Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
February 25, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó commemorated the 15 years since the horrendous massacre on February 21, 2005 in an act of remembrance in which we were accompanied by a number of diplomatic representatives from Europe and the United Nations, and Colombian groups in solidarity. After once again having felt the tainted atmosphere that we breathe in on the long and tortuous path to the towns (veredas) of Mulatos and La Resbalosa, we want to share with the country and the world the concerns that are threatening us.
In the first place, reliving the pain of those barbaric acts, as we do every year, does not get us any closer to forgetting, but rather has the contrary effect. Fifteen years later, when less intense weeping blurs our vision less, we are able to see the criminal systems more sharply, and our suffering grows when we see that we are continuing to live under the same evil powers that at that moment perpetrated such horrors.
In these years a few of the low-ranking killers have repented and provided spine-chilling confessions to the transitional justice system, but those same confessions, and the manner in which those supposedly “judicial” agencies have received their stories, leave us more anxious than ever. By means of those declarations, it has been made clear that ex-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, together with his crew in the military hierarchy, the paramilitaries, and big business, who were acting and are still acting in close coordination, have invented the legend that our growing Peace Community was a “nest of guerrillas.” With that conviction, and supported by false and perverse testimonies, they lit the fire of fanatical gunmen, thirsty for blood and easy money, to destroy a community of impoverished campesinos. We were enemies of all violence and we refused to put ourselves in the service of a corrupt, violent, and criminal government, one that was more and more consolidating its elitist, exclusionary, and oppressive character.
In the 23 years that have passed since our first public declaration as a Peace Community, the government and its legal and illegal gunmen, openly or secretly bound together, have committed 1,500 crimes against humanity. The detailed accounts of those crimes rest in international tribunals. And perhaps most terrifying is the total absence of justice, because absolute impunity shamelessly covers all of the horrors that the victims have suffered. The only crime that has ventured through the tunnels of the Colombian legal apparatus was actually the massacre on February 21, 2005. That was due to the work of lawyers and civilian parties in solidarity, because for a long time now, Colombian justice has not enjoyed the most minimal credibility, so for that reason we don’t participate as civilian parties. But that file has been converted into the most evident and shameful monument to impunity. Not just the first, but also the second level of the court system concluded that the criminals were not guilty, showing total disrespect for and mocking every procedural rule. Finally, when the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Justice, thanks to the work of honest and well-known lawyers, ten of the killers were sentenced to more than three decades in prison, each and every one. But then the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the fruit of the debased and degraded “Peace Agreement”, reached out to shower them with privileges, in flagrant violation of the very statute creating the JEP. That’s the way, in this case, the judicial institutions showed the level of their corruption.
On this 15th anniversary of one of the most horrendous massacres in which they tried to eliminate us as a Peace Community, they have added a campaign of MEMORICIDE. For more than a year, the perverse articulation between the national and local governments, Armed Forces, paramilitaries, and community action committees have orchestrated a number of campaigns to block the sanctuaries of remembrance that our Peace Community has been building. They always claim, as a pretext, that the government has offered them some project that they can’t refuse, even though to carry it out they would have to destroy the sanctuaries of remembrance of the victims.
In the LUIS EDUARDO GUERRA VILLAGE, in the town (vereda) of Mulatos Medio, the campaign to get our Community to abandon that place where our historic leader Luis Eduardo Guerra was sacrificed with members of his family on February 21, 2005 has been going on for several years. There have even been armed threats, and once they tried to make us believe that an eviction order had come from the negotiating table with the FARC in Havana. The FARC themselves denied that version and punished the supposed guerrilla who was calling for “negotiation” with guns in his hands.
Later on, the Community Action Committee took over the threats, claiming requirements from the Mayor’s Office in Apartadó for the donation of a school. Now, paying no attention to all of our complaints and protests, they have dumped numerous bags of sand and cement to build some supposed schoolrooms, by force, in the least appropriate location for an educational institution. The important thing for them is to erase the memory of our victims and they want to do it by trampling on the principles of the Community. They have tried to site liquor stores there, games of chance, cock fighting, i.e., entertainments that tarnish and destroy the values of healthy neighborhoods.
Something similar has occurred in the town (vereda) of La Unión, where on June 8 of 2000, the Colombian Army with its paramilitaries executed six of our leaders in the most cruel manner. At that very place, where their bloody bodies lay, our Community built a physical memorial full of symbolism. Now the Community Action Committee is threatening to destroy the monument, claiming that the Mayor’s Office has promised to construct an all-sports signboard on the same site. This is a priority for them, which expresses their absolute contempt for the memory of the martyrs.
What hurts us the most in all of these controversies is that our civil society has been losing or has already lost all of its moral values. The remembrance of the victims doesn’t have a sacred character any more. What is now supposed to have a sacred character are the crumbs of financial aid that the national or local government offers; or perhaps most sacred is the political relationship with the powers that be; or maybe the most sacred is the sports that educate in competitiveness, which is the soul of neoliberal society, insensitive to social problems and worshipping the selfish triumph of one over the others; or perhaps the most sacred are the spaces where they perform the rituals of an education that teaches elitist and antisocial values and shows how to submit with servility to those who offer the latest styles or technologies created by the modern empires.
But to be able to trample moral values, the various authorities and their minions have had to turn their backs on the very legal norms that the government has drafted and promulgated, possibly under pressure from international humanitarian organizations. In effect, in Decree 4800 in 2011 (decree regulating the Victims Law), the government itself at that time established very clear rules in defense of HISTORICAL MEMORY. Now it is violated by mayors, by the Armed Forces, the paramilitaries and the Community Committees in their campaigns of Memoricide.
