some of the leaders and the people with them. They explained that the Army and the Police had authorized them to do this because “you don’t mess with them”. They said that, even after two years of police presence in San Jose, very few people were collaborating with them and that means that the people are more sympathetic to the guerrillas and for that reason, they have to be eliminated. According to the armed men, it was the soldiers and the police who had given them the list of people to kill.
On April 24 of this year, a resident of the town of San Jose, who isn’t formally a member of the Peace Community but who is close to the Community, was accosted by an official of the Social Action Agency of the office of the President of the Republic. The official told him that he was soon going to be killed or arrested, because he had not wanted to join the programs of social investment that the government was promoting in the area. When the resident answered that companies that had worked with the paramilitaries and had financed the paramilitaries were involved in the programs, the official answered emphatically and angrily that all the social investment in the area is done in coordination with the paramilitaries and that the person who doesn’t join in those programs is better off to leave the area before they eliminate him.
In the last few months, the Peace Community has received reports about meetings that have taken place in different places in Apartado. At those meetings, known paramilitaries who work with the 17th Brigade, among them Wilson Guzman and Elkin Tuberquia, have been announcing that massacres against the Peace Community are coming soon. For their part, agencies of the government have been offering money to members of the Community to turn them into informants, to let them know the comings and goings of Peace Community leaders and their families.
One resident of Apartado who had gone up to San Jose the week before to buy some hogs, told the residents of the settlement of San Josesito that they should be very careful, because the paramilitaries have been announcing vehemently around the neighborhoods in Apartado during the last few weeks that there is soon going to be a new massacre against the Peace Community.
One thing that impresses one profoundly at a time like this, Mr. Minister, is that the government not only turns its back on the reality that the unprotected inhabitants are living, but that it tries at all costs to create “a different truth”, which has no compassion for what the victims are actually experiencing. It is a “truth” that is entirely false and is evil-minded, constructed with false witnesses and with intentions that could never be confessed. Just a few days ago, I was able to hear with my own ears, in the jail at Apartado, the anguished account of the people who were accosted by a lawyer who works with the Army. He offered them several million pesos if they would agree to provide false testimony, for the purpose of making it look as if a victim of violence by the military was a “militant of the guerrillas” and thus exculpate the soldiers who are implicated in the crime. The court files are saturated with false “truths” purchased like merchandize. With those they create the most despicable decisions in the offices of prosecutors, courts, the attorney general and of tribunals, carrying out a “justice” that no longer maintains any relation to ethics. When you know the victims well, Mr. Minister, when you understand their spirit of morality through all of their sufferings, their efforts, their ideals and the way they live through their tragedies every day, it causes more indignation and repugnance for the rottenness of the official lies by which the Government is trying to cover up their plans for our destruction.
Just two and a half months ago, I had an urgent meeting with Vice President Francisco Santos, whom the Government says it has put in charge of the protection of human rights. I wanted to make a desperate request that he stop the plan to murder seven people whose names had been revealed by the paramilitary Elkin Tuberquia. (He is a person whose moral conscience has been destroyed in a corrupt manner by the Army itself.) The Inter-American Court for Human Rights itself intervened to try to protect these lives before it was too late, but up to now, there has been no response whatever that reveals any action at all by the Government to put a stop to such a criminal plan. On the contrary, we were astonished to see that several of the people who were on the list to be killed were deprived of their liberty by a prosecutor in Medellin (who is known all over the city for the arbitrariness of her decisions). They were thrust into a criminal proceeding where the “witnesses” are the same paramilitaries who were planning to kill them.
That explains why today I am not applying to the office of the Vice President, but instead to you, Mr. Minister. Your mandate imposes obligations related to citizens’ living together. I am asking that you cancel the criminal plans that are directed against the Peace Community. The recent revelations by one of the most important leaders of national paramilitarism about his working plans with the Vice President, discourage me even more from asking him to take the steps that he has refused to take, turning his back on the serious risk that is being run by a community that has already suffered the Government’s criminality on nearly 600 previous occasions, with the additional protection of absolute impunity.
