By Camilo Alzate González, EL ESPECTADOR, January 6, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Jesuit priest, Javier Giraldo, dedicated to the defense of human rights, and who has accompanied the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, talked about the threats to that district, Otoniel’s capture, and gave an assessment of the Peace Agreement.
Javier Giraldo picks up the telephone with his voice a little hoarse because of a cold he caught in the last days of the year. He answers from Urabá, where he customarily spends Christmas with the members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. The Peace Community was founded in the late nineties in a small rural locality in Apartadó (Antioquia). It is a cause that he accompanies and one that has resisted the onslaughts of all of the armed groups in the region.
Fr. Javier, as he is known colloquially, has been a personage in the defense of human rights in this country ever since he headed the Inter-Congregational Commission for Peace and Justice in the eighties. The author of several books on the armed conflict, Giraldo has been very critical of the peace process with the paramilitaries, and now he is voicing his objections to the Agreements made in Havana which, according to him, have stripped away “all of our strength”. Colombia + 20 talked with Fr. Giraldo the last week in December of 2021 about that and other subjects.
What has changed in the situation of violence and threats against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó?
Looking back a little bit, the situation started to be altered a little, but without substantial changes, after the demobilization in 2016, because the FARC forces that had been here went away, but the paramilitaries took control of all of the towns (veredas). By now all of the towns in the district (corregimiento) are under their control through the presence of at least one person, or one family that they call “puntos”, which is simply a program of espionage.
They call together permanent assemblies of community boards in the towns, impose their points of view on agriculture, what you’re allowed to plant, what you’re not allowed to plant, they impose illegal taxes, they impose their development model, which is anti-ecology, and contrary to everything that the Community has always believed. In those town assemblies they hurl threats, and they try to make it clear to everybody that they are the authorities in the region. Nobody is allowed to oppose them. Everybody has to submit, and those that don’t submit will have to pay the consequences.
Up to now they have not made the Peace Community attend their meetings, but there is more and more pressure and there are more and more threats. The answer from the government and from the Armed Forces to the complaints that the Community is transferring to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights are always evasive, saying, “We didn’t know, we weren’t on the scene there,” or “we will investigate,” and they never investigate, and that’s how that kind of control is able to make such progress.
Otoniel said that he had turned himself in, and also that he would like to make peace with the government. What’s your opinion of those two statements?
I think it’s very ambiguous. Not many people in Colombia have swallowed the story of his capture. That was a piece of theater, not rehearsed very well. The presence of the Clan del Golfo has most certainly been paramilitarism coordinated with and articulated by the Armed Forces. Between October and December in the region of Chocó and the northern part of Antioquia there has been so much aggression by the militaries, restricting all of the activities, including religious activities, so that several bishops participated in verification missions, as did international and humanitarian agencies. These missions made some very forceful statements, and the Defense Minister was furious with the Church for those complaints and demanded retraction of some of the statements that appeared in those complaints, such as the one stating that the Clan del Golfo and the Colombian Army are acting jointly.
What proof do they want? If they were on those missions, listening to people that have experienced first hand the terrible things the paramilitaries are doing. The nuns themselves who are in the rural areas are saying, “Here’s the military base and the paramilitary base is just a few meters away.” How can they deny that they’re acting together? There is such evident connivance, and we’ve complained about that before, not just in northern Antioquia and Chocó, but also in Caquetá, in Putumayo, in Guaviare, it looks the same. You can see the articulation and the connivance, even with some of the dissidents, with the Clan del Golfo and other paramilitary groups. The situation is extremely serious.
The Army has in its favor that it has hit the Clan del Golfo pretty hard, and that is what Brigadier Óscar Murillo, commander of the Titan Force in Chocó, stresses in his letter demanding a retraction. Maybe the connivance is ambiguous . . ..
It’s true—I think they are manipulating it all very sparingly, so that they can defend themselves and show another face, that of pursuit at selected moments. But there is something that jumps out as a substantial concern, and that’s the problem of the truth. To what extent are the groups that they say they have hit hard really the Clan del Golfo, or maybe they are gangs of common criminals, or even guerrillas that they want us to think are the Clan del Golfo? Where is their credibility? Where is the truth?
The humanitarian missions have tried to listen to the victims’ testimony. Now the military is asking for proof and the only valid proof is what goes to the Attorney General’s Office, or to the Inspector General’s Office. The consensus of the social movements is that that isn’t proof. In the first place because those who complain are taking an incredible risk and those offices are not a safe place for social movements to complain, at least when all of the agencies are coopted by the administration.
So the main problem is the truth, whom to believe, and how to find the truth in times like these when we can’t trust the agencies in power. You see so many lies, thousands of them, from official sources. The single fact that they uncovered more than six thousand cases of false positives shows that. Six thousand times the administration in power made up falsehoods and told the country huge lies about horrible crimes and presented them as truths and now it’s coming out. They were lies dressed up as the truth.
The same thing happened with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. If you look at the 2005 massacre, the government tried to sell to the country the false idea that it was the guerrillas that carried out that massacre. Now the Supreme Court of Justice has convicted ten soldiers. They sold a false story for years. It was an official lie dressed up as the truth. That has occurred a multitude of times.
Hugo Torres, the Bishop of Apartadó, believes that the capture of Otoniel opens the possibility of peace with the Clan del Golfo. What do you think about that?
In the first place, the talk about the end of the Clan del Golfo is completely wrong. There was no capture, it was a surrender. Besides, it didn’t touch the organization at all; they had a new commander picked out a long time ago, and all of their finances reorganized. The organization continues untouched. Nothing about Otoniel affects the organization at all.
Next, the mere fact of all these complaints about connivance with the government won’t open anything. On the contrary, instead of some space for peace, I think it worsens the problem of the war. We know the Army has never really fought to defend the ordinary people and the social organizations; rather it has fought to repress all of those forces. And now they’re joining with the paramilitaries who are also a force against social movements. The problem of the war is getting worse.
But Otoniel himself said in his appearance before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace that they were disposed to make peace . . . .
I don’t know what to think about that . . . how serious is all of this?
Five years after the Havana peace agreements. What’s your assessment?
I don’t think it touched any of the roots of the violence in Colombia. First and foremost is the problem of the land, but also there was the problem of democracy and the whole problem of manipulation by the media. None of that was touched in the agreements. As to how the Peace Agreement was developed, I followed it closely in the early years, and I had a really negative impression of all of it. Between the signing in Havana in 2016, and what was signed in Bogotá after passing through Cartagena, there were some enormous differences. Next came passing it through Congress, that was awful. Congress and the Constitutional Court reached into it and they pulled out all of its teeth, or whatever was left, because now they’ve robbed it of all of its force. It’s very different from what they were thinking in Havana.
Something positive is that nearly 13,000 men and women were up in arms and now they’re not . . . . . .
Yes, but so many of them have been murdered. It’s consistent with all of the previous peace agreements. First, they don’t touch the roots of the conflict. Second, they kill the people that demobilize, and third, they always recycle the factors that led to the war, and they end up recycling the war.