Semana, November 14, 2019
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Alcides and Yenci are just two of the children who died a few days after being recruited by an armed group, according to the complaints of their families. Just like the children killed in the bombing in Caguán, they carried the heaviest burden of the war. Luis Miguel Beleño Ospino, a local official in Solano, Caquetá, assures that in only three months, forty children have been co-opted by armed groups.
When Alcides was 11 years old he moved with his family from the town (vereda) of Puerto Sábalo to the Municipality of Solano in the Province of Caquetá. They left the countryside fleeing from the FARC, because they were recruiting him; they left everything behind to try to start a new life in the village and thus avoid having the child fall into the hands of the armed group.
In Solano he was safe for two years while he studied at the Campo Elías Educational Institution. In May of 2018, now 13 years old, he went back to the town (vereda) of Puerto Sábalo to visit a brother. Because of the time that had passed, most of the FARC had demobilized, but the Primary Front, made up of those who had not gone along with the process, remained in the area. Commander Edwin, alias “Chichi Limpio”, was waiting for Alcides and recruited him.
On May 27, 2018, two days after falling into the hands of those dissidents, Alcides died in a confrontation with the Army. The Armed Forces had made a surprise attack on the encampment, looking for Commander Edwin; however the ones who ended up dead were Alcides, another youngster whose identity is not known, and an elderly civilian who had been forced to guide the troops to the camp.
We know about the case of Alcides thanks to a statement made by his family under Statute 1448 of 2011—the Victims’ Law—before a municipal official in Solano, Luis Miguel Beleño Ospino, who has recently complained to several communications media about the serious situation that confronts children in that part of the country.
According to a 2018 report by the National Center of Historical Memory, in 60 years of war in Colombia, 17,778 boys, girls, and adolescents were recruited and used by both legal and illegal armed groups.
The fate of Yenci Lorena Contreras is another of the cases that were registered by Beleño Ospino and of which that municipal official complained.
According to the information furnished by that official, Yenci was 16 years old; she was also from Solano, but she travelled to Yurillo in Putumayo Province, looking for a job opportunity. There she was recruited and two months later—on May 19, 2018—she was killed in a bombardment. The military objective was Breiner Arenas, but once again, the ones that were killed were several children.
According to Beleño Ospino, the complaints he has received from indigenous governors and leaders of community councils in the neighboring towns (veredas) in only three months report that more than 40 children have been recruited in the Municipality of Caquetá. “I’m sure that the cases reported to me are less than 50 percent of the reality,” he says.
SEMANA spoke with the official who reported the serious situation that exists all over the region and in nearby provinces where there is also a presence of the Primary Front of the FARC, along with groups that carry out extortion and drug trafficking.
“I have been complaining about this since 2017; I made the first complaints in May of 2017, based on information that I received from the indigenous community Araracuara, where along with the Air Force, the Secretary of Government, and the Commission for Families, we were able to rescue three youngsters who were about to be recruited by the Primary Front. On the day after that rescue, five young girls had to take refuge at the Military Base in Ararakuara, and three of them were children,” complains the official. He insists that all of these cases are documented with the Attorney General’s Office and with the Inspector General, and that in addition, he sent out all of the early alerts that he could.
According to this official, every time there is an ambush or a bombardment near his Municipality, a lot of parents come to his office to ask for help in finding out if their children were killed in those battles.
Luis Miguel Beleño claims that as long as he has held his position, he has been dedicated to complaining about recruitment of children. “It’s a titanic battle to protect a population that is as vulnerable as the indigenous and the campesino,” and he adds that, in spite of all the alerts he has filed, “the justice system does not act quickly and the campesinos continue to be totally unprotected by the government.”
Beleño also pointed out that just this Tuesday, a young man, 18 years old, came to his office. He was about to be recruited, but his mother had been able to get him out of the town (vereda) and they went to the Municipality. According to the official, this young man had told him that the group that was trying to recruit him had been able to take away an 11-year-old boy and a 12-year-old that they had forced out of a school.
“The Army might say what they have always said, that this is not true, that they find them shooting at people, and they aren’t children. The Minister comes out and says that they aren’t, but just let them come out to this territory and answer to me for the children that have been killed. Let them pick them up and carry them away,” adds the official in his complaint.
Beleño’s call on the national government is that “if there has to be combat attacking those illegal groups, it should be done in conformity with the treaties on International Humanitarian Rights, to preserve the lives of those children, because those children that have been recruited in my Municipality are in an encampment; they are carrying out illegal activities,” he says and he adds that he doesn’t want to see a story like that of San Vicente del Caguán repeated. “And please do not, if you are going to do that, do it as the treaties require, respecting the bodily integrity of those children,” reiterates the official.
He is referring to the military operation that took place in San Vicente del Caguán in August of 2019, a bombardment in which at least eight children were killed. Senator Roy Barreras revealed that during the debate on a motion to censure the former Minister, Guillermo Botero.
That operation was directed against a chief of the FARC dissidents, Gildardo Cucho. In his defense, the former Minister said that when the operation was carried out the presence of children was not known: “The legislation was reviewed carefully, the lawyers concluded that Sr. Gildardo Cucho was possibly a threat to the nation’s security and because of that it was legal to bomb the site,” he said.
After the death of Yenci Lorena, her parents did not return to the office of the local official. Meanwhile, Luis Miguel Beleño told this magazine, the father of Alcides did return recently, “He was looking for help to start a lawsuit against the government because of the death of his son.”