I earnestly request, Mr. Minister, that you evaluate and analyze thoroughly the evil that has resulted from the presence of the Police in the settlement of San Jose. Since their arrival on April 1, 2005, the paramilitaries feel that they have absolute power everywhere in the area. The paramilitary alias “Lalo”, who took part in the massacre of April 4, 1999 when the artist and teacher Anibal Jimenez (author of the anthem of the Peace Community) was killed and when they used a machete to cut open the stomach of a young man named Daniel Pino, and left him for an hour in agony with his intestines spread out on the floor, now spends all his time with the police who are stationed in San Jose. He has opened a store and a pool hall. That’s where the paramilitaries have a lot of parties; meanwhile the police destroyed the monument made to the memory of the victims; they permit the houses of the displaced people to be plundered and they themselves use the houses for acts of prostitution. They seek families that are close to the paramilitaries to repopulate the settlement and the towns, trampling the ownership rights of the displaced people. And the police watch the backs of the paramilitaries in the carrying out of all of their crimes. Also they are pressuring the businesses to help finance the paramilitaries so that they can control the regional economy (production and marketing of bananas and cacao). They display their presence there as part of plans to overcome the economic depression in the area, meanwhile blocking and destroying all the efforts the Community has put forth for a sustainable economy.
At a time when the Government itself is proclaiming in speeches the necessity to “tell the truth”, I request, Mr. Minister, that the Government tell the truth about its plans for the destruction of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. It’s regrettable that those who are revealing many truths now are the criminals. Why did it have to be that a high-ranking paramilitary commander was the one who confessed that the generals Rito Alejo Del Rio and Martin Orlando Carreno Sandoval were working in close concert with the paramilitaries at a time when the paramilitaries were shedding blood every day in Uraba? Why has the Government never been able to say it or even to investigate it honestly and openly, in spite of all of our insistence? Why was it the paramilitary alias “Melaza” who had to be the one who revealed to the prosecutors his presence, together with the Army, in the horrendous massacre of February 21, 2005, the one that the Government stubbornly continues to deny? How long, Mr. Minister, will the Government wait to reveal to the country and to the world the crimes committed by the 17th Brigade in all these years? Does the Government prefer that it continue to carry out crimes and leave the criminal structure of this Brigade untouched, like the Police in Uraba?
As you well know, Mr. Minister, the subject of the police presence in San Jose was the subject of negotiations between the Community and the Government in 2004. There was the possibility of serious analysis of the conditions under which a police station would not violate the principles of a peace community, and there was study of possible mechanisms of control that would avoid a repetition of the abuses, immorality, and crimes that the police had committed in the past. In spite of that, the Government unilaterally broke off the negotiations, just at the time of the horrible massacre of February 21, 2005, adding an attack on the Community to the defamation that the President put forth against it. He publicly destroyed the Community’s reputation, based on false information given to him by the Army. He has never retracted those defamatory statements, in spite of the precise direction of the Constitutional Court. All of that pulled the rug out from under the negotiations, which could not function without some base of good faith. Since then, through the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, the Community has continued to invite the Government to make four simple modifications that would restore a minimal base of good faith. The goal would be to re-establish a space for negotiation. The Government has flatly refused. Meanwhile, it continues to carry out evil plans for the destruction of the Community.
I don’t have any expectation of being listened to, but, in the face of the indifferent silence of the Vice President’s office, which has been complicit in so many crimes as to fail in the responsibility assigned to it and which right now also inspires anguished questions and suspicions, I turn to you, Mr. Minister, to beg that you stop this blood bath; that you convince the President that he reflect on and correct the very criminal role that the Government is playing against the Peace Community. Some day history will call them to account for all of the death, all of the destruction, all of the injustice, and all of the depravity. In the name of humanity, Mr. Minister, I beg you, I entreat you and I implore that the Government reconsider its criminal plans; that it reflect; that it no longer hide the truth from the international community and from the country; that instead of more destruction, it rebuild and make amends for all the evils it has caused; that it spare these suffering people new suffering; that it end all the atrocities.
I thank you in advance for your attention to these anguished pleas and I beg that you send some answer, within the legal deadline, to the following address:
Javier Giraldo M., S.J.