“THE MEN ARRESTED FOR THIS ATTACK ARE A FALSE POSITIVE”: Afro-Colombian leader in Norte del Cauca

El Espectador, June 19, 2019 – 9:23 a.m.

By Edinson Arley Bolaños / @eabolanos

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Víctor Hugo Moreno, the current Council member of the Association of Community Councils from the province of Norte del Cauca, was referring to the most recent threat that the black leaders received in the midst of a tense negotiation with the government. He also described the organization’s hypothesis regarding the grenade attack last May and the ones who are probably behind it.

The armored pickup in which the Afro-Colombian leader, Víctor Hugo Moreno, was traveling last May 4 received seven bullet impacts and survived the explosion of a fragmentation grenade that was fired at him and the other black leaders of Norte del Cauca. Yesterday, in the midst of a new controversy with the national government, Moreno received another threat by means of a text message in which they say that they’re going after him: “Sr. Víctor Hugo, your debt is still not settled. You, along with Francia Márquez Alexis Mina, José Nifer Díaz, Clemencia Carabalí, Alfredo Bonilla, Armando Caracas, and each and every one of the sonofabitching black collaborators are declared a military objective, just like all of those stoolpigeons that are guarding them. In spite of them, you are all going to die. “ ‘Black Eagles’ on duty” is the exact text of the message, which included other leaders of the Community Councils Association of Norte del Cauca province (ACONC is the Spanish acronym).

Ever since the day of the attack, in which they escaped harm, the threats have been constant. Just a day after it happened, on May 6, they got another specific warning about it: “what happened Saturday was just the beginning of what is going to be the extermination of all of you . . .”, the message says. And at the end of it, it sentences anybody who took part in the March in the southwest that blocked the Pan-American Highway for more than 20 days, and blocked the alternate that passes over Afro-Colombian territory. “ . . . all of those people that blocked the humanitarian road in the so-called March, your time has come, you black sons of bitches . . .”

After that happened, the Afro-Colombian leaders held a series of meetings with the Interior Ministry and with the President, Iván Duque, himself. The purpose was to advance the carrying out of the agreements reached during the March. On May 21, President Duque invited 13 of the 16 leaders who were attacked in Norte del Cauca to the Presidential Palace. That was when he promised to issue a decree that would guarantee that what had been agreed upon would be carried out. He appointed the Interior Ministry to work together with the black leadership to get that done. That has been going on in recent weeks but a new controversy came up because the leaders insist that the Interior Minister, Patricia Gutiérrez, walked out of the meeting where the document was being drafted. The document was signed by the Director of Ethnic Affairs that she had assigned, and later it was modified unilaterally.

Tweet from Francia Márquez Mina


What does accomplishment mean to you? Go to a meeting to wear down the communities? Because you changed a document signed by the Director of Black Communities that you put in charge? In spite of the fact that @DefensoriaCol and @MAPPOEA were present

Tweet from Nancy Patricia G

That’s not true @FranciaMarquezM. The government has complied. Today in     Santander de Quilichao the team from @Mininterior honored its commitment to discuss the review of the government’s prior commitments.

In the midst of the wave of violence that Norte del Cauca is experiencing, Moreno talked with Colombia2020 about what has happened with the investigation of the attack, and of the hypothesis that the Afro-Colombian organization has about the event, and also about the agreements with the government and, most importantly, with President Duque, who gave them several promises at the Presidential Palace.

Why do the lives of the black leaders in Norte del Cauca Province keep on being in danger?

On the one hand, on May 6 we got a threatening message that mentioned several leaders who had been in the vehicle that was attacked. Things are getting worse with the threats about having taken part in the March in the southwest. The government has tried to take some actions with respect to individual protection for us, but we keep insisting on the collective protection of the territory and, most of all, that they attack the causes that are generating these risks and attacks on leaders in Norte del Cauca Province. We can’t lose sight of the fact that those risks are illegal mining, the increase in illegal planting and the efforts of foreign businesses to usurp our land as they have done in the past.

What is the leaders’ hypothesis about the attack on last May 4? Who might be the ones that ordered that?

On the one hand, that is the whole subject that they stopped talking about once we were established in the March, because we all know that the humanitarian alternative corridor of the Pan-American Highway is a very complicated corridor. During our mobilization, occupied vehicles could not move, commercial trucking could not move, and neither could those who were transporting illegal items that I won’t describe because it’s not safe. These people today are the ones that are charging us with closing off the road. On the other hand, there was an effect on businesses. We have to take the threat of May 6, after the attack, very seriously because it disparages the March and suggests to us that there is some power that is “legal”, in quotation marks, allied with the criminals. Looking at it that way, there were businesses that experienced losses and on other occasions they have felt emboldened to express their opposition to us for insisting on our rights.

Hours after the attack, The Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of a minor male and accused him of being one of those that carried out the attack. Afterwards, there were two more arrests and it was said that the case was almost solved. What has happened in the investigation?

At first we understood that the case was going very well and very rapidly, because of all the support from our own ancestral legal system. That helped in the collection of evidence by our native Cimarrón Guards. But now, after all we have seen, I think that those arrests are a false positive. They haven’t found out who ordered the attack and they are leaving serious doubt that the ones they arrested are even the ones who made the attack. On the contrary, this is creating a situation of conflict among the communities, because there are leaders who accuse us of pointing to people that had nothing to do with the attack. At the beginning of the investigation, which was when we were cooperating with the legal system, they prepared some sketches based on testimony from those who saw the attackers running away, but later we found out that the first one arrested doesn’t look like those sketches, even though the prosecutors are ignoring that fact. Later, when they made the second arrest, it became even more worrisome because community leaders stated that the people who were captured had been somewhere else on the day of the attack.

