THE PANDEMIC THAT IS REALLY KILLING PEOPLE IN URABÁ Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

May 14, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Once more our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó turns to the country and to the world to share what we continue to see and to suffer in our territory and in our close vicinity. We see that there is no sympathy for human dignity, or for constitutional principles and universal human rights.

The pandemic situation that the whole world is experiencing and that has produced drastic measures such as isolation and extreme restrictions on mobility and social relations threatens an area like ours, accustomed as we are to the domination of the paramilitaries for so many decades. Even though it has not produced any deaths in Apartadó or in neighboring towns, and apparently no one has been infected; it is one more occasion for the paramilitaries, who have enjoyed the government’s complete support and protection and also that of the better part of the upper social strata here, to   now assume a more explicit power, a more arrogant authoritarianism and a territorial dominance and control that is more overwhelming. In fact, they exercise the authority that ought to belong to agencies of the government.

The pandemic thus appears to formally convert the paramilitaries into the “armed forces”, without government agencies showing any concern or any effort to investigate or punish their usurpation. In the towns (veredas) of San José de Apartadó the paramilitaries issue regulations that restrict mobility, that prohibit entrance of visitors or family members, while they themselves walk around the territory in broad daylight with pistols and long guns, sometimes dressed in camouflage uniforms and sometimes in civilian clothes. They organize orgies, and we know in advance that no authority or power other than themselves can interfere with their activities.

Last March 12 (2020) the Civil Branch of the Tribunal Specialized in Land Restitution in Antioquia ordered restitution of the farm known as La Niña in the town (vereda) of California in the Municipality of Turbo to eleven families who had been evicted. In the court’s decision, it revealed and ordered a criminal investigation for crimes against humanity by the companies BANANERAS DE URABÁ and BANACOL. For years they plotted and carried out the eviction strategies, taking advantage of the paramilitary organizations they themselves financed and supported. This demonstrated the intimate relationship between the banana business in Urabá and organized crime. (Filed: 05045 31 21 002 2014 00021 2).

Moreover, in an interview with the newspaper EL ESPECTADOR last April 20 (2020) the Bishop of Apartadó, Monsignor Hugo Alberto Torres Marín, with full knowledge of the facts, stated that, while he had served as a mediator during the peace process and in its implementation, he had never noticed any willingness on the part of the government to control or restrain the paramilitary organizations, particularly the so-called AGC or “Clan del Golfo” (as the government prefers to call them) in spite of the fact that that group is the principal agent of violence in the region.

It’s not easy for our Community to evaluate the measures taken by the Colombian government to confront the extent of the pandemic, but we do perceive that the drastic extent of those measures has favored, very evidently and intensely, the containment of the social protest that had been building strongly since November of 2019; the burying of phenomena such as the noticeable decrease in President Duque’s popularity and the growing rejection of his policies; his failure to carry out the Peace Agreement; the intensive and systematic murders of social leaders and of former FARC combatants; as well as the silencing of the extremely serious complaints of election fraud, of corruption at the highest levels of the government, of death-dealing policies like extractivism and other forms of generalized destruction of the environment, the exorbitant military and security spending for high officials, the spying on an extensive spectrum of people, and the injection of criminal governments into the conduct of internal policy while at the same time, the injection of Colombia into the sovereign decisions of other governments, in violation of numerous international treaties. The mass communications media have contributed intensely to these diversions and cover-ups, keeping silent about all of these extremely serious problems, using the terror of the biological contagion of the virus. They don’t care at all about the contagion that is destroying the ethical and humane parameters of living together and of collective dignity.

At this time we want to report publicly on the events that reveal the advance of paramilitary power in our territory, such as the following:

In the week of April 12-April 18, 2020, according to testimonies from residents of the urban part of San José de Apartadó, several people in the settlement, at least five, were recruited by the paramilitaries. Some were children and some were adults. They then took them to the town (vereda) of Playa Larga, the paramilitaries’ traditional training center.

On Wednesday, April 15, 2020, during the afternoon, three people wearing masks, including a woman, went to the house of a resident of the town (vereda) of Las Nieves and demanded to be allowed to stay there. They refused to identify themselves.

