Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
October 12, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Once again our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó finds it necessary to report to this country and to the world on the most recent events of which we have been the victims because of the paramilitaries that continue to act at will in our region, without any interference by any competent authority, because they count on the economic and political support of those authorities. That is what makes them strong enough to force the campesinos to submit to their projects.
Since last September 14, there has been an active campaign of slander, defamation and abuse against our Peace Community. On that day they started to circulate a pamphlet through WhatsApp; it’s titled “We don’t like you, Peace Community”. It tries explicitly to make the campesinos around here be against us. As can be seen from one of their paragraphs, the pamphlet originated in the Community Action Committees in the towns (veredas) of Mulatos Medio and Mulatos Cabecera, because the producer or producers invite government officials to visit those towns.
Even though the pamphlet was produced, as you can see from the text, by campesinos that are members of Community Committees, the content leaves no doubt of its paramilitary and military origin. For several years now, the Army and other government institutions are coopting various Community Committees to get them to join in their strategy of paramilitary control of the region. This was made very explicit when our Peace Community celebrated its 20 years of existence in March of 2017. At that time the Commander of the 17th Brigade invited the members of the Community Committees that were already coopted to slander our Community in front of the international delegations that had requested an appointment at the Brigade on the occasion of the anniversary. Faced with such a nasty attitude, the foreign delegations were offended and left the meeting. Then it became clear that when the FARC demobilized, the paramilitaries wanted to control all of the territory, which in fact, they have done, placing “puntos” for spying and control in every town, with the total approval of the Armed Forces and other government agencies.
But what most definitely reveals the military/paramilitary origin of the pamphlet is its content: they try to present the situation of this region as a peaceful backwater. To do that, they hide the network of espionage they have constructed to control the whole lives of the people by means of the “puntos” (spies) they have installed in every town (vereda). You would have to turn a blind eye to the permanent circulation of armed men on motorcycles on the road to San José de Apartadó; to the illegal taxes they are charging; to the regulations they impose on the people in the meetings they call; prohibiting the use of peoples’ farms for raising food crops, and forcing models of “development” or “progress” that in the long term will ruin and displace us. They have to hide those permanent threats to people that won’t submit to their plans, like the lists of people to be killed, and the killings that they have already chalked up. Neither do they mention all the groups of civilians with long and short guns that are patrolling the towns, often in camouflage uniforms. They don’t mention the permanent and friendly fellowship between the paramilitary leaders and the Armed Forces units in the urban part of San José.
They are also hiding the arrival of foreign mining businesses whose devastating effect on the environment they camouflage by means of illegal inquiries and illegal routing carried out, financed, and executed with money and machinery of the paramilitaries. That’s the peaceful backwater that they describe, where, according to them, the demobilized live in absolute tranquility.
According to the pamphlet, the only group that rejects that “peace” is our Peace Community, which, according to them, is pushing a model of “war”. But since they don’t dare describe the real components or particulars of what they call “peace”, because they obviously have no peace at all, neither do they dare to describe our “war”. The pamphlet makes it very clear that what is bothering them is that our Community never traffics with the paramilitaries and will never keep silent about their crimes. That’s why it’s evident that for them opting for “war” means not accepting their crimes, nor their manipulations, nor their spying, nor the illegal patrols, nor the imposition of models of “development” or of “progress” that ruin the liberty, the dignity, and the sovereignty of the communities and the life of nature. For them, opting for war means denouncing what they are destroying for the people and the environment, and mortgaging the territory to destructive foreigners. That’s the “war” that they want to saddle us with. We won’t be silent about all of that. They don’t dare to confess that they have stalked us and spied on us and have reached the conclusion that we don’t even have a knife to defend ourselves and thus it’s easy for them to murder us.
In contrast, carrying weapons, they entered our private property, San Josecito, on December 29, 2017, intending to kill our Legal Representative. Thanks be to God, our Community acted quickly and we were able to avoid having our leaders murdered, but we have never confronted them with weapons. Nevertheless, in the pamphlet, we are the ones that have opted for “war” while they have opted for “peace”.
But all of that defamation and those abusive and wicked attacks are nothing new, but rather they are part of a strategy they have used for several decades. Their goal is to exterminate our Peace Community. First they try to eliminate us physically with a joint action of the military with paramilitaries. They succeeded in murdering more than three hundred of our comrades, including elderly and children, with an extravagance of brutality.