What has the Attorney General’s Office said about the complaints of the community leaders?

The Attorney General’s Office is doing a bad job and we have asked them to re-orient the hypothesis of the investigation. They are telling us that one of the bodyguards who was injured is the one who is identifying the men that have been arrested. But that makes no sense, because when we consulted the other bodyguards, they said that they don’t recognize the men who were arrested.

Can you sum up the longstanding tension between the Afro-Colombian communities and the business groups in the southern part of Valle Province and Norte del Cauca Province?

The first thing to mention would be the reports of National Center for Historical Memory. They have several reports that make reference to the people who brought the paramilitaries to the territory. And when you read the names of those people, you realize that they are the business leaders of the region. Historically, to get rid of the people living in the territory, particularly in the level part of Norte del Cauca Province in the municipalities of Villarrica, Guachené, Padilla, Puerto Tejada and Caloto, there has always been oppression and racism against the black people.  Oppression has showed itself in massacres, selective murders, flooding of their farms and the imposition of the megaprojects built by Colombian elites on the land belonging to indigenous people, black people, and campesinos.  The monoculture of sugar cane has grown in the same way, the same as the oil palm plantations.

After the attack, last May 21 President Duque invited a group of leaders who had been attacked to have a conversation at the Presidential Palace. What were his commitments and why is there still tension with the government?

Moreno specified: “he told the Minister of Interior (Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez), regarding the order that the Community is requesting, please get together to make a work plan and get through this.” That was the general sense of his order, and that is what’s most important. The other thing is that he promised to come to Norte del Cauca to talk with the black Communities about the structural issues in the region. He said that he would go to Norte del Cauca after we had made some progress with the Interior Minister regarding the things we are trying to do. Another of his commitments is that he will give us a complete answer to the letter that we gave him.

How important for you is the order and why are you insisting that the government is leaving it behind?

Because President Duque has not wanted to commit to collective protection at the beginning, because he said that first we have to make progress in putting an order together. Then we agreed that between May 30 and June 6 we would meet with Minister Gutiérrez. So we got to last June 6 and we signed a document to go forward in putting the final order together, but also that it would contain a budget floor that would control the national agencies responsible for carrying out the agreements. In spite of that, we have to report that the Minister didn’t want to stay until the conclusion of the meeting and she put the Interior Ministry’s Director of Afro-Colombian Community Issues in charge so that we would sign the order and that meant we had to go to Popayan the next day to sign it. We were in the northern part of Cauca. We finished polishing the agreements in the document and we sent it and surprise! surprise! The Minister never sent the document and not until last Saturday June 15, the day of the next meeting, did we get the document she had signed, but with unilateral modifications. It had only lacked her signature, but she decided to change it.

What were the modifications?

It needs to be said that The Director of Afro-Colombian Community Issues had already signed it and the Public Defender’s Office and Sr. Mapp of the Organization of American States (OEA in Spanish) had already witnessed it and affirmed it. So, what the Minister did was send us a new document. She had changed sensitive agreements such as the reinforcement of the Cimarrón Guards for the collective protection of the territory and of the social leaders. That was contrary to point six of the Havana accords where the chapter of peace for ethnic groups was referenced. There the government had agreed that the Cimarrón and Indigenous Guards would be reinforced. The Minister also omitted that from the document, and thus disregarded agreements signed by prior governments. And just as what we wanted in this document was that they would stop blowing off the Communities, we have more than 40 documents signed all through the history of the country and none of them were ever carried out.

How do you assess the attitude of the Interior Minister, keeping in mind that President Duque had already issued a directive?

This government seems to be more corporate oriented and it doesn’t carry out even what it has committed to do. The attitude of Minister Gutiérrez is as following: change the document, sign it, don’t sign the one that we agreed to, and then send one while giving an order: “sign this because I’ve already signed it.” Then, for us, all of this deepens our lack of confidence in this government. And, besides that, it leaves a bad taste; a feeling that this is a government that disregards agreements that have been signed by two parties, even with guarantees by internationals. We are very worried about this racist attitude, because, as Francia Márquez said, if this is breakfast, I’m going to hate to see lunch. Speaking of legality, they talk about complying with what was agreed to and today they are not complying even with signing a document.

What future do you see for the negotiations with the government, with the tension because of the change in the documents and for the safety of the leaders?

At first Minister Gutiérrez sent us a proposed resolution, because she said it would not have to take the form of an order. Then, it was a resolution that, to the Interior Minister’s way of thinking, involved the ten municipalities where Aconc people live and the Cauca provincial government. It didn’t even involve the national agencies that are the ones that have signed agreements with us. Rather she wants the agreements to be the responsibility of the municipalities. That is something that we reject, and that is why we keep on demanding that it take the form of an order.

Second, we continue to be disposed to dialog with the government, in spite of everything that is going on. We are hoping that we can finish reviewing the agreements that we have with them and that between the 16th and 19th of July we can have a dialog about the precise agreements that we have with each agency of the government. The other thing is that we have not, as black Afro-Colombians, together with the campesinos, the indigenous people from other regions of the country such as Buenaventura and Chocó, discarded the idea of having a national March because the government is giving all of us the same treatment. But the government should not wait for us to carry that out before complying with what it has promised.

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