EL ESPECTADOR, November 20, 2020

Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

At the conclusion of the Dialog for No Repetition, organized by the Truth Commission, all of the social, political and economic sectors of the region agreed that what was needed to stop and prevent the repetition of the conflict is a comprehensive investment and an extensive coordination that removes for the people the insecurity fostered by the armed actors.

 Bajo Cauca has been the forgotten region of Antioquia. It is, according to Luis Fernando Suárez, Antioquia’s Secretary of Government, the region which, if it were counted as just one city, would be the most violent city in the world. It’s where, according to the complaints of women’s organizations, sexual violence and the recruitment of children are continuing. All of that under the noses of a government that does nothing. And it’s also the cradle of the most diverse expressions of resistance by the local people, and even though sometimes they leave, they come back. What those people ask is that the government be present in the area, more than just the military, so as to deactivate the factors supporting the unceasing war.

That was one of the conclusions of the Dialog for No Repetition and No Continual Conflict in Bajo Cauca reached by the Truth Commission after more than three months of private conferences with different actors in the region. In those meetings there were different voices that analyzed the lived reality of the inhabitants of Nechí, El Bagre, Tarazá, Cáceres, Caucasia, and Zaragoza. They also described the historic conditions that still exist to the present day, and what actions could be taken in order to have a future without war.

The first idea about the cause of the area’s situation suggests that the region has been abandoned. “The government has played only an insignificant role in the development of this region. Why do we go to these territories and see so much deprivation that we don’t see, for example, in Medellín?” Carlos Zapata, the leader of the Observatory of Human Rights and Peace—IPC, asked himself. He answered, “For Antioquia, Bajo Cauca has always been a peripheral territory to be exploited by the enclave economy.” He was referring to gold mining, which, as he said, represents 50% of all the mining done in the territory in Antioquia.

The profit from the big mines today is in the hands of Mineros S.A. However, economies managed by armed groups are moving into gold exploitation, along with their marketing of cocaine, because Bajo Cauca, an area that is also rich in water, serves as the connection between Catatumbo (Norte de Santander) and the Urabá region.

That’s why the people who live there believe it is so important that the government be present with education, health, and other services and rights after the Peace Agreement between the government and the now-defunct FARC guerrillas. Nevertheless, as Claudia Vallejo, the local representative of the Inspector General’s Office explained, after the signing of the Agreement, the tranquility in the region lasted a year. Afterwards the various groups arrived to take over the territory the guerrillas had left and the government had not arrived to occupy. In her view, “it’s incredibly important that the local authorities be empowered by the Peace Agreement,” because “it’s about rebuilding a country.”

The FARC Party’s Representative from Antioquia in the Chamber of Representatives, Omar Restrepo, supported that same idea. In the war he was known as “Olmedo Ruiz”. This former guerrilla, who was also present in the region during the war, said that the historic conditions of exclusion made the development of war easier. “Look at where the former combatants are from, and you will see that they are from Anori, from Cáceres,  Tarazá, Ituango, Toledo, from the southern part of Córdoba, from Peque, etc. Those are municipalities with a lot of social problems,” and he added that there are other points that need to be kept in mind. “In the midst of Plan Patriota, it was difficult to move people to Urabá, but the coca was moved. Why was it so easy to move the coca?” he said.

Nayibe Cossio, an Afro-Colombian leader in the region, agreed that the poverty that people suffer in the region, which has no businesses, has very serious effects. “We need to stimulate employment for young people, more academic and work opportunities. We have to improve the medical infrastructure,” and she explained that in the majority of the municipalities in Bajo Cauca there is no hospital, but only a health center. “Women are dying when they go to give birth,” she said.

The role especially of women in the transformation of the territory was also a point in the evaluation. Margarita Palacio, who represents the Campesina Association of Bajo Cauca, explained that access to land continues to be a challenge for women. And that, in spite of the fact that they don’t have land, they keep on working toward that. “The great majority of people who support the Agreement, like with the crop substitution, are women who are Presidents of the Community Action Boards; but women have to have real participation,” she said. And they do that while they are suffering violence to their bodies. “When you go to Cáceres you hear how the women continue to be victims of sexual violence and how their children continue to be recruited,” said Kelly Echeverry, of the Women’s Pacific Route.

The government and the companies, represented by Luis Fernando Suárez, Secretary of Government for Antioquia , and Santiago Cardona, Vice President of Mineros S.A., agreed that it’s social investment and the coordination of all sectors that can put a stop to the war in the region and make economic development possible.

“We have to strengthen the institutional framework and the presence of the government in the territories, and that is a role that we can play,” said Cardona, referring to the fact that the company could be a bridge for dialog and for actions that the government should take. In the same way, he applauded the Development Plans Focused on the Territories (PDET).

Suárez, however, was not very optimistic. “We are worried when the national government parachutes in with its PDET, without being familiar with the realities of the territories. We need to join forces, all of us,” he said, though he did support the idea of an institutional takeover of the countryside.

With that dialog, the Truth Commission left some ideas on the table. “Bajo Cauca has said: Colombia, if you want to include us, this is our reality,” as Commissioner Leyner Palacios said. And as Fr. Francisco de Roux, President of the Commission, said, “if Bajo Cauca in Antioquia is not profoundly transformed, then it’s extremely likely that the conflict will be irrigated here.”

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