SEMANA, July 18, 2010
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Bursts of gunfire break through the peace. The massacre at Algeciras and the forced displacement of a group of former combatants demonstrate the atrocious persistence of the conflict and the inability of the government to control strategic areas.
In the town (vereda) of Santa Lucía de Ituango, in the northern part of Antioquia Province, fear was all that was left. This Wednesday, 93 former FARC combatants and their families, the founders and inhabitants of the reincorporation village of Román Ruiz, loaded their stuff into trucks, busses and clunkers to travel, in eight hours, 350 kilometers to a new settlement, this time in the hillsides of Mutatá. They were fleeing from the bullets and from the harassment and the death threats. They left after seeing 11 former guerrillas shot dead, besides seven of their family members, in the four years that have passed since they decided to lay down their arms and choose Ituango as a place to live in peace.
They were left with no other choice, because as the time passed, the danger increased. Between December and January, when two members of the community were machine-gunned, 62 former combatants left, each one as best he could. In February, the siege in the area was increasing and 860 campesinos were displaced to the urban part of Ituango, seeking refuge. From that moment, those who were reincorporated decided to try out the town, even though they had proposed the procession because they had no place to go. But in the first week of June, Camilo Sucerquia Durango was killed. He was only 15 years old, son of a former guerilla. And that new message of violence pressured them to make a change collectively without any more delay.
The youngster was seized on Saturday, June 6 at 8:00 in the morning, and by afternoon he was dead, shot, along with two other people: William Pérez, who drove a truck bus, and Carlos Barrera, his 17-year-old helper.
The FARC Party tied the crime to the record of murders of former combatants, which totals 218. They catalogued it as part of the extermination, and insisted that the government is trying to perpetuate the war. However, the investigations out in the country point in a different direction.
The Army attributes the triple crime to the Clan del Golfo, also known as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC). Theirs is the largest neo-paramilitary organization in the country, with at least 3,500 armed men, and dedicated with determination to drug trafficking, not counting illegal gold mining and extortion. The Clan is fighting a war to the death against the 18th Front of the FARC dissidents for the strategic corridors in southern Córdoba and Bajo Cauca in Antioquia, a pivotal and decisive territory for controlling the crops, the laboratories and the routes for drug trafficking. For its part, the Colombian Army’s Seventh Division is fighting both organizations. In the midst of the crossfire, the Ituango Agency for Normalization and Reincorporation (ETCR) was affected again and again.
Northwestern Antioquia is one of the hardest hit areas, but not the only one. The Attorney General’s Special Unit that investigates violence against the former FARC combatants, told SEMANA in a report that there have been 250 attacks in the whole country, as follows: 202 murders, 36 attempted murders, and 12 forced disappearances. “Out of all of the events, as of July 15, 116 have made progress in investigations, according to the report. With regard to the murders, the prosecutors have obtained 28 convictions, and the general analysis indicates that Antioquia, after Cauca, is the least safe province for reincorporated former guerrillas. In addition, the report makes clear that the dissident groups and the Clan del Golfo are their most deadly enemies.
At the close of this edition, there was a massacre in the rural area of Algeciras in Huila Province. Four people were machine-gunned to death and two more were injured in what appears to be an action by the dissidents against the family of a former guerrilla. Mourning and terror are all there is in the lives of the former guerrillas.
Moving the village of Ituango is a confession without any words that the government is not able to exercise any control in the area. Moving allows them to avoid having those who are on the side of peace being murdered, forcibly recruited, or persuaded to go back. The dissidents in the 18th Front Román Ruiz of the former FARC, which bears the same name as the ETCR that was moved, took that last step. They proclaimed that they were following the orders of Iván Márquez, Santrich, and El Paisa, the heavyweights of the rearming.
The Ituango reincorporation area is a failed project. In the end, in the center of the Paramillo Knot, the armed organizations got what they wanted. The houses with prefabricated walls where the former combatants were living are abandoned, and there are only a few campesinos left in the area that refuse to be displaced and risk suffering the onslaught of the war.
Besides the lack of security, the economic future keeps the former guerrillas awake at night. Of the 2,000 laying hens they had in Ituango, there’s nothing left. “We couldn’t move them. We sold them for nothing much. Even below a low price because people took advantage of our necessity,” claims Juan de Dios Quintero, leader of the reincorporation area. The same thing happened with some 100 cows that they had.