On Saturday, April 18, 2020, during the morning, two paramilitaries passed through the Luis Eduardo Guerra Peace Village, in the town (vereda) of Mulatos Medio. They were in civilian clothes and carrying communication radios and pistols or revolvers. In the afternoon of that same day, three more paramilitaries came up there. They were wearing civilian clothes and carrying long guns.

On Saturday, April 18, 2020, a resident was detained at a Police checkpoint when he arrived at the settlement of Las Colinas, on the way from Apartadó. He was going about his business when the Police tried to stop him but, because of his disabilities, they let him go on. About 300 meters farther on, he was stopped at another checkpoint. This one was controlled by paramilitaries dressed in civilian clothes. They were charging “taxes” for people to get by; they told him they didn’t care that the police let him pass and he would have to pay them a “tax” for them to let him pass. That’s how the paramilitaries have been controlling people for several weeks now, blocking the road and charging a “tax” to get into the town (vereda) of Salsipuedes in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó. This shows exactly how the pandemic is being used by the paramilitaries as an instrument for control.

On Sunday, April 19, 2020, without respecting the national regulations for isolation because of Covid-19, several paramilitary leaders were drinking liquor and playing loud music all night on Sunday the 19th and Monday the 20th, in the settlement of La Unión. On Monday they went to a neighboring farm to continue the orgy. Since the Community Council had prohibited the consumption of liquor during the period of isolation, fixing fines of 600,000 pesos (about USD 153) for anyone opening the bar, a member of the Council went to collect the fine from the bar owner. He said that he didn’t want to open it, but the paramilitary leaders, alias “Chuchito”, alias “Ramiro”, and alias “Pollo” told him that they were the authorities there and they made him open it and serve them liquor.

On Monday, April 20, 2020, at 11:00 p.m. three paramilitaries wearing masks were seen walking across the field at the settlement of La Unión. Earlier that same day, in the daytime, they had been at the same place. Along with the three men was the “punto” or paramilitary spy from the town (vereda) of El Porvenir. He is known as “El Cochero”.

On Thursday, April 23, 2020, the Peace Community received information that a paramilitary known as alias “El Burro”, had gone up to a place known as Chontalito that same week to meet with the paramilitary alias “Pablo”. The purpose was to coordinate strategies for controlling the area in the town (vereda) of Mulatos and the bordering areas, taking advantage of the quarantine that had been imposed all over the country.

On Saturday, April 25, 2020, seven paramilitaries carrying long guns and wearing civilian clothes, were seen walking from the town (vereda) of La Cristalina toward the urban part of San José de Apartadó.

On Monday, May 4, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. in the urban part of San José, you could hear several shots. A group of counter-guerrilla Police that were in the Police bunker stopped the gunmen and allegedly were able to capture several firearms, but they released the gunmen, who are paramilitaries. After the incident, some of the Police suggested organizing a football game between Police and civilians, something that would openly violate the quarantine regulations. They were heard to say that it was no problem for them, but they wondered what “the radio men” would say, that is, the paramilitary organization. New evidence of coordination and connivance between both organizations.

On Tuesday, May 12, 2020, in the afternoon, at the sector known as Caño Seco, in the town (vereda) of Alto Bonito in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó, a 19-year-old man, RAFAEL ANTONIO GUERRA LÓPEZ  was murdered. Just as in the other four previous cases (2019-2020), it appears that the reason for the murder was some disobedience to the orders of the paramilitary killers. The very silence that is being imposed on the population is evidence of the absolute control that the paramilitaries have over the District (corregimiento). It looks as if in this case, the paramilitaries even prohibited any funeral observance. No legal or administrative authority was present or carried out legally required protocols of any kind for this murder.

All of the evidence of paramilitary control in this area, beginning with the demobilization of the FARC-EP following the formal Peace Agreement in 2016, has been furnished to the President of Colombia through Petitions authorized by the Constitution, accompanied by analysis that demonstrates the complicity of government institutions with their actions and strategies. Nevertheless, according to the responses we have received, President Duque repeats the actions of complicity by his predecessors, limiting himself to turning the information over to the Army hierarchy, evading his constitutional obligation to serve as the Guarantor of our Fundamental Rights.

Once again we thank all of the people and the communities in different countries of the world for their constant solidarity with our Peace Community. At the same time, we join together with many of those who are now subjected to drastic isolation and restrictions, and even to the loss of some of their loved ones. We hope that each of you can feel our closeness and moral support.

Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

May 14, 2020

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