To Stop the War in El Cauca

[Translated by Richard Henighan, CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Jessica Schwartz]

Camilo González Posso

President of INDEPAZ

The Indigenous and Afro-Colombian Organizations of the North of El Cauca reject the brutal attack carried out by the FARC in the settlement of Esperanza-Timba in the municipality of Buenos Aires. The ACIN in its April 16 Communication condemns this deed which it labelled as an assassination and it denounces the wave of assassinations of civilians that has been unleashed in that region, culminating in the kidnapping and execution of landholders in Aqua Bonita.

The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca is presenting a detailed account of facts that illustrate the situation which presents itself in the Municipalities of Suarez and Buenos Aires.


What has happened:

  1. On the 14th of April, 2015, in Cerro Tijeras – in the settlement Aqua Bonita, township of Los Robles, municipality of Suarez-Cauca – two landholders from the same family, Berney and Wilson Trochez, disappeared.  Their whereabouts still remain unknown. Faced with this grave situation, the community along with the indigenous guard, Kiwe Thegnas and the traditional authorities undertook a search throughout the territories and adjacent populations.
  2. On April 15, unknown persons dressed as civilians and carrying long range weapons violently removed Mario German Valencia Vallejo, Belisario Trochez Ordoñez, and Cristian David Trochez from their homes in the settlement of Aqua Bonita. They were then put into two trucks which took off in an unknown direction. At approximately 3:30 PM, in the settlement Guadualito, neighbors reported the presence of three bodies left on the edge of the highway; the men were found shot in the head.

There crimes against members of the indigenous communities were preceded by other recent acts of violence carried out in the region.


  1. On March 21, 2015, a group of soldiers, who identified themselves as members of the Anti-Narcotic Police and the National Army, arrived by air at the settlements of las Minas  and el Placer, part of the municipality of Buenos Aires Cauca.  The members of these communities report that there were about three hundred soldiers. Faced with this situation, the Communities gathered and asked the soldiers what was the reason for their presence. The response was that the operations were aimed at the eradication of illicit drugs under cultivation. Also, they were there to guarantee the security of a National Government Commission that was coming to set up work tables with the Indigenous Communities living in this territory.
  2. On March 19, 2015 a platoon of the National Army installed itself in the Sports Center of the settlement of La Esperanza, township of Timba, Municipality of Buenos Aires Cauca. This blocked the sports and recreational activities in this Community .
  3. On March 24, 2015, said Army platoon returned anew to the Sports Center. This  caused a good deal of concern for the local Community, so they decided to ask the soldiers to leave. The soldiers responded that they would leave, but they did not know when.
  4. On April 10, 2015, at La Emperatriz ranch in the Municipality of Caloto Cauca, Guillermo Pavi Ramos, a member of the indigenous community, was killed by a firearm just as the group was setting out on their Co-operative Action for the Liberation of Mother Earth.
  5. On April 12, Armed Forces arrived, without any complaints being made beforehand, in the settlements of La Betulia, La Chorrera, Guadualito, El Amparo, and La Estrella  These are in the Indigenous jurisdiction of Resguardo de Cerro Tijeras  in the Municipality of Suarez Cauca.
  6. On April 14, 2015, as is known publicly, eleven soldiers belonging to Mobile Brigade Number 17 of the Tarea Apolo Force of the National Army were killed at the hands of the FARC guerrillas.

General Valencias Comments

The newspaper El Pais published the first statements of General Mario Augusto Valencia, the Commander of the Third Brigade and the head of the operation of which the military unit that was attacked by the FARC en La Esperanza is a part. “On Tuesday at 11:30 PM troops of the Mobile Brigade 17 of the Tarea Apolo Force in the field were attacked with IEDS, grenades, and firearms. In this zone we were seeking to protect the civilian population who are confronted with criminal groups which carry out their offenses there. Our men were in an area where we knew the fourth section of the  mobile column Miller Perdomo of the FARC operates in Cauca.” The High Command said that in carrying out those operations there were confrontations that led to the loss of one noncommissioned officer and ten soldiers ( April 15, 2015). The information from ACIN coincides with that from General Valencia. There is a renewal of hostilities in the region as a result of the intention of the National Army to increase its control in that zone.

FARC Special Forces

Campesino leaders of Buenos Aires have advised us that the population there speaks about a renewal of confrontations since the Army entered to dispute the important FARC positions in this territory in an operation that has been underway since the last months of 2014. According to campesinos of that region many interests are in play there surrounding the mining of gold, the gateways to the Pacific and to the municipalities of El Tambo, El Charco, Tumaco and others in Nariño where the drug economy is important to the war. The advance of the Third Brigade in this region would have put the FARC columns and their troops on alert. According to this source, they are not many, but they count on a special assault commando unit. “They dress in black, and move about camouflaged in the dark, daubed with oil or lampblack. They don’t carry heavy arms like rocket propelled grenades or machine guns so as to be more agile. They use hand grenades and handguns.”  It was said that it was a commando unit of twenty guerrillas that attacked the military unit that tragic night. In the judgement of military experts in the Army, the soldiers would have let down their guard on a rainy night despite the hostilities of the prior days.

