( Translated by Amy Rose Pekol, a CSN volunteer translator)
Public Announcement, Southern Bolivar Department, Colombia:
The Agro-Mining Federation of Southern Bolivar, FEDEAGROMISBOL, gathered at the general assembly, releases the following facts:
FEDEAGROMISBOL planned the celebration of it’s Sixth General Assembly during the 28th, 29th and 30th of March, 2008 in the Family Wellness Center of Puerto Rico, located in the municipal seat of Tiquisio (Bolivar Department). This activity was approved by the municipal administration, which had notified the Colombian Police and the Colombian Army of the event.
At 7:30pm on March 28th, numerous caravans of vehicles transporting members of the agro-mining federation, its board of directors and companions arrived at Puerto Rico. Several members of this group were able to confirm that within the community was a Mr. José Alfredo Atheortua, alias "el gato (the cat)," who has demobilized from the ELN (National Liberation Army) and has in previous occasions made false and reckless accusations against members of this community-based organization and its president.
A few days earlier, Mr. Atheortua threatened a peasant from the municipality and it was reported to the local ombudsman’s office. This man’s presence was noticed in several nearby locations where Fedeagromisbol meetings were taking place.
On March 28th, moments after one of the planned meetings started, six members of the Colombian Police under the command of second lieutenant Miller Rojas Rubio entered the Federation’s meeting place claiming the municipal administration asked them to provide security for the event.
Later on that night, while a group of Fedeagromisbol members including the president, Teoflio Acuña, were leaving the meeting, they heard members of the Colombian Army standing nearby ask among themselves "and now which one?" Unable to distinguish between the members of the federation, one of them said "I’m going to go and ask this old lady" and approached Dr. Esperanza Ramírez, a delegate from the Ombudsman’s Office to ask about Teofilo Acuña.
On March 29th at about 10am, José Alfredo Atheortua showed up at the entrance and tried to enter the meeting. After being denied admittance for not being a member of the agro-mining federation, he returned minutes later with members of the Colombian Army who demanded to know why he wasn’t allowed to enter. Immediately afterwards, upon seeing a group of miners entering the meeting, they said they needed to enter because four guerillas—referring to the meeting attendees–were entering.
The police left a few minutes after being denied permission to enter. Then, at 10:20am, First Sergeant Rojas of the Nariño Batallion (2nd brigade of the 1st division) entered the meeting place and said that he wanted to identify all the board members of the agro-mining federation and that he wanted to stay for the entire meeting. Some members of the federation and accompanying organizations spoke with him and explained the constitutional and legal reasons as to why he could not participate in the meeting. Nevertheless, this man insisted upon entering and attending the meeting, saying he had the legal authority to do so, until Ms. Sol María Peréz from the Vice Presidential Program for Human Rights managed to talk him out of it over the telephone.
In addition to these events, which have caused a lot of concern among the meeting participants, other events are affecting the region and heightening the already high risk situation in which these communities are living.
Among them, we would like to point out the following situations:
The current situation in Simiti has displaced 50 families to the Barranabermeja municipality and has left some 200 remaining families in danger. This zone has suffered from armed conflict and constant attacks. Insurgent groups from the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) have been operating in the region and the Colombian Army carries out frequent military operations here. The area, known as The Triangle Zone has been practically destroyed in its entirety.
Additionally, manual eradication operations are advancing with a strong military presence. The community has spotted numerous army members in the area. They have also identified members of the army damaging their property, burning houses and stealing goods, a situation that reflects strong military operations and generates harmful effects on the health, food and environment and adversely affects the social fabric of the community.
On the other hand, this week, while the Federation meeting was is session, a man said to be an army informant was murdered by members of the ELN guerilla group in La Fortuna.
Also, on March 29th, a man known as Caliche was murdered in Mina Walker. Later in the evening, in the urban center of Santa Rosa, two men with the last names Romero and Marín were shot by two men on a motorcycle while walking towards the town center. The shooters were reportedly demobilized from the right-wing paramilitary group, AUC.
In the municipality of San Pablo there is a well-known presence of paramilitary soldiers who have been coercing demobilized members to rearm, threatening to do away with their families if they refuse.
IN LIGHT OF THE AFOREMENTIONED EVENTS, THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF FEDEAGROMINESBOL STATES:
Despite of the agreements signed between the agro-mining communities of Southern Bolivar and the Colombian government in Santa Rosa on October 30, 2006, there is an apparent persecution against the federation, its board of directors and its affiliates.
The recent incidents, aside from violating the right of association and the freedom to join a federation, have generated a lot of anxiety and stigmatized the social processes, activities and members of the agro-mining communities of Southern Bolivar. Moreover, they represent an invasion of privacy that infringes upon the sacred constitutional and legal rights of these types of organizations and their members.
Due to the pressure and the fear generated, the president of the Federation, Mr. Teófilo Acuña, and his Vice President, Mr. Rafael Arrieta, were forced to prematurely abandon the meeting in order to protect their lives and physical integrity.
The overall situation in the region poses a serious risk for the agro-mining communities and demonstrates a mounting humanitarian crisis.
This entire situation shows a clear aggression against the livelihood of our communities, organizations and plans to live dignified lives and remain on the land.
Despite the reported events, the assembly has made a firm decision to continue the meeting as planned and asks the Colombian government and security forces to respect the fundamental rights of the participants and, furthermore, holds them accountable for any actions that violate these rights.
The assembly demands a guarantee from the Colombian government that members of the committee and communications bureau of Southern Bolivar, including the president of FEDEAGROMISBOL, Teófilo Acuña, can attend the meetings and move about freely in order to advance the Mining Bureau agenda planned for April 1st and 2nd.
The Fedeagromisbol general assembly calls on all human rights organizations to diffuse, divulge and denounce these events and support the agro-mining communities’ right to a life of dignity and permanence on the land .
VI Assembly of the Agro-mining Federation of Southern Bolivar.
Corporación de servicios profesionales comunitarios Sembrar (Corporation for Professional Community Services, Sow)
Programa de Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio, PDPMM (Development and Peace Programme of the Magdalena Medio PDPMM).
Equipos Cristianos de Acción por la Paz, ECAP. (Christian Teams of Action for Peace, ECAP).
La Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia (The Network of Brotherhood and Solidarity with Colombia).
Diócesis de Magangue (Diocese of Magangué).
Programa No Gubernamental de Defensores de Derechos Humanos (Non-Governmental Programme of Human Rights Defenders).
Organización Femenina Popular, OFP (Popular Women’s Organization, OFP).
Defensoria del Pueblo (Ombudman’s Office).
Administración Municipal de Tiquisio (Municipal Administration of Tiquisio).
Submitted by Redher – Network of Brotherhood and Solidarity – Colombia