Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, April 29, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Once more our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó sees the necessity of making a record before the country and the world about the recent events by which the paramilitaries are victimizing us. They keep on doing whatever they want in our region, without being disturbed by any competent authority, because they can count on their economic and political support, which gives them the power to subject the campesinos to their projects.
In this region of San José now, they aren’t just talking about roads, but nobody makes any reference to who it is that is sponsoring them or who is pushing it. We don’t understand how it’s possible that the campesinos who have suffered so much during all of these years because of the war, have suffered killings, disappearances, tortures, economic roadblocks and plunder of their farms and their land, are now supporting those exterminators of life who have done so much damage. Can it be that our campesinos don’t remember the horrors that the paramilitaries, the guerrillas, and the Army subjected us to over all of those years of displacement? Today it’s the very same killer that is trying to enforce, the same one that is pushing the projects that help the companies, and where the people are being forced to take part, or if they don’t, they will have to leave the area. And now they want to accuse our Peace Community of opposing “development” or of “progress”, because we won’t let them build roads in the towns to serve the plundering businesses and the organizations that have murdered our brother and sisters.
The Community Boards, unquestionably manipulated by the nefarious powers that dominate us, are repeating their accusations; they are trying to make us to be seen as “enemies of development”. Don’t they realize that the enemies of real and just human development are those that have let themselves be deceived by the thieves and murderers that they are serving? They are terrifyingly blind. How can we open their eyes a little?
At no time has our Peace Community opposed a real development, or that roads be built by towns (veredas) and districts (corregimientos). That’s not the problem. What we oppose is that they are doing it by blindfolding the campesinos; they are hiding the real interest in those roads. They want to hide all of the illegality they are using to build them; that there have been no prior consultations with the communities, that there are no environmental permits. The whole process is directed by the paramilitaries, or, you might say, by the people that have murdered a large part of our populations, and that have displaced, plundered, threatened, stigmatized, and tortured or disappeared them. They are charging part of the costs to the campesinos themselves, using a system of illegal and extortionate “taxes”, enveloped in threats, because if you don’t pay them, you will have to accept tremendous consequences.
The work is associated with the Army (17th Brigade), renting their equipment, which implies illegitimately militarizing work that is civilian in nature. They are linking the construction with a military garrison whose history is swamped with crimes against humanity. The government has protected the Brigade with absolute impunity that does great damage to the conscience of all humanity.
How much we would like to see the Community Boards open their eyes at least a little,
and not let themselves be dragged away by the thick bandages over their eyes, allowing them to make such mistakes! If only they would analyze the economic model that they are trying to impose on us; look, please, a little bit beyond your noses, take off the blindfold and react like conscientious human beings, and like people that have at least minimal ethical principles.
The campesinos are being cheated very badly, and pushed to be against our Community so that they can defend the interests of the powerful. We have always said that the campesinos deserve to live in an area where they can have other real development projects, and not the ones that are being promoted by the paramilitaries. Can it be that the campesinos want to be extorted and manipulated? We should not be so blind in the face of the plan for our extermination.
All of those roads ought to be free. Don’t we pay taxes every day and every hour whenever we buy something? And everybody ought at least to abide by the legal rules that a corrupt government itself has approved, but not even that. They are trampling on their own rules, just to protect their interests, because nothing else is important to them.
As a Peace Community, we are always going to reject this kind of phony “development” and phony “progress”. What kind of “progress” is it to be more and more subjected to alien interests; the same ones that have sucked our blood for such a long time? In these recent days while the roads are advancing in this area a well-known paramilitary, alias CRISTIAN, who was a member of the FARC-EP around here and will certainly continue to be benefited by the national government’s demobilization program, is now “the politician” of that paramilitary organization. This personage is gathering together the civilian population in all of the towns, in order to impose the “taxes” of money that they have to pay to support the 17th Brigade’s machinery that is building the roads.
Different government agencies want us to keep quiet about the complicity of the 17th Brigade and of the Police with the paramilitaries, but it’s very suspicious that the paramilitaries have so much power and can do anything they want. Also they have some “kettles” in San José where they expend drugs where young people have already become addicted. The paramilitaries live there, right in the middle of the Army and the Police, and they are extorting the merchants. That same alias CRISTIAN had a meeting with the civilian population there in San José, in the middle of the soldiers, and nothing happened. Members of the Police and the Army go out at night and buy drugs there from those “kettles”.
But they think that the Community has to stay silent, not file any complaints about anything because otherwise they will be killed. So we have to stay silent? We will never stay silent.
These are the events that have occurred recently:
On Tuesday, April 13, 2021, during the afternoon, we received information that the paramilitary WILFER HIGUITA, who lives in the town (vereda) of La Unión in San José de Apartadó, had stolen 500,000 pesos (about USD $134) from his own son, only 15 years old. He was supposed to give the money to the school in the town. This paramilitary didn’t hesitate to take the money from his own son. It was funds that someone had donated for the school, but he took it for himself and he spent it on liquor in the urban part of San José de Apartadó.
