Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, July 22, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Once again our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó turns to the country and to the world to share the anxiety and distress we feel in the face of the daily activities of the para-government organizations that follow us around. This is in the context of a government that fails to protect rights and liberties, and that is more likely to use the world tragedy of the pandemic to cut back the elemental rights of its most vulnerable citizens and give a free hand to the violence that they shelter with their power.
As we have on other occasions, our Community has demonstrated the difficulties that the covid-19 pandemic has generated. It has seized the lives of thousands of people, but we have not rested in making public our reports of the hundreds of attacks and threats that we receive every day from the power of the weapons that are wielded by the paramilitaries and the Armed Forces. Now it’s turning into a routine where the paramilitaries use the pandemic to control the civilian population in the towns (veredas), since they are frequently making the people come out and meet with them in the locations that they demand, and if you don’t do it, you are going to be threatened with fines and in many cases, threatened with death.
The Army’s 17th Brigade in Urabá is the most responsible for the fact that the paramilitaries now have so much power in our region. During several decades it has promoted them, it has trained them, and supplied them. It has protected them and accompanied them, and sustained them when they have perpetrated the most horrendous crimes, such as the massacre on February 21, 2005. That took away our valued comrades and made us weep earnestly for our children that were cut in pieces. When the overwhelming force of the international community condemned them and demanded their punishment and separation from the government, they have remained unmoved, and have been enjoying the impunity with which the government shields and protects them. They have arranged it so that they don’t appear to be occupying the same spaces with the paramilitaries, but rather, they calculate astutely the moments in which the paramilitaries are going to act, so that at those times they can be several kilometers away, supposing that this way they can avoid condemnation. But neither we nor the international community are people with intellectual limitations.
This July 8 it has been 20 years since the horrendous massacre at La Unión, and our Community went to the site where our six leaders were machine-gunned, right in the center of the settlement and in the presence of all of the families and of foreign accompaniment. Also at that moment, soldiers and paramilitaries were tightly coordinated. The Army arrived first to prepare the details, and the paramilitaries arrived later to carry out the barbaric acts. While the holocaust was being carried out, a helicopter from the 17th Brigade was flying over the scene of the crime
But besides that, some young people were coming in from the country right at that time, and the Army refused to let them come to the scene. When they provided their statements later on about what they had seen, they were murdered. Now the different government agencies have closed ranks around the Army and the paramilitaries. They have tried to get the La Unión Community Action Commission to keep our Peace Community from paying proper tribute to our martyrs by dedicating a memorial space on the site where they shed their blood. But not only they, but also the paramilitaries and Community Committees that they have dragged in, want to trample the laws and decrees that the government itself has issued, perhaps because of international pressure, to protect the memory of the people that were massacred.
The real virus that has spread contagion in our territory for a long time is the paramilitary virus. However, no agency does anything to eradicate it. This disease gets worse every day, until the point where the campesinos end up selling or just abandoning their farms to go and look for pure air in other places, places where they arrive as displaced persons.
The barbarity that we are experiencing in this area is so bad that now even the school that was recently built by the Mayor’s Office and the Office of the Secretary of Education in Apartadó is the place the paramilitaries are using to gather the civilian population together by force. The government only thinks about benefits and interests, while the paramilitaries are killing the people that are trying to survive in their precarious conditions. How many leaders and social activists have given their lives to build a better world for friends and families? How many demobilized members of the defunct FARC-EP have been murdered while trying to rebuild their lives? But the government cares not at all, and places little importance on what happens in regions of the country that are being subjected to, and asphyxiated by, that virus that is expanding the monstrous effects of the government’s weapons.
Our Community wishes to make a record of the following events that have occurred recently:
On Saturday, June 27, 2020, during the day, when a member of our Peace Community was returning to his house in the town (vereda) of Mulatos in San José de Apartadó, he found that someone had left a package of flyers alluding to the prohibition of hunting animals. The flyers were apparently sponsored by the Community Action Committees of: Toribio, Mandarinos, Arenas, Galleta, Tío López, Nuevo Antioquia, La Ahuyama, La Esperanza, Mulatos Cabecera, Mulatos Medio, La Hoz, Rodoxalí, Las Monas, and Las Pavas. According to the flyer, the fine for anyone who goes hunting for animals would be a million pesos (about USD 265).
According to what we have been able to find out, this law is unknown to the community associations in Apartadó, nor is it known to the agencies responsible for the protection of animals. This supports a conclusion that it is an order from the paramilitaries, since such a law has been mentioned in the meetings the paramilitaries have forced the civilian population to attend. That happened at a meeting called last June 12, 2020, in the town (vereda) of Mulatos Medio, right in the school that was recently built by the Mayor’s Office and the Office of the Secretary of Education in Apartadó. There they were prohibiting the civilian population from going hunting, and threatening anybody who did it with having to pay a fine of a million pesos, money that would be turned over to the Community Action Committee, and if you didn’t pay it, it would be the paramilitaries that would come and take it.
