EL ESPECTADOR, February 21, 2021 (multimedia report)
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
On March 23, 1997, a group of campesinos in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó declared themselves neutral in the conflict. They decided that they would not cooperate, directly or indirectly, with groups of guerrillas, Colombian Armed Forces, or paramilitaries.
In the 24 years of its history, The Community has been victimized by violence, principally by the Colombian government and by the paramilitary groups.
This multimedia report synthesizes the history of the struggle by members of the Peace Community, an example of solidarity, cooperativism and resistance: a force that is not resigned to be subject to corrupt and violent powers.
- The Peace Community resists
The leaders of the Peace Community tell how they have been persecuted by paramilitaries and even by government officials. To turn away the violence, they had to create strategies for food security, and to cut off almost all relations with the outside world. That’s how they protected their lives. This is their story.
This documentary unites the voices, the images, and the recollections that give life to a way of life and to a whole family that carries the name of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.
This effort is part of a degree project presented to the Javeriana Pontifical University in the Social Communication major.
David Efrén Ortega Sotelo
Karen Vanessa Quintero Martínez
Mario Enrique Morales Rincón
Director of Photography
Jhampieer Rangel Pérez
With the Support of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
- They won’t be able to destroy our footprints.
Every year, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó commemorates the massacres at Mulatos and La Resbalosa, perpetrated in February of 2005. With marches, eucharists, and a pilgrimage through rivers, mountains and jungle, the Community honors the memory of its victims and transmits a legacy of resistance to the new generations.
On Monday, February 21, 2005, María Brigida González, one of the founders of the Peace Community, went out along with other people to pick bananitos, a fruit that’s like a banana, but smaller. In the afternoon, they realized that something had happened: even though Luis Eduardo Guerra, the Community’s legal representative, had said that he would be back to San José from Mulatos because his son had a medical appointment, still there was no sign of him.
Luis Eduardo had been persecuted and threatened because he made complaints about the abuses by the Army and the paramilitaries. That day, he had gotten up early to harvest some cacao so he could sell it and thus be able to pay the cost of the examinations in Medellin for his son, Deiner, 11 years old, whose leg had been injured by a grenade explosion. According to the Community, the grenade had been abandoned carelessly in the town by the Army. He left with his partner Bellanira, his son Deiner, and a relative that warned him that Army soldiers were in the town. Luis Eduardo said not to worry. On the way, a group of soldiers rushed at Luis Eduardo and the people with him. The relative, fearing the worst, was able to escape. Minutes later he heard the shrieks of pain.
That same day, at 12:30 in the afternoon, soldiers from the 17th Brigade, along with paramilitaries, arrived at the farm owned by Alfonso Bolívar, located in La Resbalosa. He was eating lunch with his wife, Sandra Muñoz; his daughter Natalia, five years old; his son Santiago, 18 months old, and some workers. The soldiers demanded that they get out. Alfonso, seeing that he was surrounded, ran out through the patio with the workers, but he wasn’t able to take his family along. Later he decided to go back for them. The workers tried to talk him out of it, but he promised to meet them later. He didn’t return, and neither did his family.
They clubbed Luis Eduardo and Bellanira to death and Deiner, the same boy that was injured by the grenade, they beheaded him. They did the same with Alfonso, and his children, who, according to subsequent testimony, they killed them and cut them to pieces with the excuse that they would grow up to be guerrillas and would want revenge.
On Wednesday, February 23, the news reached San José. The Community organized a commission of 120 people who searched through the towns to find their comrades. When they got there, they found graffiti alluding to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia and to Battalion 33, Cacique Lutaima. A strong military presence tried to intimidate them with threats and firing shots to keep them from continuing on their way. Members of the Community insist that while the bodies were being processed, a soldier was playing with the head of Santiago, the 18-month-old.
One of Alfonso’s workers was riddled with bullets when he tried to defend himself with a gun. The massacres at Mulatos and La Resbalosa, which are considered to be one as they took place on the same day, left eight people dead. It was perpetrated by soldiers from the 17th Brigade who patrolled together with paramilitaries from the Héroes de Tolová Bloc, and who later tried to confuse the investigations and blame the now-defunct FARC guerrillas.
COMMEMORATING THE MASSACRE
It’s midday and from a distance you can hear a group singing: “Glory to the path of peace, which revealed the brilliant light of neutrality,” the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó hymn, composed on March 23, 1997, when a group of campesinos decided to declare themselves neutral in the conflict. The road is open, but the trees protect us from the sun and follow the river. At a curve, you can see a group of people carrying signs and a loudspeaker that interrupts the sounds.