In Article 170, the Decree defines symbolic reparation as “the acts or works of public impact directed to the construction or recuperation of historical memory, recognition of the dignity of victims, and the reconstruction of the social fabric.” To accomplish that, it orders that government agencies confer with victims on the kind of measures and “the place where they ought to be carried out” (Article 171). Even in Article 184, it orders the creation of a Committee that should “coordinate commemorative activities in which the conduct that involved serious violations of human rights be recognized, admitted, and repudiated . . .and publicly beg pardon of the victims (. . .) actions that should preferably be carried out in the place where the victimization took place, where the victims affected by the events being recognized are to be found, or in the place recognized by the victims themselves as the scenario in which their rights were violated” (Article 184, paragraph 1).
In addition, Article 186 states: “Historical memory is the public’s heritage (. . .)The Center for Historical Memory will support public and private initiatives that autonomously and independently provide for reconstruction in the perspective of consolidation of guarantees of no repetition, of reconciliation, and of sustainability of the legacy of the victims’ social efforts.” To accomplish that, the following Article (187) orders: public authorities may not censor the results of the processes of historical memory constructed within the framework of Statute 1448 of 2011 and shall comply with their duty of historical memory.”
With regard to the subjects of collective reparation, that same Decree, in Article 223, defines it this way: “groups and social organizations, labor unions, political groups, and the communities that have suffered collective harm in terms of Article 3 of Statute 1448 of 2011.” Those groups are referred to Article 225, which identifies the objectives of the collective reparation program as follows: “to recognize and dignify those who were collectively victimized. The program’s activities should be oriented to the connection of the reparation measures with the recognition of the victims, the violations, and the impacts and damages produced in them (…) to the reconstruction of the social and cultural fabric of the collective subjects (…) to the construction of historical memory as a support to their right to the truth that belongs to the subjects of collective reparation.”
Also in Decree 303 of 2015, focused on the problem of forced disappearances, Article 53 establishes that the national government declares as a SANCTUARY OF MEMORY “the place where it can be assumed that there exist bodies or remains of people who have been forcibly disappeared, including those where, for their geographic and topographical conditions, it may be impossible to carry out exhumations.” In those sites monuments may be erected in honor of those who have disappeared. That Decree also establishes that: the national government, through various of its institutions, through the victims’ families and their community, “may define the characteristics of the monument to be erected in honor of the victims of forced disappearance in the places declared to be Sanctuaries of Memory, places that have as their purpose to return the dignity of the disappeared persons and to promote activities that carry out the obligation to remember.”
In Article 55 of the same Decree, it is prohibited “to interfere with or alter the conditions of the Sanctuaries of Memory, except in cases where it is necessary to carry out activities of locating or exhuming bodies or human remains. Noncompliance with this regulation will result in the penalties stated in the applicable criminal law.”
Anyone can tell that, if only a suspicion that the body of a person who has disappeared may lie buried in a certain area means that it can be declared a “Sanctuary of Historical Memory”, then with how much more reason, according to the spirit of this law, must places where there is certainty that victims were sacrificed there be declared SANCTUARIES OF MEMORY that may not be altered, but must rather be left, in order to dignify even more the memory of the victims.
This recounting of the regulations that are supposedly in effect shows us clearly the level of ignorance or willful disregard and disrespect that the authorities themselves have for them. That does not surprise us, because for more than ten years we have experienced how the Constitutional Court has given peremptory orders to the President, to the Ministers of Defense, and to the military commanders, demanding that they turn over the names of those present in the places and on the dates of the most atrocious crimes, and all of them have disregarded those orders, time and again, in a contemptuous manner. And yet they continue to say that “we have rule of law here,” something they repudiate emphatically with their actions.
When we were on our way to the town (vereda) of Mulatos for the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the massacre, the paramilitaries with their spies or “points” were following us all the way. We could tell that once again the region continues to be under strict paramilitary control, thanks to the tolerance and acquiescence, active and passive, of all of the agencies of the government. Nevertheless, the authorities keep saying that “paramilitaries don’t exist.” Our government’s hypocrisy and capacity for lying knows no limits. So last September 28, when the Commander of the 17th Brigade, Colonel Carlos Padilla, presided over a supposed act of atonement, ordered by a tribunal, directed toward the families of the victims of the massacre on February 21, 2005, he did not admit the Army’s enormous criminality in that crime and in all of the other hundreds of crimes they committed, and he said: “I have faith that the Army will continue in its firm conviction to maintain and guarantee the conditions of liberty and democracy that all of you demand as the people of Colombia.” A profound blindness and unlimited cynicism kept him from admitting that they had never guaranteed conditions of liberty and democracy, but all of their opposites: they have guaranteed genocide, murders, disappearances, tortures, sexual assaults, arbitrary and shameful arrests, bombings, plunder, burning of houses and crops, displacements, assaults with weapons, robbery, libel, campaigns of defamation and stigmatization, etc. To make things worse, he said the victims of such outrageous government terrorism were “victims of the armed conflict”, as if he forgot that they were attacked just because they had absolutely separated themselves from the armed conflict.
In recent weeks they have been distributing pamphlets that are trying to hide or deny beforehand the responsibility of the paramilitaries for the crimes being reported. They say that the ELN have come to this area, which is not very credible, and that other guerrilla dissidents are setting up here. Even in the night of February 18, there were shots fired in the urban part of San José, under the pretext of scaring off an ELN unit. All of this shows that the paramilitaries are trying to create ghosts to attribute to them their next violent activities and divert attention from themselves.
Once again our Peace Community wishes to express our gratitude to all of the people, groups, and communities that, from many corners of Colombia and from other countries are supporting us with their moral strength, and who in these days have shown that especially, remembering the massacre of February 21, 2005, knowing that for our Community, this is a wound that will never heal. Our most sincere thanks to all of them.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
February 25, 2020