On Thursday, April 22, 2021, in the town of La Cristalina, the paramilitary known as “CRISTIAN”, demobilized from the FARC-EP, and who is now the “politician” for the paramilitaries in this region, held a meeting with the people living in the towns of La Linda and La Cristalina, among others, according to what we were told, and he talked for more than three hours about the opening of the road around these towns. At the same time, he announced the amount that each person will have to pay monthly to maintain the military equipment being used to open the road. It appears that the monthly “tax” that the poorer people will be charged is 200,000 pesos (roughly USD $53.62), and 400,000 pesos (roughly USD $107.23) is the charge for people with more resources.
At the same time he announced that everybody was required to take part in the road project, and furnish money to run the equipment. According to the people that were there, they had asked who would be maintaining the road in the future, and the paramilitary answered that it would be the same people, meaning that the residents will be forced to maintain roads for which they will also have to pay monthly “taxes”.
On Friday, April 23, 2021, our Community learned that the well-known paramilitary, alias “CRISTIAN”, who supposedly acts as the “politician” for the AGC, met with the communities of La Invasión, located on a farm belonging to the Mayor’s Office. There’s also a military base stationed in the urban part of San José de Apartadó. This paramilitary conducted the meeting there, coordinated by the paramilitaries, and said that they are in control of everything and the people of that “invasion” ought to be controlled by fewer people, because, according to him, there’s a lot of disorder there. At the same time, he referred to the problem that farm is facing, and that the people living there are invaders because the land belongs to the Apartadó Mayor’s Office. At the same time, he suggested preparing to invade the farm, La Roncona, which is the property of our Peace Community.
On Friday, April 23, 2021, during the day, officials from CORPOURABA who were in the town of La Esperanza, claimed to our Community that the Community Action Board of that town had stopped them in the street for more than 15 minutes. According to them, they had said that around there they would not allow the passage of one single stick or tree that belongs to our Peace Community, because we are impeding the entrance of the roads. Along with that, those officials, who are familiar with the area, and know how the business of the roads has gone, started reproaching our Community, claiming that they were happy because they had been able to get to the town on their motorcycles. It was obvious that they didn’t care who built the roads, just so they got built, and the environmental agencies, as in this case CORPOURABA, would support the destruction of the environment with roads that never got a permit, and besides are promoted by soldiers and paramilitaries. How our institutions have been degraded!
We have learned recently that the paramilitaries that control the region are threatening the people. They go out on the trails masked and hooded and with long guns, with ELN bracelets, saying that they aren’t paramilitaries but rather members of the ELN, and that the people shouldn’t be walking on the trails after 6 PM, or they won’t be responsible. This is a new level of fiction, since there are very few around here that don’t know about the connections between the paramilitaries and the government. Now they are trying to camouflage it with the disguise of the supposed enemies of the government (members of the ELN) just to threaten people and make them submit.
On Monday, April 26, 2021, during the day, we heard an audio in which some presidents of community action boards are calling for a meeting with all of the community action boards in San José de Apartadó and also from the Districts of Nuevo Antioquia and , and the town of La Esperanza. The meeting is planned for Saturday, May 1, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. In the communication, sent by WhatsApp, it appeared to be sent by Sr. César Jaramillo and it informs all of the boards that the principal subjects of the meeting will be the advancement of the roads and discussion of the message sent by our Peace Community on April 23, 2021. Also at the meeting will be the presidents of the community action boards and the Campesino Association of San José de Apartadó (ACASA), a lawyer, the Apartadó City Clerk, César Jaramillo, an official from FEDECACAO (cacao growers trade association), and many communications media.
According to some people that are friendly to us, the central objective is to discredit our Peace Community and to do that by using the communications media that lend themselves to that. The communication also announces that César Jaramillo has already scheduled a meeting with the Deputy Commander of the Army’s 17th Brigade and the residents of Playa Larga. The purpose is to evaluate progress on the road they are building. What is definitely clear is that they are looking for ways to destroy our Peace Community and to do that, they have invited many government officials to set the civilian population against those who refuse to submit to their projects.
Why don’t they get the community action boards together to reject the paramilitaries? Or to ask the government, what’s going on when the campesinos are so abandoned? Instead, they get together to defend the proposals of the destroyers of life. How far have we come?
By now the paramilitaries don’t just intimidate the civilian population that lives in this region; they use every ruse of terror: first they came in saying that they had come to stay; next they imposed “vacunas” and obligatory “taxes”. Then they forced the civilian population to sustain “puntos”, or informants in their families’ homes; later they forcibly re-organized the civilian population; after that they started to recruit young people, then they forced everyone to submit to their directions; now they are reinforcing everything with programmed invasions of the people living in the area. They go onto the farms that belong to our Peace Community, like in the cases in La Esperanza and the La Roncona farm. Besides, in the towns they are using the disguise that they are members of the ELN and added to that, the roads, forcing all the people to furnish money to buy gas.
What will follow is that the campesino will get sick of all of the oppression and end up selling his land to the companies, which basically is the objective of all of these violence.
Once again we thank all of the friends and communities of this country and in the world who have believed in our civil and peaceful resistance, and who in addition, have felt the pain that we feel every day because of the barbarity of the government and its paramilitaries. Many thanks, and we beg you not to stop demanding the Colombian government to respect the life and the integrity of our Community and of the surrounding campesino population.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
April 29, 2021