By Álvaro Jiménez, SEMANA, July 27, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Bienvenida (Welcome) is an initiative for social organizations in Catatumbo to invite Mr. Howard Buffet and Congressman Jim McGovern to verify, through the voices of the communities, the level of President Iván Duque’s commitment to the peace.

Catatumbo continues to be one of the most emblematic areas of this country’s conflict. All of the armed actors have been present in its municipalities throughout history, and it has been the least fertile region for the development of the various peace agreements made in the last century and the one signed most recently.

Among other evils, the conservative domination in Catatumbo, the frontier problems, the illegal crops and illegal businesses, the war between illegal groups, its practically nonexistent industry and its weak infrastructure, added to one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, all are insufficient to explain the tragic situation that its communities are experiencing.

Ever since Lucio Pabón Núñez, Governor of Norte de Santander, together with the mayors of Ocaña and Convención in 1949 decided to punish the “rebellious act” of the residents of the Municipality of El Carmen because they erected a statue of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the tragedies for these people have never ended. The authorities of that time promoted and looked the other way during the ten days of the orgy of liquor, blood, and hurrahs for the Conservative Party, rapes of women and girls, and the murder of 70 people who lived there.

Seventy-one years after those events, the children, the elderly, men and women who live in that corner of Colombia are still seeing those horrors.

They re-tell the stories, the pain, and the attitude of a large segment of the authorities that are complacent about the horror that goes on today, by action or by omission. In these green mountains, with transparent rivers, fertile soil pregnant with petroleum, and minerals for every ambition, by order of Salvatore Mancuso they installed crematory ovens in the carnival of death that the ongoing violence among guerrillas, paramilitaries and Colombian Armed Forces has meant for the people who live here.

On August 9, 2018, two days after being inaugurated as President, Iván Duque travelled to this region with two assurances that he expressed vehemently. The first was that the Santos administration was responsible for the dominance of illegality and the growth of coca crops. The second was that, with his arrival on the scene, the government would bring “peace with legality” instead of the illusion of “territorial peace led by narcofarcpharisees” –that’s what he called them—who were hated by the faithful followers of Uribe among those who voted for him.

Two years after that visit the scenario couldn’t be more disheartening. The murders of campesinos, the displacement, the killed and wounded by land mines, the people returning to their homes to find the doors of their houses rigged with explosives, and the return of the massacres; these are the imprint of those two years.

So much pain accumulated, so much abuse endured, so much misery, so many compatriots abandoned to their fate in the midst of the indifference of their leadership and governments.

Howard Buffet, the United States philanthropist who visited the Catatumbo region and promised a donation of $46 million for tertiary roads, maintained during a conversation in New York on September 23, 2019, that: “building peace is not easy. But the overriding factor is being able to count on a government that wants to achieve it. And we can say that we have been in other countries where, when we see how things develop, we realize that the governments are really not serious. But we can tell you that this government in Colombia is serious and it knows that the future of Colombia depends on sustaining the peace. And we want to help achieve that,” said Buffet.

Based on the current outlook and on conversations carried out with social and community leaders in Catatumbo, it becomes clear that the Iván Duque government has not been serious about the future, and about the promises for peace in this region.

Because of that, there is Welcome, an initiative for social and community organizations in Catatumbo, together with the mayors of the 13 municipalities in the region, to invite Mr. Howard Buffet and United States Congressman Jim McGovern to see and hear from the communities themselves, not just from the agencies, the level of commitment to peace by Iván Duque and his officials that can be seen in the region.

This would be a great opportunity to remember Dimar Torres, to apologize, to compensate his family, to demonstrate advancement in the investigation, to commit to no repetition, and verify whether or not United States resources for cooperation have been used to pursue journalists or members of the opposition.

Addenda: The United States citizens and journalists such as John Otis, Juan Forero, and their families, on learning that the Congress of their country is protesting the violation of their rights in Colombia, and is making decisions to defend them, ought to feel what many in Colombia call “pride in country”.  Public officials are there to defend their citizens. Doing the contrary is and was a disgrace.

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