By Natalia Romero Peñuela, EL ESPECTADOR, November 9, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Social organizations, residents, business owners, and institutions in Bajo Cauca are calling for urgent action to put a stop to the armed confrontations. The main demands were for the complete presence of the government, and not just the military, and there are demands for the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
“ The implementation of the Peace Agreement has not yet arrived in Bajo Cauca,” complained Humberto, a social leader in Cáceres, Antioquia, who prefers that his real name not be revealed. He’s tall, has gray hair, and is some 60 years old.
Standing before some 20 spectators, he asked that no recording be made, nor photos taken, because of the seriousness of the denunciations he was about to make:
“We are in the midst of a dispute between the ELN and the Clan del Golfo, which has sharpened since the departure of Los Caparros from the southern part of the territory. In Cáceres we’ve already started collecting the bodies that one side or the other considered necessary to settle scores. They’ve mined the territory again, to keep the enemy from advancing. The dissidents (from the FARC) have already come in and want all the people to get identity cards so that everybody has to stay in their own town (vereda). They control all of our transportation and communication. The agencies have left us all alone, they don’t have the guts to come into an area that’s in conflict,” he pronounced.
The complaints were made last November 5 and 6 in a meeting called “SOS for no continuation of the armed conflict in Bajo Cauca,” organized by the Truth Commission (CEV in Spanish) so that social and environmental organizations, business owners, and institutions in this subregion of Antioquia could identify the urgent actions needed to put a stop to the armed confrontations and the effects of the resurgence of the armed conflict, which has not ceased in this area.
In an auditorium with a high ceiling and open windows to counteract the 33 C. degree temperature, were gathered the President of the Truth Commission, Francisco de Roux, a member of the Commission, Lucía González, with Afro-Colombian leaders, campesinos, and indigenous people, the Bajo Cauca Association of Campesinos, the Popular Skill Training Institute, the Women’s Route to Peace, representatives of public entities like the Antioquia Governor’s Office, the Caucasia Mayor’s Office, EPM, and the University, Company, State Society (CUEES in Spanish), and international missions that are following up on the Peace Agreement, such as the U.N. Verification Mission, the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process, (MAPP-OEA in Spanish), and the United Nations Development Program (PNUD).
The meeting took place in Cáceres (Antioquia), two hours by car from Montería. It came out of an extension of the 11 Dialogs for No Repetition, that the Commission held in the subregion in 2020, which the Antioquia area and the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis) thought were necessary to figure out what urgent measures would have to be carried out in the face of the serious situation in the subregion.
Besides Cáceres and Caucasia, Bajo Cauca is made up of the municipalities of Nechí, Tarazá, el Bagre, and Zaragoza, in a broad valley bathed by the Nechí and Cauca Rivers, where the scenery looks more like southern Córdoba than the rest of Antioquia.
The persistence of the illegal economies, like the coca and illegal mining, have had the result that the territorial control of these municipalities is being disputed permanently by the Clan del Golfo, the ELN, the FARC dissidents, and Los Caparros, or Caparrapos, whose purpose was announced in June by the Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, but which is very much in question in this area.
According to the Commission, not only that dispute, but also the dispute about the use and tenancy of the land, and the government being present only by military control, are factors that have allowed the continuation of the armed conflict.
Added to that is the alleged connivance between the Armed Forces and the Clan del Golfo, and the threats to which the population is subjected when the Army leaves the area.
During the most recent meeting, the petition and the calls for urgency were focused on the need for the integrated presence of the government, urging that those problems must be solved, because almost all of them result from the failure to implement the Peace Agreement.
The Integrated Presence of the Government
The social leaders and social organizations were the first to send out this shout for help.
Carlos Zapata, Coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Popular Skill-Building Institute (IPC) was emphatic when he pointed out that there was a false triumphalism by the government, which has had serious effects in the region: “That triumphalism is expressed in comments by the Defense Minister himself, who has said that the Virgilio Peralta Arenas Bloc, known as Los Caparrapos, have been defeated. That’s false. There are still cells and strongholds that are trying to ally themselves with other armed groups. And that triumphalism has allowed them to turn aside their attention,” he explained.
What’s going on, according to the IPC, an organization that has spoken out about conflict issues to avoid bigger risks to the leaders, is a realignment of the armed groups and a recycling of the confrontations to “the old way of doing it”: once again between paramilitaries and guerrillas.
Fr. Francisco de Roux, President of the Truth Commission, says that this is a problem of great magnitude, which requires a profound questioning of the way security is being thought of: “In Colombia it’s been this way: security is for property, more security for property, and maximum security for maximum property, but no security for people and for nature. That needs to be rethought.”