Another thing is the security they can count on in their new reincorporation area. General Juan Carlos Ramírez, Commander of the Colombian Army’s Seventh Division, stated this Thursday at a press conference that: “The same number of men, the Battalion that took care of security in Santa Lucía de Ituango, has started operating today in Mutatá.” His announcement confirmed the fear of those who stayed behind in the old place. “When the former combatants and the Armed Forces both left, it’s like telling the illegals Welcome. Come on in. It’s leaving the community in the middle of the war,” says a resident of the town (vereda) of Santa Lucía. With the departure it also seems that the dream of a paved road goes up in smoke.
Nobody knows much of anything about the first of the former combatants to leave Ituango. Many of them left their belongings with somebody or just gave them away before they left. That way, little by little the initial group of 260 former guerrillas was atomized. There were fewer than 100 in the caravan that headed for Mutatá. Most had left already, one by one.
For the government, the location of this village was an inherited mistake, and that’s why the transfer was being planned: for the purpose of guaranteeing the former combatants their return to legality in safe conditions, somewhere else. “The town (vereda) of Santa Lucía is located at a point where two groups of drug traffickers come together: our recommendation was to get away, but the former combatants didn’t want to,” Archila says.
In Mutatá everything is yet to be done. They opened some temporary beds for the women and children in another reincorporation village that was close by, in San José de León. And the men set up tents on two rural properties that the government rented, where they would be able to fix up the new area. They will be occupying 137 hectares, with the option to buy and eventually get titles for the former combatants.
The two farms are 30 minutes from the urban part of Mutatá and the road that leads to the ocean: Becuarandó and El Porvenir. The former combatants are thinking of setting up a fund for assistance and, also, joining together to acquire a credit for 15 years so they can buy the 60 hectares that are lacking to complete the whole ranch. According to the FARC Party’s calculations, at least 180 people could reincorporate in the new area after leaving Santa Lucía behind because of the violence. If only the peaceful project can prosper this time for the benefit of all!
THE CRUEL MASSACRE IN ALGECIRAS
Armed men murdered a child, two young people, and a woman. Their “sin”: they were neighbors and relatives of Nencer Becerra, a demobilized FARC guerrilla who is working now at the National Protection Unit (UNP). SEMANA talked with him.
The slaughter on Thursday in the town (vereda) of Quebradón, a rural part of Algeciras, in Huila Province came to pass slowly. The killers, like in other cases, had no urgency. They arrived a little after 8:30 at the Becerra family farm. They went through the house, which was located near the road. Édison Sebastián Moya, 16 years old, and Luz Stella Burgos, 35, were there. They told them to get out of the house and while they were crying out, they killed them.
They killed them for being related to Nencer Becerra, a former combatant and now a bodyguard in the National Protection Unit (UNP). Luz Stella was the former guerrilla’s sister-in-law and young Édison Sebastián was the boyfriend of Nencer’s niece. The idea was to kill all of the Becerras.
Nencer’s parents, elderly people, were in a house nearby, a little farther from the road. From that place they saw five motorcycles and two white 4×4 pickups arriving at their daughter-in-law’s house. They heard screams and decided to run. Their climbed a hill and fell into a stream that runs behind the farm. They crossed a hanging bridge that was in poor condition and there they heard the shots. They waited in complete silence until the sun came up.
“My parents were able to run and to cross a river. Because of that, they (the killers) couldn’t enter, because they didn’t have complete information about what the place was like. They wanted to kill them because I was connected to the armed conflict,” Nencer says. He visited them for the last time 20 days ago. A cousin came up to him and told him that the dissidents wanted all of the Becerras out of Algeciras. The threats had not sounded very convincing and nobody paid any attention until Thursday. Now none of them remain in Quebradón. They’ve all gone.
After killing Luz Stella and Édison Sebastián, the killers went to the next farm and killed Juan David Gómez, 25 years old, and Luis Eduardo Gómez, 22, in the same way. In the middle of the shooting, Noé Ahumada Cifuentes, 59 years old, and a child of 8 were injured but were able to escape.
Diego Tello, Assistant for Peace and Human Rights in the Huila Governor’s Office, says that the situation is much more serious. In total, he says, they have killed 20 people just this year. “In Algeciras they are killing former combatants in the process of reincorporation, council presidents, and leaders of communities and of campesino associations. They all had a protagonist role in their communities because of their social work.”
Algeciras has a strategic position connecting Huila with Caquetá. During the armed conflict, it was the center of operations for the Teófilo Forero mobile column. That municipality in Huila was the site of vicious battles. Now it’s disputed by the FARC dissidents: one affiliated with the organogram of the Second Marquetalia, led by Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, and the other commanded by guerrillas that never joined the peace process. That crossroads is where the former combatants and their families remain. In the words of the Assistant for Peace, this year more than 100 families have been displaced and left Algeciras, and there are 50 former guerrillas caught between taking up arms again and being killed.