The march is led by the children, wearing white tee shirts stamped with eight photos, a shield, and a phrase that says “15 years of impunity. Fight for justice.” The shirts look like a housecoat on the smaller children, but everybody seems comfortable. The adults are wearing the shirts too, although some are walking with photos in their hands. There are foreigners also, dispersed in the group, recreating the moment with their cameras.
The road leads to San José de Apartadó from Apartadó, Antioquia Province. The Peace Community is marching from La Holandita, a farm one kilometer from the town. That’s where nearly 500 people live, work, farm, and study.
A young man on a ½ cylinder motorcycle passes the marchers. He has a military haircut, a red tee shirt, and a sporting carriel across his shoulders; he frowns and looks coldly at the marchers. “Look at that guy there, he’s one of them, one of the paras,” says Gildardo Tuberquia, one of the historic leaders of the Peace Community. Gildardo continues taking photos, as if it made no differnce. Everybody knows who the young man is and what he does, but they are used to it, to him and his family, people that have threatened them before.
The march reached the community meeting hall that the Peace Community had established. Fr. Javier Giraldo, who has accompanied them for many years, takes a microphone to open the tribute by the children. “Let the children sing now, let them raise their voices, and make the world listen (…) for those that won’t be singing,” it’s a piece that José Luis Perales has ready.
“The paras killed them,” explains a child from the Community—he is about six years old—two others are wearing school uniforms, while they look at the photos.
The next day the Community and its guests start out on a journey of between eight and thirteen hours on foot to the town of Mulatos. Fr. Giraldo leads the first group, setting out at 5:00 in the morning. The others wait until supplies are packed for the trip. The leader and legal representative of the community, Germán Graciano, or Mello as everybody calls him, readies the things needed for the trip. When they leave La Holandita, they have to take a short cut by the river to avoid the urban center. The march was an exception, as the Community avoids contact with the people that live there.
After snaking along the riverbed, begins the difficult trip through the Serranía de Abibe, one of the richest and most important water sources in Urabá. There are kilometers of dry land, yellow-tinged and marked by the tracks of horses and mules. The terrain is steep, but when you get higher there is a unique view from the mountains to the sea, the Gulf of Urabá; later on you see where the Atrato River flows into the sea. In the middle of the journey, the Community gathers its energy with meat, yuca, rice, and cinnamon water.
The journey by trails, swamps, and dense vegetation, under the sun, is an opportunity for the members of the Community and their accompaniment to relive the story.
Once they arrive at the Luis Eduardo Guerra Peace Village in Mulatos, the Community rests. At 7:30 the next morning, at the time that the first massacre took place, there is a eucharist offered by Father Giraldo. After that, they begin the two-hour trip through a steep and jungled path to reach the town of La Resbalosa.
To travel on this path, the Community walks single file on the narrow trail. When they arrive at the town, next to cacao plantings that are not yet ready to bear fruit, Fr. Giraldo recalls the story of the eight murders while the people relive the pain.
Once back in the Peace Village in Mulatos, and after the memorial service, the Community shares the warmth of a campfire with guitars and singing. That night some songs that are traditional in the mountains of Antioquia are heard, such as “la finquita “ (“the little farm”); after that they joined in listening to a presentation by the Italian accompaniment group Palomas de Paz (Doves of Peace), singing “Bella ciao ”, the historic melody of resistance to fascism.
The Peace Community continues to fight for its memories and to resist the harassment of those who would silence their complaints. In this rural part of Apartadó, there are active paramilitary organizations of the so-called Clan del Golfo, which controls the area because of its interest in the drug traffic. They are constantly threatening the people. No member of the Community can leave La Holandita alone; there is always an international accompaniment, to protect the campesinos.
In the same way, the Community complains that the residents of the District (corregimiento) are trying to take their land away from them, using local action boards; some of them have already been influenced by the power and the money of their detractors. In addition, they maintain that the persecution against them is shown in the exaggerated number of Army troops in San José, a town with four streets that has 400 soldiers there.
Living through the commemoration on February 21 is reliving the pain of the killing, persecution, and injustice to which these campesinos have been subjected, but it’s also to recognize the strength of the social and political project through which they resist without using violence, and to which they have dedicated their lives. The Community’s message is on the signs that the children are carrying: they won’t succeed in erasing our footprints.