Paramilitarism increases in the south of Bolivar, in the midst of the militarization of the region

( Translated by Natalia Jaramillo, a CSN volunteer translator)

Written by Corporación Sembrar
Wednesday, October 28th 2009
The movement of paramilitaries, by any means of transportation or through any road, was ordinary and encountered no problems with civil or military authorities. That explains why a group of 80-100 men mobilized by “chalupas” (public transportation by river), could disembark in Moralito, move to Mico Ahumado and commit murders without a problem. (Vanguardia Liberal, November 22nd, 1998).
Any similarity with reality is a mere coincidence? Those of us who know history and keep the strong purpose of recovering memory, won’t forget how paramilitarism started to strengthen in the ‘90’s, in the south of Bolivar state, with the proven connivance of several local, regional and national authorities.
Previously, the paramilitary growth was denounced nationally and internationally, because it was also publicly known and highly notorious. But in 1999 the paramilitaries declared a “frontal war” against southern Bolivar. By October 30th, 1999, through a formal communication distributed throughout the region and to the municipal media, the paramilitaries insisted in “recovering the Colombian nation, the southern territories of Bolivar and, mainly, the mountainous region of San Lucas” clearly threatening the civilians.

And that was it. The paramilitary, in connivance with members of the security forces, some landowners and public servants, unleashed a prolonged and bloody massacre against the communities of southern Bolivar that left hundreds of victims of all type, and almost all in absolute impunity.   
Nowadays, the paramilitaries have announced and increased their presence once again in several municipalities of southern Bolivar. In March 2009 a communication was handed out in some important municipalities, in which they expressed:
“We, the Gaitán Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, inform the communities of the south of the Bolivar Department about the presence of our men in this region of the national territory. As other regions, this one was previously subject to the actions of subversive groups and the settlement of fronts from the demobilized United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which explains why its inhabitants suffered personally the ravages of the armed conflict in Colombia…”.
By October 27th, 2008, the incursion of paramilitaries in the municipality of Montecristo (Bolívar) was denounced publicly as they were starting to do sporadic road blocks in which they identified themselves as “Gaitan Self-Defense Forces”. Later, it was denounced that the paramilitaries were settled in the rural neighborhood La Ventura, from the Tiquisio municipality, where they exerted control over the area.
The Government has received the exact information of their actions, but nothing has happened… or rather, a lot has happened in the sense that nowadays the paramilitaries have a strong presence in more municipalities, set up road blocks when they want, murder, patrol the villages, steal belongings from the population, threaten, terrorize. They are each day more consolidated before the eyes of the local, regional and national governments, who insist in saying that paramilitarism in Colombia was demobilized and doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s the same story. In 1998, the rural and mining communities organized a peasant exodus to Barrancabermeja where they requested protection from the national government due to the increase of paramilitarism, just as it is happening now. During that year, the national government committed to protect the population through agreements subscribed by the President himself. However, these agreements ended up being only a sad legend. The violent attacks against the communities were more evident every day. Massacres, forced disappearance, mutilations, tortures, extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, and burnt houses and towns were the answers to the calls of attention that the population, the church and the organizations were making. Without counting the number of dead bodies that the Madgalena River carried along its course.
At that time, several media reported how the paramilitaries arrived and took control over the area. After their incursion in the rural area of Simoita, Morales, in November 6th 1998, they paralyzed the transportation and forbid the circulation of food to the population. And at the same time, they continued with their criminal routine of murdering people and burning homes in the rural neighborhood of Arcadia, in the same municipality of Morales. These operations displaced more than 50 persons to the main municipality. From November 13th, after several incursions in Morales where they plundered houses, the paramilitaries took control over the transportation in Morales and Mico Ahumado. (Vanguardia Liberal, November 15th, and El Tiempo, November 17th, 1998)
During that time the localization of paramilitary bases (few meters away from stations or bases from the security forces) was known and reported to the national government. The movement of paramilitaries in the region was public and notorious, as well as the places where they did road blocks, who were their allies, who helped them, and other places where they stayed… but there was no action against it.
After many years, history has told us we were right. Paramilitarism is evident in Colombia; it has been created, protected and defended by the State; the calls of attention of human and social rights organizations were true, and they didn’t respond to any political bias as some called it. The explanations the government gave were clear now because, as paramilitarism was a State’s project, they didn’t do anything to counteract the criminal actions, and instead they strengthened it throughout the country.
Current situation

