By Edinson Arley Bolaños, EL ESPECTADOR, June 24, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Days before and after the ambush in which two children were killed, along with six FARC dissidents, in southwest Cauca, about 25 social leaders were displaced and had to leave the region because of the constant threats and the murder of one of their colleagues: Teodomiro Sotelo Anacona, leader of the Afro Renacer Community Council.

In the days before and after April 15, when a group was ambushed and two children were killed in this region located in the foothills of the western mountain range that connects the municipalities of Argelia and El Tambo (in western Cauca) there were more than seven crimes committed against members of the Afro Renacer Community Council. The majority of its members are Afro-Colombian.

Another 25 social leaders left the territory, along with some 300 inhabitants of the community, because of the threats and accusations that are made against them: “You are members or supporters of the ELN guerrillas,” the armed men told them. The majority of those events took place in the District (corregimiento) of San Juan de Micay, part of El Tambo, which is near the Pacific Ocean, downstream from the Micay River.

The western mountain range also connects the two municipalities with the Alto Patía region where Kevin Andery Vargas, thought to be one of the chieftains of the “Carlos Patiño” column (dissidents from the peace process), recruited the 14-year-old girl, Yina Fernanda Gómez Mósquera, in January of this year. Both of them died in the confusing ambush attributed to the Colombian Army, although, as revealed recently by this newspaper in the first report headlined: The confusing ambush by the Army in which two children were killed in Cauca. The community complained that it was really a trap set by a group of drug traffickers in the region.

By way of that junction of mountains, the group commanded by “Kevin” went down to the rural area of Argelia and later on to San Juan de Micay, at the beginning of March. Another entry was made by the “Jaime Martínez” column, commanded by Leider Johani Noscue, known as “Mayimbú”, by way of the hills that connect El Tambo with the south, center, and north of Cauca. So, on March 13 there already were 30 men there, carrying long guns. Because of that, the community of the Community Council decided to do a mobilization of some 600 people toward the town (vereda) of La Emboscada, in the Municipality of El Tambo, where they met with the armed men for a discussion. Some of the leaders asked that they not involve the civilian population in their war, and that if it was necessary, they even divide up the territory with the ELN, but just that the civilians not be involved.

Nevertheless, their supplication was not heard and the person who at that moment identified himself as “Kevin” told them that they planned to stay there in order to control the tax that they impose on the drug traffickers, that the people would be required to plant coca, and that everybody there that supported crop substitution would be banished or killed.

On that same day, the leaders sent a letter to the ELN with the same request, and the answer came three days later, on March 16, with a message: that they planned a unilateral cease-fire in the whole country, beginning April 1 and that they would be leaving the territory for a month. But that, in any case, as the prevailing insurgency in Colombia, they do not recognize the FARC dissidents, self-styled “Carlos Patiño”, because they’re just an army of young men with weapons, in the service of the drug traffickers. Neither of the two bands planned to leave, and, on the contrary, on that same day, “Mayimbú”’s men got the people from the town (vereda) of Honduras together and gave them the same message they had heard from “Kevin”, about the coca, in the town (vereda) of La Emboscada.

Between March 18 and 20, because of the pressure, close to 25 members of the Board of Directors of the Afro Renacer Community Council left the territory and were displaced. Since then, the exodus has not stopped. On April 13 the situation got worse, to the point that the United Nations Human Rights Office and the Inspector General had to make a statement calling on the Armed Forces to deploy to the territory, because, just an hour by trail in the District (corregimiento) of Sinai (Argelia), “Kevin”’s men were going door to door, looking for the former FARC combatants who had signed the peace agreement.

The answer, which was delivered the next day by the EL TIEMPO newspaper, from General Marcos Mayorga Niño, of the Special Command for Cauca, was that the people had provided false information. “Yes, a small group came looking for a man, apparently from the ELN who manages some laboratories. They weren’t looking for former combatants,” he pointed out.