War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

The Fiscal General (Prosecutor General) has named the FARC attack a violation of the norms of International Humanitarian Law. He noted in his first declaration that it was an attack on “protected persons” and then in a second, denounced the use of non-conventional arms of indiscriminate destruction. Days before, on April 11, the Attorney General had defended the law’s protection of military forces, making  clear legitimate targets according to International Humanitarian Law.  Speaking before the families of victims of extrajudicial execution, by way of example he gave the following statement: If the Air Force carries out a nocturnal bombing on a Guerrilla camp where all were asleep and all were killed, there is no legitimate claim that the guerrillas were undefended. They were a legitimate target under International Humanitarian Law and the Law of War.

This was the reasoning of the Attorney General. So, it was perhaps for this reason that he shifted his focus onto the type of weapons used in the FARC’s attack. No doubt these matters  are significant in the investigation of the events and consequent judicial proceedings, as well as in the debates about Military Law since they claim a defense of Human Rights. However, they do not mean much to the civilian population of the area that is terrorized by a brutal war that does not recognize limits when it comes to Crimes against Humanity.

The death of soldiers, guerrillas, and civilians bring us face to face with these painful realities and make ever so real the need to return to the application of the norms which rule armed conflicts and wars. On the other hand, these norms should not be invoked for political reasons which polarize the situation even more. rather they should be concrete means of protection and of de-escalation.

The references to International Humanitarian Law have special importance for communities that claim it has not been applied to themselves, where the military occupation of civilian, public ,and cultural resources is occurring without the demilitarization of community lands and the areas belonging to ethnic groups.

Unilaterally end offensive military actions and reactive defensive ones

The events which are happening in Cauca just as in other places in the country show the limitations and fragility of the FARC’s unilateral cease fire while offensive military operations and the enlargement of control of key areas continue on the other side. The FARC is making a political wager with the unilateral cease fire, seeking sympathy from a population wanting less violence and anticipating a bilateral cease fire and an end to hostilities. However, the FARC’s willingness to undertake defensive actions if attacked by the State’s forces leads to confrontations when the Army’s troops menace the FARC’s bases of support.  We have now heard Pastor Alape say from Havana that what happened in Timba was a defensive action.

It is highly likely that this may in fact be the logic of that attack or ambush. But what does the FARC commander of a local column or front understand about this explanation coming from his highest commanders? Probably he will see it as a free hand to repeat tactics like at Timba or, at least, to mount operations to contend with troops that enter territory under his influence. The words “defensive operations” are open to many interpretations when attack is imminent or a response under pressure is needed. If there is not a basic guideline to avoid any confrontations, combat, and ambushes, then there is room for new combats, ambushes and the multiple modes of hostilities that are a part of irregular warfare.  A good illustration of all this is Pablo Catatumbo saying with annoyance that if he had known about that defensive action beforehand he would have stopped the craziness.

In political terms, the unilateral cease fire with defensive combat is a contradiction since each military response of the FARC discredits them, ringing loud bells in the media and bringing them political defeats. This leaves the FARC with only one way forward: A unilateral ceasefire without any combat responses. Otherwise its political positions are discredited and the peace process is muddied by the loud debates about each military engagement. One could even argue that the unilateral ceasefire is put to the test by offensive military operations that seek to provoke a response and in this way discredit not only the FARC but any final settlement. The enemies of negotiation and other critics are now a third force in the debate, seeking the suspension and total replacement  of the Havana Peace Process. They are reviving unachievable solutions, such as ex-president Uribe’s solution, for the concentration of all the FARC’s forces in one or a few locations under the control of the Armed Forces, with the total end of hostilities as a prior condition for resuming negotiations. However absurd such ideas may be, they don’t fail to gain support in those sectors that are skeptical of the peace negotiations.

As Fabricio Hochshild, the Representative of the UN Development Program in Colombia,  pointed out, the FARC attack and government’s response of renewing the bombing of the countryside breaks the “virtuous circle” toward de-escalation which was moving forward. The Military Commanders have said that their trust in the unilateral truce is broken and their tone is retaliation.. The President has said that we will pursue them until we capture them.

In order to restore the dynamic of de-escalation and avoid a major deterioration in the environment in favor of negotiations many bold actions are necessary. First, the FARC must reiterate the unilateral truce along with instructions to avoid combat. The costs militarily mobility in their territories, but politically gains by retaking the initiative and broadens the social base of support in the urban centers and the areas where they have no infrastructure. This also pressures the Government, among others, to undertake actions allowing it to return to an agenda of de-escalation, ordering its spokesmen to move forward on the technical sub-commissions and with the announcements about other pending matters. Thereby, we can return rapidly to the suspension of bombing, to an open process leading finally to a pact that will bring us to a definitive cessation of hostilities.

The Communities

Facing this grave situation, the social organizations of North Cauca have called for the urgent presence of Humanitarian Organizations to deter an escalation of violence. The call is to strengthen the support of peace dialogs in the understanding that  the end of the conflict will be a major warrantee for sucking the oxygen out of the violence and strengthening social struggles. The voices of those communities have rightly said that de-escalation in the Cauca requires the  unilateral commitment to respect for humanitarian norms and to demilitarization of the civilian spaces.

Edition #442       April 17-23, 2015

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