By Patricia Lara Salive, El Espectador, February 13, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
“We are terrified. Who will protect us?” asked a member of the indigenous tribe Emberá in Tribugá, where we are accompanying the only official who will listen in these territories deep in Colombia. These are places where threats, selective murders, displacement, recruitment of children, drug trafficking, illegal mining, and disputes over territory between groups of paramilitaries and guerrillas, all facilitated by the absence of any government, are part of their daily lives.
Public Defender Carlos Alfonso Negret heads for that poor and terrorized Colombia, along with his team. It doesn’t matter that he has to travel on the back of a mule, on foot, in a canoe, or in a dilapidated little airplane: he goes, he sees, he hears, and he sends out early alerts to warn the government about the tragedies that are about to happen. But few are working to minimize the risks he warns of. Then the tragedies he prophesies come to pass.
This time the trip was by a launch jumping over choppy Pacific waves, from Nuquí to Tribugá, to Juradó (the last village before the border, to Jaqué (in Panamanian territory), to Bahía Solano, and finally to Quibdó, where we went by plane, because even though the capital of Chocó is 68 kilometers from the ocean, you can’t get there by road.
The Chocó is living, effectively, in terror: the panic of those indigenous Emberá, who in January had to leave with 126 members of their community, abandoning their crops and their animals because the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC in Spanish) were looking for a young man they accused of being connected to the ELN. When they couldn’t find him, they murdered his uncle, so their fear is the same as the fear that the Mayor of Juradó described, as well as the members of other communities and even the delegates of the Diocese.
“ In the urban part of Juradó, in ’92, there was the first guerrilla takeover and the first displacement,” said the Mayor of the Municipality. And she added: “in ’96, the paramilitaries dragged all of the men out of their houses and shot them; my father escaped because he was working on the farm. In ’99, during a guerrilla takeover, a lot of soldiers were killed. In 2001, the guerrillas murdered the Mayor. And many civilians died in the village, because the paramilitaries dragged them out of their houses and killed them. The children, who had been playing, screamed out what was happening. . . There are 2,116 victims registered. The people want to return to their property and go back to fishing, but they are threatened and they have to leave again. In Juradó we live in fear because this is a corridor for the armed groups that are present here: AGC and ELN. There is no longer any confidence in the military . . .”
What the Mayor said is ringing in my ears. . .
“Which one is stronger in Juradó: AGC or ELN,” I asked a soldier who was kindly carrying my suitcase.
“The AGC,” he said.
“And are the people close to you?”
“Not very,” he answered.
In Nuquí a friendly officer who commanded the naval base told me that there were 72 sailors and 13 police there.
“And do the people support them?” I asked.
“Depends on what?” I asked.
“For example, if a shipment of drugs is dropped somewhere, they yell things at us.”
“No, they insult us.”
It’s that in that Chocó of dense jungle, amazing biodiversity and gorgeous views, populated mostly by black and indigenous people impoverished by the violence and corruption, there is no health care, there are no roads, not even peace to grow crops, no way to live except by fishing. In general, though, there is no way to distribute the fish. For the coca, however, there is . . .
So it goes on . . .