Private army forceably evicting indigenous in Urabá

(Translated by Haley Olig, CSN Intern)

About 60 men armed with sticks and machetes arrived on the morning of Tuesday, February 23, to the rural township of Guapá León in the Chigorodó municipality, to forcibly evict a group of 104 indigenous – including 73 children – who had returned to the area without accompaniment from governmental or non-governmental institutions.

The complaint was made by Robin Domicó, leader of the indigenous group, who reported that “Jamie Uribe’s cowboys were enlisted to forcefully evict the indigenous community in Guapá León.  There are approximately 60 people evicting natives and burning their ranches, and attacking people with clubs,” declared Domicó.

Furthermore, these men are confiscating the cellphones of the indigenous, to prevent them from recording the events.  So far 8 people have had their phones seized.

The property reclaimed by the indigenous is currently held by businessman Jaime Uribe, whose foremen and managers would be those same individuals who are carrying out the forceful evictions, said Robin Domicó.

“The comment was that in any moment they would arrive; and I saw that they had already arrived today.  We need the authorities to make themselves present to stop this forceful eviction,” requested the indigenous leader.

This is not the first time that a private army has violently evicted land reclaimants in Urabá.  On February 10, 2015, a group of at least 80 men on horseback – some masked – attacked 14 families who had returned to the Nuevo Oriente district of the Turbo municipality without institutional accompaniment.  Some of those people, who are reclaiming property in Fabio Moreno’s Monteverde estate, were beaten, and their homes destroyed.

That day they reported the forced disappearance of reclaimant leader Beatriz Elena Mestra, who was found the next morning in a pasture near a creek, following a search operation led by authorities.

Forceful evictions initiated by authorities, now suspended

Since last Monday, the 15th of February, the indigenous people of Guapá León have reported the possibility of eviction, in this case to the head of the Turbo municipal authorities and ESMAD police.

That day saw forced eviction on two properties: Nueva Esperanza and Esperancita, in the Blanquicet district of the Turbo municipality, in the sector of the Pan-American Highway, confirmed Emélides Muñoz, Turbo Secretary of Government.

“It was a peaceful eviction.  It took so long because it occurred in a rural zone, but the two goals were achieved.  First, the eviction of the returning claimants and subsequent transfer of the properties to the owners; and second, the relocation of the returned individuals to shelters or with relatives,” said Muñoz.

The evictions, added the government official, were initiated based on complaints lodged by the current owners of the land.

Turbo authorities have planned a total of 32 scheduled evictions of returned campesinos in the districts of Macondo, Blanquicet, Lomas Aisladas, and Nuevo Oriente, revealed the Iván Vélez Durango, inspector of the Currulao municipality of Turbo.

The inspector said that “these evictions are a product of the invasions occurring in the Pan-American Highway area of the Turbo municipality.  These invasions are happening because restitution verdicts have not yet been reached; and so people are returning to the properties.”

Robin Domicó explained that indigenous people return because their families lack basic necessities, and their land has not been returned to them.  “I did not tell them to return, but I cannot prevent them from doing so.  So I have to accompany them to ensure that nothing happens to them,” noted the native leader.

Franio Domicó, one of those who returned, stated that the land they were reclaiming had been stolen from them during paramilitary violence.  He added that his mother Deyanira Domicó was assassinated in 1996 on this same piece of land.  Following violence and the death of other family members, the community had to flee the area.  They have now returned to await the ruling of restitution.

For Martha Peña, coordinator of the Territorial Agendas of Peace project developed by the IPC in Urabá and Bajo Cauca, the situation has been worsening since 2015, when President Juan Manuel Santos announced a plan with the prioritized zones for restitution of Colombian lands, which did not include Urabá.

“That was strange because the north of the country – both in Cesar and Montes de María and Urabá – is the most difficult zone for land restitution.  In fact, they had many campesinos returning to the land, because half of the law’s proposed timeframe had passed, and the number hectares of restituted land had not even reached 10% of what it should be under the law.  So there is a deep distrust on the part of the campesinos that the government will actually achieve what is promised in the law.  When the region was removed from the government’s priority, that in itself may have given landowners reason to initiate an aggressive processes and actions against the returning campesinos.”

Peña Duque added that the region “it has been local governments such as Turbo and Mutatá that have endorsed the requests for forceful eviction that, in many cases, come from businessmen accused of dispossession of land.”

Since last week the remaining evictions planned by the Turbo authorities have been suspended, in accordance with the police decision to require either military or police personnel for matters of law enforcement.  But it seems that the businessmen have chosen to use force on their own; which, with the history of paramilitarism and other so-called “self-defense groups,” has a very strong connotation in Urabá.

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