That genocidal action was accompanied, as an element of justification, by a campaign of criminal stigmatization, directed by the office of the President of the Republic. The paramilitary agents have now confessed their crimes before the agencies of the Comprehensive Peace System. They have told how former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez convinced them that our Community was a guerrilla community and to kill all of our members without mercy. He is now being subjected to numerous criminal proceedings by a judicial apparatus that continues to fluctuate among the numberless mechanisms of impunity in which he is embroiled. But now they can’t bear the weight of their conscience when they realize that they were forced to kill so many innocent people.
That ideological stigmatization was supported by evil media campaigns, as in the newspapers El Colombiano and El Mundo in Medellín, and papers and radio stations in Urabá that spread lies and slanders. They are obviously in complicity with those horrible crimes, for which they have not paid one single day in jail, nor have they given any guarantee of any kind to the families that the crimes will not be repeated.
In the course of several years, the military/paramilitary alliance also tried to kill off our Community through hunger, cutting off food supplies. To do that they had no qualms about killing several bus drivers, killing storekeepers in the urban part of San José, and all of the small food and drink merchants set up on the road between Apartadó and San José. All of this anxiety to kill us off was complemented by the corrupt and criminal work of the legal system, devising frame-ups, tortures, arbitrary imprisonment, and violation of all of the procedural regulations. When our Community went to the high courts, showing them precisely and identifying the actors, the legal crimes committed by the prosecutors, judges, magistrates, forensic officials, representatives of the Inspector General’s Office and Public Defenders, the courts didn’t dare to act and they maintain in their posts to this day the corrupt and criminal functionaries of “justice”.
When our Community had verified that it could not count on the aid of the legal system, which deprived us of our constitutional rights, it raised an ethical and conscientious objection. It turned only to international courts, but simultaneously decided to maintain its calls to conscience in solidarity with the national and international human groups that will conserve ethical principles. For that reason we have maintained REPORTS in which we describe on social media the specific attacks to which we have been subjected.
The Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade attempted to block this last recourse to humane solidarity with the pure in heart by filing a civil rights action on September 28, 2018, trying to deprive us of our right to communicate and file complaints. They demanded that a Common Pleas Judge in Apartadó force us to remove all of our reports from social media. We refused to comply with such villainy. The corrupt Second Branch Common Pleas Judge in Apartadó let herself be dragged by the military into violating the constitutional right to communication, which in the jurisprudence of international tribunals constitutes “the essence of democracy”. Up to now the Constitutional Court maintains the case in suspension for a longer time than is appropriate for such an absurd decision.
It’s no wonder then that the producers of this filthy pamphlet that we mentioned are complaining that we have called their behavior nefarious, when at the same time they are asking the government to support them in one of the most serious crimes: that of “wiping out our community” (a crime identified in International Law as Genocide, and also included among Crimes of Extermination and Persecution, both of which are denoted as Crimes Against Humanity.)
Besides that, the pamphleteers want to be allowed to mingle on all of our private properties. And we had the experience on December 29, 2017 when five of the paramilitaries that hang out day and night with the Armed Forces in San José barged into San Josecito with the objective of killing our Legal Representative and the members of our Internal Council. Did they expect us to open up all of our locked areas so that they could go in farther and kill more? Is it not likely that such behavior is typical of criminal gangs?
In the whole pamphlet they are demanding what they call “peace” in the war of extermination that they practice, and demanding “war” on our determination not to be silent about their crimes, their outrages, attacks, and threats to which we are constantly subjected. Above all, they claim that our historical reports and moral censure is a “war”.
Supported by our incorruptible convictions, we continue here with our REPORTS of events that have taken place recently:
On Saturday, September 19, 2020, during the day, a group of paramilitaries with long guns was seen on the road that leads from the town (vereda) of Las Nieves to the town of La Esperanza, in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó.
On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, during the day, you could see an intense traffic of men carrying handguns, on motorcycles, on the road that goes past our settlement of San Josecito. During the afternoon of the same day, you could see the paramilitary known as ALFREDO walking through there. It looked as if all of the paramilitaries were coordinating the distribution of the pamphlets that two days later were to be found all over the area and in many of the municipalities in Antioquia and in the country.
On Wednesday, September 30, 2020, during the night, we got reports of an alleged extermination plan against our Peace Community that was being organized around this area by the paramilitaries along with some of the people in the area. It was said that our Community “won’t allow progress to take place in this region” and that we are complaining all the time about the presence of paramilitaries in the towns (veredas) in the District (corregimiento). They say that is detrimental to them and interferes with their exercise of stronger control over the civilian population.
