By Pablo Montoya, EL ESPECTADOR, April 26, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
During the April 18 weekend there were new battles that resulted in the displacement of 170 people. The violence in this part of the country is unceasing, so the communities stay on edge and at the mercy of the illegal armed groups, with the constant threat of being killed.
For six months now, the crisis of violence in Argelia, Cauca Province, has been getting worse, and it doesn’t appear to have any solution very soon. In October of last year, the Public Defender’s Office issued an early alert for that area in the south of the Province. The Office stated that the municipality, the same as others like El Tambo and Balboa, continues to be an attraction for the illegal armed groups that are present there, such as the Carlos Patiño and Jaime Martínez Fronts, and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The Public Defender also stated that there are people there from the Dagoberto Ramos Front and the New Marquetalia. “These places constitute a strategic pillar, not just for the growth of products associated with the drug traffic, but also for the transportation of war supplies that are used by these organizations,” stated the document issued by the agency.
The violence escalated so much that in January of 2021, A City Councilman, Fermiliano Meneses, was kidnapped and murdered, apparently by ELN organizations. That crime forced his eleven fellow Council members to leave the community, displaced. They went to Popayán because of the constant threats that they were receiving. Only one of them has been able to return to the municipality. The other ten are still waiting for guarantees for their safety, and the Council is meeting virtually.
Meanwhile, the communities continue to be the most affected by the spiral of violence. The combats that took place on the weekend of April 18 were between the Carlos Patiño Front and the Third Division of the Colombian Army. They took a toll of ten guerrillas and one soldier killed, and they also led to a massive displacement of 55 families. Carlos Mauricio Mosquera, the Secretary of Government in Argelia, talked with El Espectador about the humanitarian crisis, and the problems of security and public order in the municipality.
How have you organized to be able to take care of the displaced people?
We have 170 displaced people, for a total of 55 families. They are housed in the Citizens Integration Center (CIP) in the District (corregimiento) of El Plateado. Almost the whole town (vereda) of La Ceiba was displaced and went to the urban center in that part of the municipality. When they arrived, we took care of them; we gave them food paid for by the Mayor’s Office and other organizations. The people suffered effects on their property and on their houses because of the fragmentation bombs and the grenades. Some of them that are being housed can’t go back to their homes, because right now they are uninhabitable.
In Argelia, what we have is internal displacement; they always go from one District to another, or from one town (vereda) to another.) That means that their movements are very short and that permits the people, in spite of the threats, to get back quickly to where they live. So here we have displacements of ten, fifteen, and up to 22 days. The people always tell us that they want to go back, in spite of the risk that exists.
These situations are because they have farms and they live day to day, so they can’t stay just because we give them food. And the conditions aren’t the best either; we don’t have a decent place to take care of them. They have to sleep on a cushion or in a sleeping bag; that’s all we have and other organizations give us those things. They go back, they put some kind of a zinc roof on their house and organize everything inside. They have their things there and there’s much more space, so they feel more comfortable.
What’s it been like to take care of this situation in the midst of the pandemic crisis?
A number of organizations have donated liquid soap, alcohol, chlorine bleach, masks, and portable lavatories. We install them at the entrances of the CIP. Right now the Covid is what people care about the least. Last year we ended up with eighty murders here in the municipality. Those are the ones that are registered, but we think there were at least 150 people killed by the violence. If we look at the figures, the virus has only killed six people this year; that’s an insignificant number in relation to the real threat to the people. The people look at this situation as a problem that’s far removed, and not as important as what they are living through with all this combat.
Why has the violence increased in Argelia?
This started last year, in March, when the Carlos Patiño FARC dissidents armed group came in. The central point is the lack of implementation of the Peace Agreements in Havana. There are some very clear points in the Agreements to make it possible for the government to arrive in the communities. Since that has not been possible, what has happened is that the people have had to go back to growing coca and having dealing with the armed groups. They went back to war because that’s where the money is.
The government doesn’t want to implement voluntary crop substitution for the illegal crops. There are more than 10,000 families here that would like to do that, but the answer they’ve been getting is that the federal government is ignoring them. What that brings is that the people say, well, there’s no solution and they aren’t implementing the Peace Agreements, we’ll go back to what we did before. The idea is that they would be coming here with good projects, not with those of a million (A million pesos is about USD $270) for every family, which doesn’t do anything. The people don’t see any other way besides planting the coca, because they make more money; however, that’s what’s getting the attention of the armed groups, and they bring violence.
What does the community think about the possibility of returning to spraying with glyphosate?
The people here have already started to organize, the same as in many other parts of the country. There’s a group of campesinos that are wondering what they should do, because the coca is the only sustenance they have. The people are going to defend their source of food and we think there are going to be very big marches and blocking the Pan American Highway to reject the fumigation with glyphosate. We can’t forget that that generates huge damages to the environment and to the health of the communities. We have already gone through this in previous years, and the communities in this municipality are going to protest that decision.
Which are the armed groups that are in Argelia?
The Carlos Patiño and Jaime Martínez dissidents are here. Besides, there is the National Liberation Army (ELN). What’s happening is that all three are fighting over the territory, even though the two columns of the ex-guerrillas of the FARC are allies in this war, against the other illegal group. Adding to that is that the national Army is here, which is fighting all three, trying to recapture this part of the country. These battles are the ones that end up causing the displacements.
What happened to those Council members who were displaced from here in January?
They’re still in Popayán. After the murder of Fermiliano Meneses, in January, and the constant threats they received, they decided to leave the territory and go to the capital of the province. Only one Council member has come back to Argelia, but the rest of them are still there. They figure that there are still no guarantees of their safety to come back and work with the communities.
What does the national government have to say about this violent situation?
We have had some communications with the national government. A few days ago the Defense Minister, Diego Molano, and the Minister of the Interior, Daniel Palacios, came out here and we had a meeting. It doesn’t look to us that there is any solution that would put an end to this conflict. There are no clear proposals. Really, the government isn’t interested in this; they are completely uninterested. It’s very difficult when this is what happens. The people are going to go on planting coca; the illegal groups are going to continue dominating the territory until the administration decides to come here in an effective manner and with projects that will have a social impact in Argelia. We don’t see any solution coming soon, because the only thing they talk about is coming to fumigate with glyphosate.