The Seventeenth Brigade Still Has Ties with Paramilitaries: Commander of Front 58 of the FARC


(Translated by Josie Rosene, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In an interview with Press Agency IPC, alias “El Manteco”, commander of Front 58 of the FARC, said that San José de Apartadó is being taken over by paramilitaries, and expressed that restitution is a hard nut to crack in Urubá.

Written by Yhoban Camilo Hernandez Cifuentes- September 22, 2016

Paramilitaries “abandoned normalcy” regarding their relationship with the armed forces, says Joverman Sánchez Arroyave, alias “Rubén” or “El Manteco”, commander of Front 58 of the FARC, who participates as a delegate in discussions during the National Guerrilla Conference that takes place in Llanos del Yarí, between Meta and Caquetá.

According to the guerrilla commander, who has an impact on the Cordovan areas Sinú and San Jorge, as well as in the Urabá region, the ties between authorities and paramilitaries will continue, although the relationship is less visible than before.

In Urubá, he assures, the Seventeenth Brigade of the militia, which was once commanded by the general Rito Alejo del Río, imprisoned for having ties with paramilitaries, continues to be on military payroll. However, beneath the watch of “El Manteco”, this is just one of the challenges the region must overcome to establish peace.

Q: What conflicts have arisen and what do you believe will be the conflicts that will arise in territories like Urubá, Sinú, and San Jorge, where you have political impact?

A: The problem will be a social one if the government doesn’t cooperate, because those zones are not only affected by paramilitaries and guerrilla warfare, but also by state neglect. Living conditions for the people there are abysmal, work opportunities are null. So if all of that isn’t resolved, there will be problems, because thieves and delinquents come out little by little. So the living conditions of the people in this region must be improved. The other issue is the paramilitaries, especially if they are not given the treatment to which the government committed.

Q: If there is a zone where it is evident that the process of justice and peace for the clearance of the paramilitaries wasn’t effective, what analysis will there be?

A: The analysis is that the paramilitaries have been a hoax. It is known that the complexity of the paramilitaries and the military forces, at a national and international level, has abandoned normalcy, and they had to change their strategy from that of uniform paramilitaries in large groups to civil paramilitaries in small groups, but while continuing the same coordination with the armed forces. The paramilitaries continue to exist in Urabá. Logically without the presence and massacres that existed beforehand. But the presence continues and it is in sight: if the will to end parmilitarism existed, it would already be done because they remain close to there, and we know of soldiers that are on the paramilitary payroll. It can be said that of the Seventeenth Brigade, the majority are on the paramilitary payroll, more than the Eleventh Brigade of Cordoba, which was where the camps in Castaño and Mancuso were. The Eleventh Brigade was compromised seriously and yes, there still are committed controls, but now the Seventeenth Brigade is more committed.

Q: So general Rito Alejo del Río’s line is still held within the Seventeenth Brigade?

A: That line is maintained in other commands, with more care. What Rito does abandon normalcy because of meetings with Castaño, with the “Blonde Veloza”, with Memín, and with all of those commanders in the Brigade; it abandons normalcy because of the coordination of discharged actions of paramilitaries within the military: the massacre at Chigorodó, the massacres of San José de Apartadó.

Q: The theme of illicitly used crops, drug trafficking and mafias, bound also to paramilitarism, is a problem. Do you think that this problem can be solved in this region, which is another border area?

A: If there is no other opportunity for the people to have the means by which to live and other crops apart from coca, the paramilitaries will continue to root themselves there, because that is how the area is maintained; where there is coca there are paramilitaries.

Q: Urabá has projected itself to be a development zone; the real-estate sector, along with various companies, have arrived to the area, but it continues to be an inequitable territory. Do you think that new conflicts will arrive to the zone?

A: We hope not. It depends on whether or not the State gives the security that it should to the citizens. In fact, Urabá has always been a prosperous and promising region and it has served well, not only to Antioquia, but also to Colombia in general. The other thing is that the entrepreneurs should remember what happened with the banana companies, which committed themselves to the paramilitaries, so that they avoid turning their private groups into paramilitaries. But it also has to be remembered that he who insisted, who influenced, who organized the paramilitaries, who told them to coexist, was the ex-president Uribe when he was the governor of Antioquia. So, if there aren’t any policies involved, there isn’t anyone to give oxygen to these groups, I think we would be able to live in peace in Urabá.

Q: The problem of land restitution in Urabá is complex because of the fierce opposition. How do you view that policy?

A: The land restitution is a hard bone to chew in Urabá. I believe that the region that has suffered the most deaths because of the land restitution is Urabá, and there the people don’t support the policy because most of the lands are still in the hands of those who aren’t their owners. The paramilitaries are involved with that policy and are protected by government agents. There are many cases of lands in Urabá that the people are afraid of reclaiming because many have been killed as a result. That is definitely the problem. And we hope that they cooperate with the people, because in Urabá that culture has totally changed and the so have the owners of the land.

Q: More than a year ago in the township of San José de Apartadó, a paramilitary raid was denounced. What is happening in that zone now?

A: It’s the same thing I’ve said before, the complexity of the Seventeenth Brigade continues. We have information that on the 15th of this month they harassed the police station. San José de Apartadó is close to Apartadó, it is known what militarization there is there; there are military bases, in the zone behind Carepa hill, which isn’t too far from San José there are paramilitaries, in Nuevo Antioquia there are paramilitaries, and the paramilitaries are maintained relaxed nearby. So, the guerrilla has remained inactive, because through this peace process that is both a long and deep process, we have advanced in power to achieve peace in Colombia, in understanding each other, in reducing combat deaths, and that is all good, but that has permitted that paramilitaries are making their presence. For example, San José is a historic township that the paramilitaries have not been able to enter, but now that we are committed to peace, the paramilitaries have come to San José. And the military is there and doesn’t do anything, the community denounces it and the military doesn’t see anything. That is the reality of San José de Apartadó.   

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