Editorial, EL TIEMPO, November 6, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Perhaps because in recent weeks there have not been episodes with an elevated number of fatal victims, or simply because the places are so far away from the principal urban centers, in every sense of the word, what’s happening in Cauca and Chocó has not received the attention it deserves. There are two very complicated situations that have in common the drama being experienced by the civilian population trapped in the midst of several fires. The suffering of these communities cannot be ignored, and ought to bring about the solidarity of this country and an intensification of government efforts so that law still rules in those territories, and so that coexistence can be safe for them.

The situation is desperate. In both departments the war between armed groups disputing control of illegal profits, principally from drug trafficking and mining, has surged in recent times. For reasons that include, among many others, the government’s delay in filling in an integrated manner the vacuum that was left when the FARC turned over their weapons. But the promises made in the Peace Agreement have not arrived in those places or were, as in the case of Cauca, wishful thinking that was dissolved very quickly. All of this, in areas where the natural resources more and more coveted by organized crime are concentrated, is also a key for drug traffickers in terms of strategy.

All of these factors have led to a state of affairs in which might makes right, in which neutrality is not an option in the logic of armed actors, and one in which the dynamics of confrontation cause unspeakable suffering to those who live in the most vulnerable situations. Human beings, of course, but also human nature. Even so, with courage and dignity, the communities in both areas have found ways to make their outcry heard while they resist the assaults of the illegal groups. But their call must be heard more, and above all, it must lead to actions that will have a real and palpable impact on their lives.

What’s been happening in recent days in the District (corregimiento) of El Sinal in the Municipality of Argelia, Cauca, provides an example. There the battles have taken place very close to the Guayabal School, right in the middle of the school day. Rough videos that are circulating on social media show the incredible fact that children are begging their parents to flee to safety. As a result of the frequent firefights, there was a massive displacement in the last few days, added to another fifteen that have taken place this year in the municipality. A fierce dispute is going on here between the Carlos Patiño Front of the FARC Dissidents, the ELN, and the new Marquetalia. Last weekend, the Carlos Patiño Front forced the population to come to a meeting, after which the people that had gone to the meeting fell into a field of land mines and were attacked, in a miserable episode that left ten civilians injured.

Meanwhile, in Chocó the people are suffering with the dispute between the ELN and the “Clan del Golfo” or Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces. The conflict is concentrated in the jungles in the southern part of the department, in the San Juan region, where the groups have forced the people to choose between displacement or forced confinement. The latter is the option that the indigenous communities of Cristóbal, Puerto Olave, and Unión Chocó have had to suffer. This puts a spotlight on the attention received by people who have suffered forced displacement, because of the real incapacity of the municipal agencies to take care of the humanitarian emergency.

The challenge created by these realities is complicated. And to cope with it, we need to begin by assuming that the situation of the territory is not the same as it was when the Armed Forces had to confront the FARC or the AUC. Although the current groups have incorporated their supposed political allegiances into their activities, or are maintaining those of the old times—like the ELN, their motivations and their activities are not the same, and that requires the Armed Forces to refocus their strategic models.

No less challenging is the fact that now there is a continuous clash between multiple illegal organizations. In that kind of situation, not only are the forms of violence multiplying, but also there is an intricate dynamic making it very difficult to figure out the logic of friends and enemies emerging into the clamor of the dispute. The Armed Forces have to interpret this so that their actions meet the requirements of defending the people and the public interest.

That the Army and the other forces guarantee tranquility for civilians, is just as important as having a government presence on other fronts, including, above all, to build confidence. And no less vital, as the residents themselves have begged again and again, is that all the scourges they are suffering not become just one more thing that’s forgotten. It is a moral and ethical obligation of the rest of this country to keep in mind what is going on in these communities; and to do that, it may be necessary to accept that our destiny is also tied to theirs, and to that of their territories.

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