EL ESPECTADOR, April 23, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Unit for Investigation and Prosecution of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) has taken on the task of reviewing what has been going on in the territories they are especially interested in, ever since President Iván Duque ordered obligatory isolation because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are their four findings:

How has the quarantine worked in the territories most devastated by the conflict? The Unit for Investigation and Prosecution (UIA) of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) asked that question with this purpose in mind: “To warn the competent authorities in the international community in a timely manner about the resurgence or the prolongation of some situations of high risk in the populated sectors and the countryside that are of interest to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.” For that reason, the agency has taken on the task of investigating whether the illegal groups have taken advantage of the quarantine ordered because of the new coronavirus affecting the civilian population.

In a 35-page report, made available to EL ESPECTADOR, the UIA summarized four findings with respect to the information it found from March 25 to April 9 of this year. They compared it with the same period in 2019: confrontations where armed actors played a leading role, violence against social leaders, methods of social control, and the murder of people demobilized from the FARC guerrillas. To obtain data, the Court sent notices to communications media, interviewed investigators from observatories of human rights, and considered reports by civil society organizations, as well as communications from United Nations offices and the Armed Forces.

“According to the reports published by the National Police, the great majority of indicators of security all over the country have improved. However, in certain territories of interest to the JEP, insecurity has been prolonged, and at the same time new high risk situations have been created within the time frame of the quarantine that was ordered by the government to contain the coronavirus,” notes the document. These were findings made by UIA, and the prosecution staff of the Special Jurisdiction is also aware of them.

Actions by the ELN, the Clan del Golfo, and the dissidents

The first finding emphasized in this UIA report is that, while the confrontations and terrorist acts by the ELN diminished during the quarantine—their command staff announced a unilateral cease-fire last March 30—the Clan del Golfo and the FARC dissidents increased “their combat with the Armed Forces and with other illegal actors.” According to the information compiled, ELN and Clan del Golfo have not committed terrorist acts during this time and the dissidents have committed two, in contrast with 13 that they carried out last year in the same period. But the former FARC guerrillas went from three to seven armed confrontations, an increase of 133%.

One of the two armed confrontations by the Clan del Golfo took place last March 27 in Riosucio (Chocó Province) against the Army. This “affected the rights to free mobility of indigenous people living in the Jagual Chintadó Reservation.” For its part, the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column—to which prosecutors attributed, among other things, the massacre of five Paez-speaking indigenous people in a rural area of Toribío in October of last year—played a leading role in armed confrontations on that same day (March 26) with the Armed Forces in Santander de Quilichao, Puerto Tejada, Toribío, Totoró, and Caldono (Cauca Province). And, at the same time, the group of alias Gentil Duarte did the same thing in La Macarena, after giving out a false alarm about a case of coronavirus in order to ambush some police officers.

In Chocó and in Cauca, the Unit points out, “There are still intense disputes for the control of the territory.”

One social leader executed every 64 hours

Between March 29 and April 9 of this year, according to newspaper accounts and data from Indepaz, there have been six murders of “people who play a leadership role” in their community. What this figure indicates, in reality, is that this kind of violent action against social leaders has been reduced in comparison with the same period in 2019. Last year nine leaders were murdered; eight men and one woman, located in Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Caquetá, Arauca, Meta, and Chocó. This year, during the two weeks in question, there were six victims: two in Valle del Cauca, one in Bolívar, one in Norte de Santander, one in Córdoba, and the last one in Cauca.

March 25, the first day in which the country experienced the obligatory isolation ordered by President Iván Duque, was the most violent so far: there were three murders. The brothers Ómar and Ernesto Guisurama, Emberá indigenous leaders with the Indigenous Regional Organization in Valle del Cauca, were gunned down in the Municipality of Bolívar (Valle Province); two of their brothers were injured in the attack. Meanwhile, Carlota Salinas Pérez, a member of the Women’s Popular Organization, died after being shot in San Pablo, in the southern part of Bolívar Province: armed men came to her house, forced her to come out, and shot her to death.

The three remaining victims died in remote parts of the country. Alejandro Carvajal, a  campesino who took part in protests against the forced eradication of coca plants, was murdered in Sardinata (Norte de Santander Province). Luis Soto, former Council member from La Apartada (Córdoba Province), was gunned down in Puerto Libertador, a municipality in the same province. Hamilton Gasca, a campesino leader and a member of the Wampesino Workers Association in Piamonte, Cauca, and also of the United National Agricultural Workers Federation (Fensuagro in Spanish) was shot to death in Piamonte (Cauca Province). This last group had furnished the JEP with a report in January of last year about 532 acts of violence against its members.

The UIA of the JEP admitted, for example, that Hamilton Gasca’s alleged killer has been captured. Nevertheless, “for the Investigation and Prosecution Unit (of the JEP), the security situation for people who exercise a leadership role, especially those who speak out in areas that are priority areas for implementation of the Peace Agreement, and who represent the interests of the victims of the armed conflict; that situation is a reason for extreme alert, not just because of the six cases we have seen during the quarantine, but also because the timing of the phenomenon’s development reveals that the first two months of 2020 have been the highest in statistics since the signing of the Agreement,” states the report.

Threats and methods of control

The investigation’s third finding has to do with the role that the organized armed groups have adopted to supersede the government’s authority in territories that are particularly important for the JEP, such as the Pacific area of Nariño Province, Ituango, the region of Catatumbo, and the provinces of Arauca and Guaviare. According to the report, national and international experience observes that in order to maintain control of the countryside, these armed groups impose their rules on the civilian population, co-opting or substituting for governmental functions, such as the administration of justice, collecting taxes, and regulating the citizens’ daily lives.

