Message From the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
(original message in Spanish)
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Beginning just before noon on December 29 and until noon on the 30th, our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó lived through a 24-hour experience of sharp contrasts and deep feelings.
Ever since the massacre at Mulatos and La Resbalosa that was suffered on February 21, 2001, our Community has not experienced collectively that mysterious convergence of death and life that so poignantly challenges us and yet binds us together. On December 29 the attack of the five paramilitaries on our cacao store, intending to put an end to the lives of several of our leaders, was like a lightning bolt of death that was knocking on our doors, announcing the grisly return of our early years when funerals took place one right after another, with very short intervals. Nevertheless, there was a spontaneous and immediate reaction by six members of our Community who happened to be near the site of the attack. In a daring effort they were able to disarm and immobilize two of the attackers and drive off the other three. It was not without some puddles of blood, but saving the lives of all of them was thrilling; we experienced it with the overflowing excitement of a person who can open the door to life from the corridors of death.
With unusual speed, the news filled up cell phone memory and in just a few minutes our settlement at San Josecito was crowded with the workers who immediately abandoned their farm work and hurried down from the towns (veredas) to join together with us and confront this new death threat in a communitarian way. The excitement of the solidarity of the group kept growing moment by moment until by the time night fell almost all of the members of the Community had come to stay up all night, gathered around pots of coffee and going in groups to check on the borders of the settlement and prevent new attacks. We had to guard the two paramilitaries who were tied up and at the same time take care of their elemental human needs. It was an unforgettable night, where the discomforts and staying up all night was an exciting experience of solidarity.
Our collective judgment was required in order to plan, step by step, the strategy we should follow with the government institutions in a manner that would be consistent with the Community’s systems and principles. For many years now, we have “ruptured” relations with a corrupt legal system and that interfered with turning over the men we had detained to the local legal and regional legal authorities that we consider to be rotten to the core. So we made use of our tradition of making a report to the highest level, so as to appeal to the moral consciousness of one who is high in authority, and not to the political clichés of the local bureaucracy, which is permanently entrenched in impunity.
There was communication with high government officials to ask that they receive the men we detained (Vice President, ministers, vice ministers, high officials in the Inspector General’s Office, and international organizations) but we only got one vice minister to agree to receive them. We did not seek assurance of fair and effective justice—that is impossible in Colombia today—we just wanted the highest level of government to be in direct contact with the event itself, to look the attackers in the face, to sign orders and to feel the collective spirit of a community that is aching, but resilient.
The Community had in its possession the weapon seized from one of the attackers (a 9mm caliber SIGSAUER pistol, serial number: B252721). Turning it over to a government agency would be to risk or contribute to the risk of the weapon being used to destroy the lives of others. On other occasions the Community has preferred to destroy the weapon; we reached the same conclusion this time and so we provided a photo of it when we turned the men we had detained over to the authorities. The holster of this weapon contained 12 bullets and it could have ended the lives of several of our leaders. A weapon like that ought never to exist.
During all those hours the Community received uncountable messages of solidarity from many corners of the earth: from parliaments, communities, councils, parishes, city governments, and social movements. The whole world deplored and condemned the wickedness of the attack; they rejoiced in the bravery and the values of the Community. They repudiated the indifference of the government and its agencies toward the multitude of crimes the Community has suffered, and praised the Community’s persistence. At the same time, in the current context of the responses by the government toward the multiplication of murders of social leaders, they underscored the fact that this event, by itself, proves how wrong the Defense Minister and other government officials are in their perverse statements that pig-headedly deny, contrary to all the evidence, the systematic character of the elimination of social leaders.
In this intense undertaking, we highlight and express our thanks once again for the role played by the international volunteers who accompany us. They have showed their love for their work in an extraordinary manner. We are also thankful for the presence of the Bishop of Apartadó, Monsignor Hugo Alberto Torres, who served as a qualified witness in certifying the delivery of the detained paramilitaries to the authorities. And also to the immense network of our friendships, our profound gratitude.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
December 30, 2017