Paramilitarism strolls around the urban centers of various southern Bolivar municipalities, as it is known in the municipalities of Rio Viejo, Arena and Tiquisio. The inhabitants of the urban center of Tiquisio called the attention to the presence of 6 alleged paramilitary chiefs, who had a different discourse: “that they are there for the drug trade business, but they will get rid of those who step in their way”.
Meanwhile, the measures adopted by the municipal, departmental and national governments have been useless in trying to stop their progress. We don’t understand why, in the midst of the militarization of the region, these groups can operate so freely.
At Tiquisio: On October 20th, 2009, at around 6:30 pm, LEONARDO SORACA was found dead with signs of torture on the road that leads from the main municipality of Puerto Rico to the rural neighborhood El Sudán, in a farm located 20 minutes away from de urban center. He was around 25-30 years old, worked as a mototaxi driver and lived in the urban center of Puerto Rico, in the Tiquisio municipality. According to what the community said, the young man received a call to pick up a passenger in Puerto Gaitán and, after that, he was killed. Leonardo Soraca had been a peasant soldier of the Nariño Battalion and finished his military service in mid 2006.
Two days before, men dressed in black were seen in the rural neighborhood or Puerto Rico and the community recognized them as paramilitaries. They were traveling in motorcycles that belonged to the same place where LEONARDO SORACÁ was found dead.
At the municipality of Río Viejo the paramilitaries have been present for several weeks. These are armed men dressed in civilian clothes who identify themselves to the population as “Águilas Negras” (a known paramilitary group), and they mobilize in motorbikes along with other demobilized men from the region. As well, outsiders have been seen surprisingly doing different commercial activities, which increases the distrust among the people.
More than 20 paramilitaries have stayed for several weeks, doing road blocks and other activities in front of the farm called Villa Mercedes, located in the exit that leads from Rio Viejo to the municipality of Arenal. Aside from the illegal road blocks, they have done night patrols along the neighborhoods of the urban center, announcing “social cleansing” activities. Also, it has been denounced that these groups have been conscripting the youth from the region.   
During the week from the 10th to the 17th of October, proximately 100 paramilitaries arrived and settled in the farm “La Democracia” (Democracy), located in the rural neighborhood of Caimital in the Rio Viejo municipality. Also, a strong paramilitary presence has been seen in the port of La Gloria (Cesar) and in the rural neighborhood of Papayal in the San Martín de Loba municipality.
In the night of October 23rd, 2009, several hooded armed men were seen at the gas station located over the road that goes from Rio Viejo to Norosí, while other hooded armed men in motorcycles were seen patrolling the urban center of Rio Viejo. That same night, over the same street where the paramilitaries were patrolling, two merchants were assaulted and a young man was beaten when he was passing by.
Some precedents