In that way, the Unit for Investigation and Prosecution points out, groups like the Clan del Golfo and the FARC dissidents, in an opportunistic way, take advantage of the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic, “to try to legitimize themselves with the civilian population, and in that way to seize de facto authority over people’s lives.” For example, using pamphlets, the United Guerrillas of the Pacific, the Oliver Sinisterra Front, and the southeast bloc have fixed their own regulations for conduct in the municipalities of the Pacific area of Nariño.

They did it by means of pamphlets that publish schedules for when people are permitted to be outside their homes, regulations for the flow of people to enter and exit the territories, prohibiting certain kinds of economic activity, and imposing curfews (in Turbo, Apartadó, Carepa and Chigorodó, in the Urabá region of Antioquia Province, and in southern Córdoba Province). In Ituango, as another example, the dissidents of the “Román Ruiz” or 18th Front distributed another pamphlet where they expressly prohibit “leaving the house” during the quarantine, threatening that anyone who disobeys that order will be declared a military objective. In Catatumbo the armed groups’ regulations are even stricter.

“The ‘Mariscal Antonio José Sucre’ Front of the dissidents published a pamphlet that ordered total closure of beauty shops, pool halls, bars, restaurants, hardware stores, shops selling cell phones and electrical appliances, grocery stores, street vending, and sale of agricultural products. In addition, they set opening and closing hours of gas stations and storage places.” Besides establishing these rules of conduct, the armed men set forth in their circular a theory in which they insist that the pandemic is a biological war implemented “by the imperialists whose only goal is to reduce the world’s population and thus bring their neoliberal policies to fruition.”

On the other hand, in Guaviare Province, the FARC dissidents of the “Comandante Briceño Front” issued another pamphlet directed at all of the Community Action Commissions in the province. The pamphlet prohibits participation in agricultural and environmental projects led by the Organization of American States (OEA in Spanish) and USAID. “In that warning, they are stigmatizing anyone who has participated in those projects, considering such persons to be ‘networks of informants’ and of pushing ‘the gringo counterinsurgency policy’.” The Unit for Investigation and Prosecution pointed out that while those armed groups have made their social control evident, the ELN was using a different strategy, but with similar elements.

In spite of the fact that they had not issued pamphlets in recent weeks as the others did, and that they had announced a unilateral cease-fire, the ELN guerrillas, explains the Unit, don’t need any circulars to impose their will on the communities where they have influence. In the weeks before the start of the quarantine, the report points out, the ELN established a code of socially permitted conduct and threatened anyone who failed to comply with the death penalty. In fact, in Arauca, the Domingo Laín Front in 2013 set up a single manual of rules of behavior and coexistence that they circulated in the community by reading it with megaphones and nailing up posters in different places.

“In this ‘manual for living together’, the ELN prohibited motorcyclists from wearing helmets in order to be able to see their faces; regulated schedules for going out at night; imposed penalties on people who started fights; and declared ‘informants’ and ‘rapists’ to be military objectives, among other rules. When it became public knowledge that the coronavirus had spread, the ELN reinforced their control measures on migration and smuggling at the Venezuela frontier. They prohibited the passage of people and regulated commercial transactions so as to avoid contagion, so that the Colombians or Venezuelans who passed the frontier without their authorization, were threatened and even killed,” the Unit reported.

The JEP prosecutors warned that when these criminal structures are allowed to supplant the government in this way, and govern secretly in peripheral areas, this prolongs the confrontation with government institutions. “It generates fragmented sovereignties, it perverts the Rule of Law, and it creates an authoritarian culture in which problems are resolved by killing or by suppressing individual liberties.”

Killing former guerrillas

The fourth finding has to do with the murders of FARC ex-combatants, a crime that, according to this investigation, has intensified along with the emergency measures ordered by the government to contain the pandemic. The Investigation and Prosecution Unit counts three violent deaths of former guerrilla combatants, which means that, on average one demobilized guerrilla was murdered every 120 hours during the period of the quarantine. Besides that, from figures the entity compiled, it becomes clear that the murders have not diminished, but have increased, as compared with the numbers for last year. The Unit considers this to be a worrisome situation because it shows that the risk factors are continuing.

The names of the former guerrillas who were murdered between March 26 and April 3 are: Vivianet Velasco Talaga (in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca Province); Lucero Jaramillo Álvarez (in Currillo, Caquetá Province); Gerardo Díaz Quintero (in Chapparral, Tolima Province); José Isidro Cuesta Ricas (in El Carmen del Darién, Chocó Province); Juan Carlos Castillo Certijama (in Puerto Asís, Putumayo Province); and Carlos Alberto Castillo (in Planadas, Tolima Province). As a conclusion, the Unit pointed out that even though the reports published by the Police indicate an improvement in security in the whole country, in certain territories of interest to the JEP, the risks have continued, and at the same time, new risk situations have been created in the context of the quarantine.

“The machinery for monitoring by the Investigation and Prosecution Unit, in estimating the risks, saw that in ten municipalities the security situation could deteriorate very seriously during the quarantine if you consider the history of armed confrontations and terrorist attacks, the convergence of a plurality of criminal organizations in the same territories, the presence of illicit economies, the precarious transportation infrastructure of the government, and the conditions of unemployment and significant informality in the labor market (which could increase because of the coronavirus),” the Unit emphasizes.

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