On Thursday, October 1, 2020, during the morning, we found a lot of the paper pamphlets printed by the paramilitaries, and a lot of graffiti on the trees and the houses, signed by the self-described AGC (Gaitanista Self Defense Forces of Colombia). They control this region and many others in this country. Those pamphlets apparently were not just distributed in the District of San José de Apartadó and its towns, but also in many other municipalities in this country and in districts and towns there. In the pamphlet, they protest about the brutality of the National Police against the demonstrators, and at the same time, they complain about the activities of the guerrillas in this area. It’s bewildering that a paramilitary group that is tolerated at all times by the government, which the Bishop of Apartadó himself has denounced some months ago, pointing out that we see no will at all of the government to pursue them, now tries to gain the people’s support by denouncing its very governmental protector in a matter where there is enormous national consensus rejecting police brutality.
On that same Thursday, October 1, 2020, during the morning, a troop of soldiers from the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade passed through our Luis Eduardo Guerra Peace Village, violating our private property. Nearby, according to reports, there was a group of paramilitaries carrying rifles and dressed in civilian clothes.
On that same Thursday, October 1, 2020, during the day, we heard reports that two paramilitaries, known as “JESUSITO” and WILFER HIGUITA, were the ones that distributed the pamphlets and painted the graffiti on the trees, fronts of the houses, and even on the rocks in the town of La Unión in the District of San José de Apartadó. We know that WILFER HIGUITA, when he was part of the paramilitaries, joined up with the Army’s 17th Brigade in 2009, while serving as a paramilitary. On January 17, 2009, he became a messenger for Colonel GERMÁN ROJAS DÍAZ, then Commander of the 17th Brigade. It was his job to subject a member of the Peace Community to a filthy shakedown. The Colonel wanted him to help him destroy the Peace Community or, if he couldn’t do that, to invent a criminal charge for drug trafficking, or for rebellion, using false witnesses.
On November 16, 2009, that same Wilfer Higuita, in the town of Caracolí in the District of San José de Apartadó, publicized a list of people that he would kill. Some of them were killed in the next few days, like Don Fabio Manco and Don Luis Arnelio Zapata. According to Higuita’s announcement, they would pay 7 million pesos (About USD 1,800) for each killing. During those years he was seen patrolling with soldiers from the 17th Brigade, as a paramilitary.
On Wednesday, October 7, 2020, at 7:00 a.m. a group of four Colombian Army soldiers from the 17th Brigade entered our private spaces in the Luis Eduardo Peace Village, without our authorization. Later, at 11:00 a.m., another three soldiers violated our property, claiming that they were verifying some coordinates, and pretending to be lost in the area. We have to point out that the property of the Peace Village is sufficiently marked as private property and it’s hard to understand that officials of the government itself pay no attention to the property’s legal inviolability.
It’s clear that the paramilitaries have been looking for ways to destroy our way of life and, to do that, they use different degrees of espionage to keep finding out about the day-by-day activities of our Community. Now we hear that supposedly a new paramilitary is coming to this area to replace alias “Pueblito” or “Pueblo”, who was killed by the Armed Forces.
The mining companies are the most interested in taking over this region, and in these last few months they have been doing a lot of illegal oral surveys so that they can start exploiting the minerals. All of this is being carried out by the same paramilitaries that are doing the dirty work for the businesses in Urabá. Unfortunately, the campesinos are falling into the game of these companies, knowing that they are only trying to fill their coffers with foreign currency, while stripping away the precarious resources of the campesinos. They will end up turning over their land and being displaced, forced to leave by those who today are defending and supporting this plunder as “progress and development” for the area.
You only need to see the results in the other regions of the country where these companies have exploited the resources. Now the people are just living in misery, displacement, with pain and anger for having paid attention to the false promises that the companies gave out. We know that mining companies and the government agencies themselves are greatly interested in having the mining companies grab the collectively owned properties belonging to our Community. They are using the paramilitaries to accomplish that, coopting a large part of the civilian population in the area, as a strategy to finish off the nuisance that we are for them. We are stopping them from stealing the natural resources and destroying this beautiful area. Our Peace Community categorically rejects this kind of “progress of death and destruction”.
Once again we thank the people and the communities who in different parts of this country and of the world, through their most personal convictions, have accompanied us in these more than 23 years of living as a Peace Community, and who, in spite of the isolation caused by the pandemic, continue every day to put pressure on the Colombian government so that it does not destroy our lives, nor our property, nor our legacy. We offer our sincere gratitude to you for following this process of defending life, and also for encouraging us to keep on defending our principles.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
October 12, 2020