Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

December 13, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Once again our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, relying on our incorruptible convictions, turns to this country and to the world to share what we are experiencing and to make a record of it. We do this because for a number of decades, the institutions that are obligated to protect us have never listened to our clamors and complaints, and because the most essential principles of democracy include the right to free expression and the right to make complaints. These principles have been declared by all of the agencies of the United Nations and of the Organization of American States, whose mission it is to define the fundamental rights of human beings.

In recent weeks we have experienced and learned of the following events:

On Sunday, November 15, 2020, during the night, according to information we have had access to, there was a fight in a public establishment in the urban center of San José. It involved armed paramilitaries. The Police that carried out a search there said that they found “guns that shoot blanks and chemicals for crowd control”, but people that were close by admitted that they were firearms used by the paramilitaries. Besides that, they told us that the Police had given the guns back to two of them, known as “DEINER” and “SEBASTIÁN”, who are well-known paramilitaries in Nuevo Antioquia, a district (corregimiento) in the municipality of Turbo. A campesino was injured in the fight. The most worrisome is to hear how Police confiscate firearms and then frequently, as allegedly they did in this case, they give them back to their owners. And the owners aren’t arrested but are left to walk free. This confirms once more the close coordination between paramilitaries and the Armed Forces. According to the same witnesses, a few days later the paramilitaries went and looked up the people involved in the fight and gave them some money (a million pesos—roughly USD$ 290– we were told) apparently so that they wouldn’t say anything about what had happened that night.

On Wednesday, November 18, 2020, during the day, lawyers that are friends of ours showed us the text of Decision T-342/20 of the Constitutional Court. It reviews the civil rights action filed by the 17th Brigade against our Peace Community on September 28, 2018, claiming that our reports violated their right to a good name. The Court’s Appeal Branch, consisting of Justices ALEJANDRO LINARES, ANTONIO JOSÉ LIZARAZO, and LUIS GUILLERMO GUERRERO—the latter is the writer of the opinion and has now retired from the Court—concluded that the rights of the soldiers to a good name had been violated by our complaints because our complaints “are not supported by final court decisions of conviction.”

Those who spoke for the Court on this occasion, were taking a view that’s opposite to the Justices that defended our rights in their past decisions. They did so in Decision T-249/03, T-327/04, and T-1025/07 and in Orders 034/12, 164/12, and 693/17. They also ignored the reiterated jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, the declarations of the United Nations General Assembly, and the letter directed to that very same Appeals Branch by the United Nations Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, referring to the Army’s civil rights action and stating emphatically that, “A democratic and plural system requires that public officials and their management be exposed to a high level of control. Because of that, the authorities must have a higher tolerance of the most jarring, disagreeable or worrisome expressions that exist, must abstain from imposing limitations, and must protect those who make such statements.”

But a more thorough analysis of the decision makes clear that the Appeals Branch deviated from many of the points of jurisprudence defended for many years by the Constitutional Court itself, especially on the central point that gives predominance to an institution’s right to a good name over “its victims’ rights to free expression.” A long and abundant jurisprudence in the Constitutional Court has stressed that a “good name” (or “reputation”) is something that is achieved with good behavior, by winning society’s approval, and not something that is attached to a position or to judicial decisions or abstractions. Because of that, it has insisted that a good name “does not exist” when esteem by society is not built by good behavior, and so it’s not possible to defend a right to something that does not exist. And in the case of the 17th Brigade, what does in fact exist is a long and extensive chain of complaints and convictions for violations of human rights and commission of crimes against humanity, registered in national and international courts (even in criminal convictions by the Supreme Court of Justice). These show recurring crimes and a close and permanent relationship with paramilitary groups, all of which make clear the nonexistence of a “good name”, and what does not exist cannot be defended.

This decision also ignores and contradicts the lengthy jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court with regard to the predominance of the right to free expression and the rules that govern the very limited cases of civil rights actions against private individuals or that try to defend the rights of legal or government entities. By substantially modifying the criteria used to interpret the concept of “good name” (denying its essential relation to the behavior that produces social acceptance) and departing from and contradicting the long-standing jurisprudence on this and other concepts approved by the full Court, this Branch and this decision fall into invalidity and nullity. If they had wanted to modify the criteria for interpretation of all of these concepts, they would have had to have the whole Court sit en banc and obtain its approval. They did not do that, and therefore, the decision of the Branch is void. Our Peace Community has applied to have it declared null and void.

We can only lament the significant degradation at which our legal institutions have arrived. They now fail to offer the victims any credibility.

On Saturday, November 21, 2020, during the night, Sr. ELIÉCER MORALES was found lying on the highway that leads from San José to Apartadó very near the place known as Caracolí, in the town (vereda) of La Victoria. He was very seriously injured. Some people think his injuries came from falling off the mule he was riding, but others think he had been attacked. A few days later he died in the hospital from his injuries.