The next day, this “small group”, which consisted of eight armed men from the “Carlos Patiño” column, among them two children, was ambushed by the Army, according to the legal inspection and to General Mayorga, even though the community complains that they were really ambushed by a group of drug traffickers in the area. However, even though those troops were in the area, in April 17, the armed men barged into the houses of the leaders in San Juan de Micay and robbed them of a computer, tape recorders, radios belonging to the Cimarrón Guards, and documents belonging to the Community Council. In the same way, “Mayimbú” (of the Jaime Martínez column) met with the community in the town (vereda) of Betania and killed, in front of all the people, Teodomiro Sotelo Anacona, leader of the Community Council. The next day, the armed men went to the town (vereda) of Honduras, searching for the leader Lorena Gómez, and when they didn’t find her, they killed her husband, Andrés Cansimance.

Considering this situation, the few leaders of the Community Council that were able to remain in the region called together an assembly for April 22 to analyze the serious human rights situation that they were experiencing. After 5:00 p.m. at the Community building in the town (vereda) of Agua Clara, two of “Mayimbú”’s men said that they were going to kill three people, but they only killed Jesús Adelino Riascos and Sabino Riascos. They accused the latter of running a launch for the ELN guerrillas. Eight days later, the armed men were searching for Luis Calcedo, the coordinator of the Cimarrón Guards, and for Miguel Ángel Buesaquillo, who collects the coca leaves in the region. They were hiding, but the men left the threat that they were going to kill them. The community was able to notify the authorities and, from a clandestine place in the western mountains, the Public Defender and the Minister of Defense took them away in helicopters.

According to information from Forensic Medicine and the Public Defender, El Tambo is the municipality with the most murders so far this year, with 27 cases. Three of those were social leaders. Santander de Quilichao is next with 26 cases (two leaders) and the third is Argelia with 23 murders, but no leaders. “Murder in Cauca also has structural causes,” added General Mayorga. “A country that has coca will have violence. We have 17,000 hectares in Cauca and we can’t eradicate it because they are under some agreements or are on indigenous reservations. Those hectares produce 470 billion pesos (about USD 125,500,000). That’s a lot of money. It’s the fuel that brings the irregular groups from one bunch and then another,” the General emphasized.

That is one of the reasons that the war has gotten worse in the Micay Canyon corridor. Every week the people find bodies of people who have been killed. They find them on the horse trails and on the paths, while this illegal group, in spite of the ambush on April 14, maintains its rule in the area with nearly 100 men. “They go to the settlement in San Juan de Micay, dressed in civilian clothes. They party with their guns on their shoulders in houses that are unoccupied and later on they go up in the woods in full view of everybody, even the Army, which does nothing to capture or confront them with their battalions,” commented one of the 25 displaced leaders from a city where he is in hiding right now.

Even though the armed men from the “Carlos Patiño” column are threatening and murdering the social leaders and members of the communities in this region, General Mayorga assured us that the contradictions from the community are obscuring the actions by the military. “They complain that there is no military action and when we do it we have to run because the community gets together and takes the people that we captured out of our hands. For an example, the five men we arrested from the “Carlos Patiño” mobile column that they took away from us this year,” added the commander. And then the displaced social leaders complained about being stigmatized by the military, the same ones that have been accused of being the political arm of the ELN guerrillas.

For the time being, the Micay canyon will continue to be an important corridor for drug trafficking and smuggling of weapons, just like El Naya.  In spite of the fact that both are in the two extremes of the province, finally they end up on the Pacific beaches of Cauca. Hours before you get down to sea level, thousands of campesinos live in the junctions of the mountains in the western range where they plant subsistence crops and coca leaves. “The community is against us because they are afraid that we will take away their daily bread which is the coca; that’s the reality,” said General Mayorga. And he concluded with a stock phrase that’s always repeated when the war gets worse and the killing starts to worry the government. “ Government agencies have to come out to these regions so that the people see the government. The people got used to seeing us the way we were, and it’s not that way any more. These people need to see the Family Welfare Institute, and see their roads fixed, for example.”

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