On Sunday, July 5, 2020, our Community was informed that the paramilitaries had held an obligatory meeting with the civilian population in the town (vereda) of La Esperanza, in San José de Apartadó. According to the information we received, people from the towns of Mulatos Cabecera and Mulatos Medio, among others, attended the meeting. A new paramilitary commander, whose name we don’t yet know, presided over the meeting. It appears that it’s his job to control and subject the civilian population, and he is new at the job. In the middle of the meeting, the paramilitaries attacked our Peace Community, publicly warning the residents of the other towns to get ready because there were going to be some people from the Peace Community that they would have to get rid of, because they were interfering with their plans, and they already have the photos of the ones that are going to be killed.
On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, during the morning, in the city of San Vicente del Cagúan, in Caquetá Province, they found the body of MARIO CARMINE PACIOLLA. During the years of 2016 and 2018, he was a volunteer in the Peace Brigades International (PBI) in the Bogotá group. His commitment to the defense of human rights was admirable; on one occasion, doing PBI accompaniment, he was with our Peace Community in La Unión, at one of our Christmas festivals. Since 2018 until the day of his death, he worked as a volunteer in the UN Mission II in Caquetá.
As a Peace Community, we immediately raised our voices to call for help in dealing with the barbarism that Colombia is experiencing. They are killing us slowly but systematically in every one of the regions, and then the communications media call the events fortuitous and attribute the murders to personal problems, or to common crime or suicide, as a method of hiding the reality. According to reports, Mario himself had expressed fear of the persecutions against people he knew in the area. We don’t understand why the UN Mission II didn’t provide protection for him and, something even more painful and incomprehensible, why he was left alone in the face of such a powerful phenomenon as the paramilitary organizations that act as they wish all over this country. From our Peace Community, we send our most sincere condolences to his family; many embraces at long distance, because Mario was a friend and a brother in the struggle for the defense of human rights. Farewell, Mario!
On Saturday, July 18, 2020, there was a party in the urban part of the town (vereda) of La Unión. During the day they had sports events, like football games, and at night a combination of dancing, disorder, and liquor. Well-known paramilitaries and a lot of people who came from the urban part of Apartadó were there, violating the quarantine, something even more serious at this time in which the pandemic is expanding forcefully throughout all of the Urabá region.
On that same Saturday, July 18, 2020, around 8:00 a.m., in a rural area of Cúcuta Municipality, in the province of Norte de Santander, the paramilitaries that control the area, on the road that leads to the town (vereda) of Vigilancia, in Cúcuta Municipality, overtook the vehicle in which the campesino ERNESTO AGUILAR BARRERA, 34 years old, was driving. He was a member of the Campesino Association of Catatumbo (ASCMCT), and also of the Community Action Committee of the town (vereda) of Vigilancia. Ernesto was taken, along with another person, on the road that leads to the town of Totumito, in the District (corregimiento) of Banco Arena in Cúcuta. Both men were murdered there.
Two hours later, around 10:00 a.m., in the town of Totumito-Carboneras in the municipality of Tibú, according to people living in the area, the same paramilitaries went to the farm La Fortuna and seized the campesinos there at gunpoint and tortured them. Six people were murdered, both with gunshots and sharp knives. The rest of the campesinos were able to escape the massacre. The events caused a displacement of more than 400 people. According to the local Public Defender’s Office, an early alert had already been issued there in March of 2020 (AT N.011-2020) and the place ought to have been watched, and all of the authorities ought to have paid close attention to the situation in the area. Our Peace Community has taken part repeatedly, together with ASCAMCAT, in the interchange of information sought by the Campesino Resistance University. Because of that, we are feeling this crime at first hand.
There are many voices in the world that have been speaking out against the Colombian government for its incapacity to protect and support the rights of its citizens, since the multiplication of murders of social leaders and of demobilized former members of the FARC, and the sexual assault of children by the Armed Forces. The paramilitaries have arrived at the highest level of cynicism.
Last July 6, 2020, 94 members of the United States Congress, in a letter to President Trump through his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, asked him to pressure the President of Colombia, Iván Duque, to protect social leaders and vulnerable communities such as our Peace Community. They asked for respect for their methods of self-protection and that we be permitted to have international accompaniment even during the pandemic.
Once more we offer heartfelt thanks to all of the people and communities in different parts of the country and the world who have accompanied us for more than 23 years as a Community. And we ask that, in spite of the isolation because of the pandemic, that they continue to press the Colombian government every day to protect our lives. Our sincere gratitude for supporting our way of life and also for providing moral encouragement and for defending our principles.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
July 22, 2020