By Laura Dulce Romero

El Espectador, Bogotá, August 10, 2019

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

From massacres to harassment by stigmatization—both are part of the long list of violent acts that were described this week by San José de Apartadó residents who belong to the Campesino Association of San José de Apartadó (Acasa in Spanish). They warn that the war is still going on.

All of them are campesinos and campesinas from San José de Apartadó (Antioquia Province). You can tell by their accents, by their hands, by their fingernails, some with a little bit of dirt. You can also notice their friendliness, and the towel that’s draped on a shoulder to wipe off the sweat. They are quiet. With a couple of them, you can detect some sadness. And for all of them, their bravery. In a few minutes they will have to testify, one by one, before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). They will describe the events they have lived through in the armed conflict from the decade of the ‘80’s until 2016.

San José de Apartadó was in the headlines of the communications media in February 2005, when three children and five adults were murdered by the paramilitaries together with the Armed Forces. Those events happened in spite of the fact that in 1997, part of this District (Corregimiento) declared itself a Peace Community and rejected the presence of any armed actor, including the Army. At that time, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights had ordered the government of Colombia to provide effective means to protect that decision.

There are some residents of the Community who belong to the Campesino Association of San José de Apartadó and they are telling the JEP everything they experienced in the midst of the anxiety and dread in the place where they lived.

The first to speak was a resident of the town (vereda) of La Victoria where, according to him, there were a number of murders in the decade of the ‘90’s. The killers were the paramilitaries, the FARC guerrillas, and the Army. He especially remembered the murder of his brother, who was a sympathizer of the Patriotic Union Party, in 1997, and the killing of a community leader, a militant of that party, in 1993. He also named five other people who had been killed. They were all dedicated to farming. They were all in the middle of the confrontation of the groups who wanted the land. “It seems so sad to us that all of this happened in such a small town. I have these dates in mind because they were all killed at point blank range, but there were more—some just disappeared.”

The second person to speak was a woman. She said that the Army, that ought to have protected them, was one of the most violent actors. The soldiers, she insisted, were the cause of a number of massacres, like the one that took place in 1996 when her sister, who was pregnant, was killed. This is how she remembered the night of the murder: “It was two o’clock in the morning when they came to our house, banging on the door. We thought they were drunk, so we didn’t open the door. But then they started banging harder. They said: ‘Quit your sleeping, you’re through sleeping’. And they kept on until they knocked the door down. They came in, they searched us and they stole some 500,000 pesos (About USD250). A soldier who was tall and dark ordered them to tie up my younger sister and take her away. They did the same thing with another four campesinos, including the president of a cooperative. And they killed all of them. But the president, who was a leader in the community, they took him to a butcher shop and they hung him up on one of those meat hooks.”

In that same year, recounted a resident of the town (vereda) of El Porvenir, there was another massacre during Holy Week: “They killed two workers at a cooperative, the son of one of them and his friend.” However, he believes it’s important to remember the massacre at La Resbalosa that took place in 2005. “We need to find out all about that so that those responsible can be prosecuted: paramilitaries and soldiers, an alliance that continues today. Here in Urabá you don’t move a needle without their orders.”

June 8 of 2000 was also a sad day for San José de Apartadó. Once more the paramilitaries and the soldiers attacked the Peace Community. Six men were murdered in the town (vereda) of La Unión. “My brother was one of them; he begged them for his life, but they killed him. They killed him while he was on his knees. And they wouldn’t even let us go to get their bodies. They told us to get out of there, but who is going to desert your family?” another victim reported.

The stories of the massacres continued. One family member of the victims of La Resbalosa, one of the events that had the most impact on this community, told how her brother “was chopped up in little pieces”; her nephew, a child, was killed with a machete,” and her sister-in-law had her throat cut. She spoke rapidly, believing that you have to get through an evil thing as fast as you can, and she ended her story by telling how everyone left San José for Medellín to forget their pain.

Another thing that was repeated in the testimony of the campesinos is the cross that they have been bearing for three decades: stigmatization. They have been called guerrillas and that has been the basis for persecuting and mistreating them. A woman told how after the massacre at La Resbalosa, she accompanied the teams that recovered the bodies. Because she gave a description to a reporter that ended up being seen on TV, she was harassed so much that she had to leave her home—she was displaced. Even in the business sector, at the place she worked, they called her a supplier for the guerrillas.

The irony is that she was a victim of the FARC. The FARC’s 58th Front kidnapped her brother, who liked to ride his motorcycle in his free time. The guerrillas thought he was collaborating with the paramilitaries. She knows he is buried in the town (vereda) of Las Nieves, but she has not been able to go there to retrieve his body.

During the hearing, Justice María del Pilar Valencia asked whether the Apartadó community had ever received any assistance from the government. A man from the town (vereda) of Bellavista answered “no” and, on the contrary, he complained that the majority of the young people of today belong to the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC in Spanish) working in their drug trafficking business.

These testimonies are part of a written report: They came for our land: by fire and sword, prepared by the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission, the Corporation for Justice and Freedom (CJL in Spanish), the Forging Futures Foundation (FFF), and the Popular Training Institute (IPC in Spanish). According to the Justices in the JEP, this helps to clarify case #004, in which they prioritize the human rights violations in the Urabá region, particularly in the municipalities of Turbo, Apartadó, Carepa, Chigorodó, Mutatá, and Dabeiba in Antioquia Province and in Chocó.

The Justice of the JEP and a member of the Truth Commission, María Angela Salazar, made notes. The people, meanwhile, answered that they appeared because they desired the truth and also reparation. This, said a leader, “is the last chance.”

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