Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, August 11, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Once more our Peace Community of San José de Apartadó finds it necessary to report to this country and to the world about the recent actions by which the paramilitaries have victimized us. They continue to do whatever they want in our region without being disturbed by any competent authority, because the paramilitaries can count on their economic and political support. That gives them the power to force the campesinos to submit to their projects.

The situation in our area is getting more and more dramatic. The paramilitaries are progressing in their drive for absolute control of the territory, and nobody would believe the way the courts are excusing them; there’s no authority we can go to. The fusion between the paramilitaries and the government is beyond obvious. Many campesinos are choosing to sell their property and abandon the region, just like in the worst times in the ‘80’s and the ‘90’s. The only law that’s respected is the law of the paramilitaries, and the laws they impose.

But in the midst of this catastrophe comes the shame: now they are inviting people to give testimony against our way of life as a Peace Community, embracing the slogan of an official of FEDECACAO[1], an aide in the Mayor’s Office, and the Community Boards: “No More Peace Community”. We don’t know what their legal strategy is, but we are afraid that the manipulation of the judicial power that accompanied the genocidal extermination of a large number of our community comrades beginning in ’97 will be repeated.

The events that we are reporting are the following:

In the first week of July 2021, our Peace Community was informed of a series of disappearances of people in this region; nobody knows where they are. It doesn’t look as if they have been arrested or kidnapped. Many people are interpreting this as a quiet decision by some people to get out of this area because of difficulties with the paramilitaries, and rather than having to submit to their orders, they just preferred to leave the region.

In the week of July 11 to July 17, 2021, a group of paramilitaries was seen carrying long guns and wearing military uniforms in the vicinity of the towns (veredas) of La Unión, Arenas Altas and Bajas, and El Porvenir, all of which are part of the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó.

On Friday, July 16, 2021, during the day, we learned that the paramilitaries were planning to kill a young man from the town of La Unión on a pretext; they would make him look like a burglar. According to the report, the town’s Community Board itself didn’t want to do anything to protect the youngster, leaving the paramilitaries a free hand to kill him. It appears that friends and family got him out of the region in order to save his life.

On Monday, July 19, 2021, during the day, we were informed that during the campesino fiestas on the 17th and 18, celebrated in the town of La Unión, and organized by the town’s Community Action Board, the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade, and Sr. César Jaramillo, there was a significant presence of paramilitaries, among them alias Wilfer Higuita, a well-known paramilitary from the town of La Unión, among others that came dressed in civilian clothes. They stayed there all through the event and even took pictures of themselves with soldiers, and with nationally known singers. The photos are published on social networks belonging to Wilfer Higuita, and others.

On Wednesday, July 28, 2021, during the day, we saw in national newspapers that in the northern part of Valle del Cauca, the Colombian Army had killed three people from the area of San José de Apartadó. Their bodies were found in the morgue in Pereira, with nobody from their family there to claim them. Their names: “WILMAR DE JESÚS ÚSUGA CASTAÑO, known as “JESUSITO” or “EL MEXICANO”, GILBERTO ÚSUGA QUINTERO, known as “MOROCHO”, and LUIS ERNESTO MORENO.

Our Peace Community had already made several public reports to the whole world about the presence and control in this area by alias Jesusito or Mexicano, as he was called. This character, who had been part of the now-defunct FARC-EP around here, had joined up with the paramilitaries after he demobilized from the FARC. His remaining in this region made it easier to coordinate and recruit people and then take them to other parts of the country in order to expand paramilitary control. But the authorities have always treated our reports as “false”.

We adamantly reject killing, the power of weapons, and the government’s failure to guarantee the rights of young people and displaced people. The paramilitary organizations have been growing and dominating the area because the government itself, with its military institutions, has allowed them and promoted them. But we also reject the killing of those people that first serve the government unconditionally, although ordinarily with camouflage and secrecy, now that their crimes have accumulated.

We repudiate this with all our energy and strength, and condemn such an atrocious lack of morality. Killing is not the only solution to this serious problem, because the government itself is principally responsible. It has provided wings and liberty to these organizations in order to rule and murder all over this country.

On Saturday, July 31, 2021, during the daytime, we were informed that well-known paramilitaries under alias “Caballo” (“Horse”), who is alleged to be their commander, were patrolling around the area of the towns of Arenas (Altas and Bajas), and were being directed by orders from the town of La Unión.

On Wednesday, August 4, 2021, during the daytime, we received audios of Sr. JAIRO ÚSUGA, President of the Community Action Board of the town of La Unión, wherein he was declaring to the people and to the Community Boards that “at this time we are now in the local office of the Attorney General in order to provide testimony on the culpability of the Peace Community, yes, on the culpability of the Peace Community, and we will be stronger if we succeed in this.  .  .”

A lot of rumors that were circulating quite a while ago referred to a campaign led by the actual directors of the Community Action Board of La Unión, allied with Sr. César Jaramillo. They were accusing our Peace Community in a formal complaint, trying to weaken our Community until some court order or another could abolish it or we would disintegrate because of fear or inability to defend ourselves.