1.    In the month of March, 2009, paramilitary groups from the south of Bolívar manifested through a public communication their armed presence and actions in the region of southern Bolivar, and identified themselves as “Gaitan Self-Defense Forces of Colombia”.
2.    At the municipality of Rio Viejo: In March 26th, 2009, approximately 30 paramilitaries coming from La Gloria (Cesar), disembarked in Rio Viejo and the event was publicly known. This disembark caused collective panic among in Rio Viejo and its inhabitants were warned to stay inside their houses and go to bed early just in case it was a new incursion like those they were victims of before, like the one occurred in 1997.
During the month of April, a warning circulated the Rio Viejo municipality, saying: “get prepared because soon there will be a slaughter, all of those who have been related to the municipal administration, as it is…”. They also threatened 24 specific persons of this municipality and added: “know that we don’t believe any tales from the Army or the Police, soon your worst nightmare will start”.
3.    At Pueblito Mejía: On Monday, January 5th, 2009, members of one paramilitary group entered the rural neighborhood of Pueblito Mejía (part of the municipality of Barranco de Loba), carrying a list of persons who they intended conscript or murder, according to what the paramilitaries said.
They entered a bar in the urban center where they ordered to close the doors and proceeded to detain two young men. One of them was, known as “el mono”, was killed when he opposed to leave with them by force. The other young man could escape.
The members of this paramilitary group identified themselves as the men of “Don Mario” and were settled at the farm known as “Canabate”, located in the outskirts of the town. They offered money to the inhabitants saying that they were going to build a “kitchen” to process drugs.
4.    At the municipality of Arenal: In the month of August, 2009, the VI Regional Assembly for the Communities of the south of Bolívar was in session. During the sessions the paramilitaries were seen in the urban center asking about the Assembly. Arenal’s municipal authorities know about paramilitary presence in Palmas and Buenavista, where they have settled and are exerting control over this part of the municipality.
5.    At the municipality of Simití, the situation is similar. In April 9th, 2009, 5 men dressed in black and armed with rifles, were seen at the port of Nueva Esperanza, in front of Vijagual.
The 15th of April, 5 men, also dressed in black and armed with rifles, were seen at Ciénaga del Totumo and, according to statements, they approached a group of peasants from the rural neighborhood of Garzal, saying: “They think they can continue sabotaging” while referring to the community from this neighborhood. The men stayed there until midnight.
The 17th of April, 2009, 30 armed men dressed in black camped during a day in a house near the port of Nueva Esperanza, forcing the end of the day’s classes at the school of Tierra Firme and Vijagual, in the municipality of Simití. Vijagual’s Police Station was warned, but they didn’t arrive until the afternoon when the armed group had already left. Towards the end of June some leaders of the rural neighborhood of El Garzal were threatened again.
Between the 18th and 22nd of March, 2008, during the celebrations of the holy week, a group of 50 paramilitaries arrived to the area of Tierra Linda, in the rural neighborhood of El Garzal. There they established road blocks and interrogated those who were going to the rural areas of Nueva Esperenza and El Garzal.
6.    At Santa Rosa: In December 26th, 2008, some members of the community saw three hooded men with long guns at the road from Los Abanicos to Mina Caribe, in the municipality of Santa Rosa. The men tried to identify a local man and then said “it’s not him, we were wrong” and allowed him to continue.
7.    Between the 16th and the 21st of December, 2008, after a request from the communities, a Verification Commission arrived at the region composed by the Colombian Public Prosecutor’s office, the Human Rights Presidential Program from the Vice Presidency of the Republic, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, the Department’s Government. They expressed that, following the testimonies gathered at the municipality of Tiquisio, “at the main area of the municipality there is presence of the National Police and the Nariño Batallion who, according to the manifestations of some community members, have not taken any measures in this regard… In this sense, the Departmental Peace Commissionate suggested they should request the minute from the Security Council that had taken place the previous Monday in the municipality of Magangué with the participation of the Majors of Magangué, Montecristo and Barranco de Loba. There they denounced the presence of alleged reinserted paramilitaries and drug dealers in the municipalities of Barranco de Loba and Motecristo…”.
8.    The 4th of April, 2008, various persons received a threatening e-mail from the paramilitary group self-identified as “Águilas Negras – Bloque Norte de Colombia”. In it they express that the members of Fedeagromisbol, Sembrar, Peace and Development Program of the Magdalena Medio, and the priests from Regidor, Tiquisio and Arenal, from the south of Bolivar, have been declared military targets. The e-mail adds: “your name is in the list of non-desired persons by the national government, and must be eliminated”, accusing them of being members or contributors of Guerrillas.
9.    Such threat says: “You and the organizations you represent are a problem for Colombia”, and finally sentenced that “for every criminal act you organize in these towns against the Democratic Security, you will be exterminated one by one in the list’s order”.
10. In the same way, the e-mail says that the persons and organizations under threat have also been followed in the municipalities of Tiquisio, Arenal, Morales, Aguachica, La Gloria and Regidor: “Wherever you go, you have been organizing assemblies that make people stupid, but this bullshit is going to end”.
11. The threat ends saying “we are watching you minute by minute. It is time to put an end to the bullshit you have in these towns. The annihilation plan against you will start in the end of any activity. We are not going to doubt in murdering you, so inform your families so they can start burying you”.
12. In April 19th, 2008, Fedeagromisbol (Agro-mining Federation of the South of Bolivar) and Espacio Humanitario in Tiquisio, received a new threatening e-mail sent by Commandant Camilo, member of the Northern Block of the paramilitaries known as “Águilas Negras” ( It includes specific names of leaders, priests and members of social organizations from the region, who were also threatened in the previous communication.
In view of these events, we, the communities and organizations, request to the national and international community your solidarity so these events won’t happen EVER AGAIN.

We ask the media not to remain silent. They have a historic responsibility as they are in charge of the power of Communications that is and has been decisive in Colombia.

We ask the Colombian Government and the Congress of Colombia to take real, appropriate and efficient measures to counteract the increase of paramilitary groups and actions that are terrorizing and frightening the South of Bolivar. Also, to adopt special measures to protect the inhabitants and their leaders, and to stop the free actions of criminal structures in the South of Bolivar.

We ask the control and judicial organisms, to fulfill their constitutional and legal functions and therefore investigate and sanction the public servants who, by action or omission, have been responsible of the establishment of such cruelty in this region of the country.

Colombia, October 2009

Corporación Sembrar
Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolívar
Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos
Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia
Asociación Nomadesc
Corporación Utopías
Campaña prohibido olvidar
Proceso de Comunidades Negras.
Asociación Paz con Dignidad

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621

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