On Sunday, November 22, 2020, during the morning, the campesino REINALDO AREIZA DAVID died in the town (vereda) of La Unión, apparently after drinking some tainted liquor and suffering injuries from several falls from the mule he was riding. Reinaldo had been a member of our Peace Community from its founding in 1997 and had served as a strong leader, as a member of the Internal Council and also in the settlement at La Unión. In one of our most painful episodes, he bravely complained to the Chamber of Representatives about the massacre of our leaders and children in the towns of Mulatos and Resbalosa on February 21, 2005. There he was vilely attacked and slandered by the Member of the Chamber and former military Jaime A. Cabal, and by several generals from the command staff. In January of 2009, Colonel GERMÁN ROJAS DÍAZ, Commander of the 17th Brigade, contacted him through the paramilitary Wilfer Higuita to demand that he help to destroy the Peace Community. He was told that if he refused he would be charged, using false witnesses, with being a guerrilla leader or a drug trafficker. Reinaldo refused to be blackmailed and he filed a complaint, which kindled the fury of the military and the paramilitaries and they persecuted him from then on, finally setting his house on fire. His problems led him to drinking, but adding liquor made them worse, and obliged him to leave the Community, not being able to comply with this part of the regulations, and his efforts to make a change in his life were not enough. The Community laments his passing profoundly.

On Monday, November 23, 2020, during the day, we learned that in the towns (veredas) of El Porvenir and Las Nieves in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó, the paramilitaries are demanding that every campesino family give them 200,000 pesos (about USD $58) so that they can give the children Christmas presents. This is one of the demonstrations of the abusive control and domination that the paramilitaries want to have over the entire civilian population, over their economy, and over their daily lives, all with the threat of weapons.

On Friday, November 27, 2020, during the day, in the town (vereda) of La Resbalosa, in the part known as La Despabiladora, a group of heavily armed paramilitaries was seen, and very near them a helicopter from the EPM (Medellín Public Utility) Company, unloading posts and electrical equipment. You have to recall that in 2018 these paramilitaries electrified parts of the towns of La Resbalosa, Naín, La Resbalosita, Baltazar, and Alto Joaquín, among others, in Córdoba Province, where it borders on Antioquia. Now, supposedly, the EPM Company is trying to legalize all of these networks that the paramilitaries put up with money that they extracted forcibly from the campesinos in those towns.

On Saturday, November 28, 2020, at the point known as La Máquina in the town (vereda) of Arenas Bajas in San José de Apartadó, a group of paramilitaries was seen carrying long guns and it appears that they had been there for several days.

In the last week of November 2020, there were reports that the paramilitaries were coordinating with the Attorney General’s Office, supposedly to obtain information about who it was that was going there to file complaints against them, and also to control more strictly anyone that furnishes information to our Peace Community. That scenario reminds us of episodes in prior years in which many victims went to the Attorney General’s Office to file complaints or to do other business and later it was evident that the information was given to the paramilitaries who carried out reprisals for the complaints or even made attempts on the lives of the victims of their frame-ups. We remember what happened, for example, on September 22, 2010, when young men were summoned by prosecutors to be charged when they had already been prosecuted for the same charge, violating their right to be free of double jeopardy. The Public Defender’s Office refused to accompany them, and when they left the prosecutors’ office it was already dark, and on their way home they were fired on by the paramilitaries. Alonso Valle was injured, but Luis Higuita and José Albeiro David managed to escape. Other men connected to the same charges, like John Kennedy Higuita and Bernardo Rios were murdered in the succeeding months. At the hospital, they refused to remove the bullet from Alonso Valle and he cut it out himself with his knife. All of that indicates coordination between the prosecutors, the paramilitaries, the Public Defender’s Office, and the hospital, all of them contributing to the deaths of these young men. There were a lot of other procedural violations committed in their cases.

In the first week of December 2020, there were reports circulating that the paramilitaries are implementing new plans for recruiting members, using the attraction of higher pay. The paramilitaries alias “RENÉ”, “JESUSITO” and “SAMUEL”; this last is the one that has been their commander in the towns (veredas) in Córdoba and was later sent to the areas of La Unión, El Porvenir, Las Nieves, La Esperanza, Arenas Bajas, Arenas Altas, and bordering towns (veredas). They must be using economic incentives to motivate paramilitaries to get back into action when they are discouraged by the deaths of their commanders. In the case of the paramilitary known as “RAMIRO”, who was in the town (vereda) of La Unión, who is also the brother of commander “SAMUEL”, we know that he was present on the day that his commander, known as “PUEBLO” or “PUEBLITO”, was killed in the operation “AGAMENON 2” in a town (vereda) in the municipality of Mutatá, Antioquia, and according to some versions, he has been isolated since then. For all of the effort that the government is making to shut down the growing development of the paramilitaries, of their criminal activity, and of acquiescent support by the Armed Forces, it seems impossible for them to “shut down the sun with their hands”.

Once again we thank the people and the communities in many parts of the country and the world whose innermost convictions have accompanied us for now more than 23 years as a Peace Community. In spite of the isolation because of the pandemic, they pressure the Colombian government every day not to destroy our lives, nor our patrimony, nor our legacy. Our sincere gratitude for continuing this process of defending our lives and also of encouraging us to keep on defending our principles.

Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, December 13, 2020.

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