That’s not a new strategy. It’s already been tried by the President of the Republic himself, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, and he got the support of ministers, governors, mayors, justices, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, paramilitary chieftains and their organizations, and powerful communications media like El Colombiano, El Mundo, El Tiempo, RCN, Caracol, Semana, and the local media here in Urabá. The script was centered on convincing the country and the world that the Peace Community was a front for the FARC guerrillas, their “summer vacation spot” and its source of provisions.

The mechanisms they selected were more and more to openly assemble false witnesses coopted by money or by threats; to prepare an infinity of pieces of false testimony at the 17th Brigade and in its battalions, to using arbitrary and illegal arrests of campesinos falsely accused of being insurgents, or using people they forced to sign false affidavits, often not even allowing them to read what they were signing. They would promise uncertain benefits, force the legal officials to pass over all of the principles of due process, compiling “statements” from people not legally authorized to make them, to disregard the applicable principles in the judicial codes and in the Constitution itself, such as the separation and independence of powers, judicial independence when confronted with political and military pressures, citizens’ right to equal protection of the law, the principle of judicial impartiality, the consistence of supporting evidence, the adequacy and liberty of the testimony, guarantees for the participants, the protection of technical evidence, the balancing of the probative value of evidence that favors or disfavors the accused, the liberty, spontaneity, and voluntariness of an eventual guilty plea, the guarantees of evidentiary relevance, the existence and guarantee of a technical defense of the accused, consistency of the statements that sustain any conviction, exclusion of those that are irrelevant, a considered and ethical evaluation of guilt that considers attenuating and exculpatory evidence, as well as attention to the personal, family, and social context of the defendants. But above all, their central and universal mechanism was the routine and systematic use of DEBASED TESTIMONY. It was converted into regular merchandise, which ultimately ruined all of the credibility and substance of thousands of files. Those files turned out to be so rotten and morally pestilential that they had to hide them.

That’s why when our Community meticulously demonstrated that corruption, citing the corrupt officials with their real names, the highest courts claimed that they had no authority to re-open all of the putrid files and judge the corrupt officials. And when the Constitutional Court, by its Order 164/12 ordered the formation of the Commission to Evaluate the Justice System, with the same purpose, the agencies blocked the functioning of that Commission, which had already undertaken its work auspiciously. Now we are confident that sooner or later the International Criminal Court will, as it should, expose all of this trunkful of putrefaction.

But the most serious was not the legal corruption. That was only the prelude to the genocide. With all of that faked justice and with the assistance of the communications media’s disinformation, the society quietly accepted the more than 300 murders, massacres, disappearances, attacks, displacements, bombings, usurpations, threats, and violations of every kind of right, taking it as the proper elimination of a group of criminals.

Facing the agencies of the Integrated System of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and No Repetition, there are a lot of repentant paramilitaries who have confessed how they let Uribe convince them that the Peace Community were just guerrillas, so that they would kill so many innocents whose memory will now not let them sleep.

As a Community, we wonder, what kind of statement will the Community Action Board of the town of La Unión make against our Peace Community? Or better, what will be the plan from the current Attorney General’s Office and the 17th Brigade itself against our Community? Or will they be testifying against the very paramilitaries that are sucking the blood of the civilian population more and more?

According to statements by our friends, almost all of the people who took part in the alleged testimonies were talking against our way of life. We are shocked to see how people who at one time were part of our community system and shared with us so many difficult times because of the disappearances, tortures, massacres, hunger fences, and frame-ups, among other things, committed by these same military forces working together with the paramilitaries and members of the guerrillas, and now are maintaining alliances with the same 17th Brigade that in all of these years has done nothing at all to really protect the civilian population.

On Sunday, August 8, 2021, during the night, well-known paramilitaries that control the area between Apartadó and San José threatened to kill members of the public. Meanwhile, they were drinking liquor in a public establishment in the urban part of San José. They fired several shots with handguns, without the Army and the Police Station doing anything about it. On the contrary, those paramilitaries kept on drinking liquor without anyone bothering them.

Our convictions as a Peace Community have always looked toward seeking the well-being of the population that for decades has been, and continues to be, victimized in this area; thus, fighting with other people around here has never been in our interest. On the contrary, we want to see the people unified, not to attack civil procedures, but rather to reject the phenomenon of paramilitary control and merciless domination. We are very well aware that in many of the towns, it’s the paramilitaries that call meetings with the civilian population; they force people to attend and these dare not refuse to go. As victims, we should never adapt ourselves to the war, and even less when we have so much painful experience because of the different armed actors that have ruled this area in the last 50 years.

We continue to be convinced that our resistance is in support of civility, of the right to life and living on our property. It’s been more than 24 years of community life and work, and all of that is thanks to those who are no longer here, for many reasons, but nevertheless, now more than ever, we are keeping this beautiful system alive, beyond death itself, which lays traps for us every day.

We can do no more than thank all of those voices of encouragement that we hear every day, from this country and the whole world, as gestures of solidarity and moral strength that we have counted on for all of this time.

Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

August 11, 2021

[1] FEDECACAO is the trade association of cacao (chocolate) growers.

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