Fifteen years after the massacre in Mulatos Medio and La Resbalosa

By Camilo Pardo Quintero, El Espectador, February 20, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The area was disputed between the guerrillas and the paramilitaries in the ‘90’s. Now it’s the undisputed bastion of the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo). It dominates the historic drug corridor from the Abibe Mountains (Serranía de Abibe) to Turbo and the Pacific ports.

The inhabitants of Apartadó have been living between uncertainty and fear for 25 years. On one side, the campesino associations complain that throughout last year, people living near three districts (corregimientos) have been at risk of land mines. On the other side, organizations that work in the area insist that the presence of the Gulf Clan has been reinforced. It manages the drug trafficking tracks and has placed local gangs to operate in the urban part of the municipality.

If there was one region of the country that suffered the rigors of the war in the ‘90’s, it was the Urabá region in Antioquia Province. From the middle of that decade until 2005, the now-past FARC guerrillas, with their fronts 5 and 18, had constant confrontations with the paramilitaries of the Campesino Self-Defense Forces (ACCU in Spanish) in Córdoba and Urabá and the Bananero Bloc over control of the territory in the municipalities. The result: a rosary of tragedies and massacres that left in mourning the communities of the Kunas (1995), in Carepa; Aracatazo (1995), in Chigorodó and La Chinita (1995) and Bajo del Oso (1994), in Apartadó.

After that series of massacres, the community of the last municipality implemented its own form of resistance to the war, constituting itself into an iconic area inside these scenarios of memory. They created the Peace Community in 1997. Even so, seven years after its creation, the people lived through a horror. Between the 21st and 22d of February 2005 the paramilitary group, Héroes de Tolová, commanded by Diego Fernando Murillo, alias Don Berna—in connivance with the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade, commanded by Rito Alejo del Río—tortured, murdered, and dismembered a campesino from the town of Mulatos in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó, and seven other people from the Peace Community, located between that town (vereda) and La Resbalosa.

Today, 15 years later, the panorama around the dynamics of violence and the scenarios of public order continue to be worrisome.

Mauricio Mena, Secretary of Government in Apartadó, stated that the historic drug trafficking corridor through the Abibe Mountains is an active part of Gulf Clan operations, leading to Turbo and the Pacific ports, where communication with the drug routes in Córdoba and Bajo Cauca is permanent, all the way to the Darien Gap (Tapón del Darién).

Another thing that worries the Mayor’s Office in Apartadó is the land mines that have started to proliferate in the area. In fact, a community leader in San José de Apartadó revealed, along with Lt. Heyner Cubides, attached to the Vélez Battalion of the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade, a video that demonstrates the existence of two minefields in the towns (veredas) of La Unión and Arenas, both of which have been deactivated.

While the Municipality complains about the constant activities of the Gulf Clan (or the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces—AGC in Spanish), there are no current statistics that report the public order situation. The Mayor’s office insists that there are tendencies that show a uniform reduction of direct violence by armed groups, especially in 2017, when sexual crimes diminished from 23 to 15 compared to 2016, and robberies diminished more than 20 %, according to official statistics.

Even so, a campesino leader in San José de Apartadó, who asked to be identified as Ruber, told this newspaper that the subject of security continues to be very complicated in his district (corregimiento). “As campesinos, we don’t usually risk filing complaints, because we know that something bad could happen to us. That is why some leaders prefer to keep silent,” he stated.

Ruber is skeptical of the role that the Mayor’s Office is playing with regard to the question of public order. Along with his friends, he considers that “from their offices they don’t do anything to improve the situation.” Besides that, he added, “the administrations have played a game of dividing the community, so as to hide their lack of ability to keep the municipality safe. They say that the FARC didn’t allow any development of Apartadó and its districts (corregimientos), and so we were the leaders that were obstructing development, and now we don’t know how to get along with the new groups.”

As far as the commemoration of the massacre in Mulatos and La Resbalosa, the campesino leader confirmed that they will be carrying out symbolic rites of memory today and tomorrow, in order to pay homage to the dead and to the families affected by the tragedy. But he made clear that the campesino communities are planning to bring visibility to other situations that are complicating the lives of people who live in Apartadó, like the production projects that “have been hindered by the lack of control and technical support from the Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDET in Spanish).”

This was followed by a call for the local authorities in Apartadó to reactivate its role as the breadbasket of Urabá. “At this moment we are only producing food for our own consumption. There are no reliable ways to market food to adjacent municipalities and we continue to depend on what is practically our only local product: cacao,” emphasized the campesino.

That sounding of an alarm is shared by social and human rights organizations that work in the region. In this territory, it seems as if the omnipresence of the Gulf Clan is an open secret. “This group is behind the illegal businesses and the gangs. In recent months it’s got so that they sell drugs in the schools and even the children themselves are put in charge of it.”

The Gulf Clan is also exercising social control, where they use “a spying strategy to locate people and make it difficult for the Armed Forces when it’s time to identify the criminals,” they said in the urban part of Apartadó; adding that for this kind of service, they pay sums of around 800,000 pesos (roughly USD240) every month to those informers that tell where they should carry out the drug dealings and the crimes connected with it.

The organizations insist that it’s difficult to think of a reconfiguration of security as long as the Gulf Clan has so much economic power and influence over the ports of Turbo and Riosucio.

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