Katerín Orozco, the PNUD representative for Bajo Cauca, pointed out, that even though it’s true that this strategy is usually explained when augmenting security for the population, “the focus ought to be centered on real human security.” Orozco recommended a system known as Protection by Presence: “This means that the more institutions that are located in the territories, guaranteeing that fundamental economic, social, and cultural rights are being accomplished, the more protection there is for the community. If the armed gangs see an effective institutionality that satisfies basic needs, they are less likely to go into the communities,” she explained.
Compliance with the PNIS and PDET
The social leaders and the representatives of the University, Company, State, Society (CUEES) agree that the integrated presence of the government has begun with the development of the Program for Development with a Territorial Focus (PDET) and the National Program for the Substitution of Illegal Crops (PNIS), programs created by points 1 and 4 of the Peace Agreement to solve the problems of crops for illegal use in a concerted manner, and diminish the gap in development between the big cities and the rural areas, respectively, but both have generated criticism.
Margarita Palacio, representative of the Campesino Association of Bajo Cauca, is very clear about them: “They think that the main investment that they’re doing with the PDET in the countryside is in rural roads, but traveling by those roads is impossible. They’ve completed some tiny little stretches of road, but to get to that stretch, your feet would have to be able to fly. You have to pass through parts where the mud goes halfway up your boot, and you would almost have to carry your motorbike over a board to get to the little tiny piece of pavement that they built,” she explains.
The local, municipal, and regional dialogs for building action plans for the promotion of development in the region resulted in 901 initiatives for Bajo Cauca. But Palacio thinks that even though they are doing that investment, they’re doing it badly, and the main reason is the failure to work with the local communities.
José Luis Cardona, leader of pillar No. 8 of the Reconciliation, Co-Existence, and Construction of Peace in the PDET for Bajo Cauca and Northeast Antioquia, admitted the mistake. “We are responsible for that. The PDET cannot be the Agency for the Renewal of the Countryside. And the Stabilization Councilor, Emilio Archila, can’t either. The actions of the communities have to play a more protagonistic role.”
The same thing happened with the PNIS. “They sold one thing to the Community. They got their hopes up. But what they did was something else,” insisted Palacio. The way she told it, the majority of the families that signed the commitment to substitution carried it out, pulling out their coca plantings. “But the government didn’t perform its part of the bargain with the campesinos.”
Dialog with the armed groups
Another call was surprising, because there was a consensus among institutions, international missions for follow-up to the Peace Agreement, and organizations to seek a negotiated departure of the armed groups from the area. The United Nations Verification Mission insisted that dialogs with the ELN be re-instituted. However, the social organizations insisted on adding the post-demobilization armed groups, principally the Clan del Golfo. “The government talks about dismantling them, but we know that that isn’t going to happen,” insisted a leader from El Bagre who preferred to protect his identity.
There are multiple petitions
In spite of the fact that the event was intended to focus on urgent actions, it turned out to be very difficult for the institutions and organizations to prioritize, in a crisis scenario, which of all the actions could be characterized as urgent.
Because of that, in addition to the foregoing, everybody called for special attention to the protection of young girls, boys, and teenagers with guarantees of jobs and education, and measures to stop forced recruitment and their use in armed battles. They also made a call for recognition and special protection for the more than 46 indigenous communities and 66 community councils that are in Bajo Cauca, and have been affected to the greatest extent by the dynamic of the armed conflict.
Besides that, they insisted on their request for the creation of a Conpes document that would recognize and attend to the problems that spring from the national government, such as security, protection of the environment, protection of boys, girls, and teenagers, land titling, roads, and connections with other communities, as well as the petition that was made in 2020 regarding the Public Defender’s Early Alert 045, and requesting a meeting with the Senate’s Peace Committee.
A Governmental Manager Post for Bajo Cauca
Francisco de Roux, President of the Truth Commission, also announced that the Governor of Antioquia, Aníbal Gaviria, told him that he would create a Governmental Manager Post for Bajo Cauca, and that Luis Fernández Suárez would be the Manager.
After the announcement, Lúz Patricia Correa, who had represented the Governor’s Office at the meeting, promised to furnish Suárez with a road map based on the urgent recommendations of the organizations and agencies.
Andres Jaramillo, who represents University, Company, State, Society, confirmed that Suárez would be present in the territory next November 24 to initiate that coordination. “We have to demonstrate to the departmental government that here in Bajo Cauca there is a very valuable pilot program for peace that is integrated and without any violence,” said Truth Commission member Lucía González, and she told the leaders that they are the ones that ought to take over the oversight of that management post, because “very few territories have an agenda as clear as this one has.”