COLOMBIA INFORMA, February 17, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

17Feb, CI—The San Juan River and the whole Department of Chocó seem like a separate country. Ever since mid-August of last year, the communities that live there (Afro-Colombian and Indigenous) complain that they are in the middle of a war between the “Gaitanista”Self-Defense Forces of Colombia—AGC—and the National Liberation Army—ELN–. But since long before that, they have been complaining of something worse: abandonment by the Colombian government. It sees them as nothing but a drug trafficking route and a perfect territory for its neoliberal and extraction economy.

In spite of the many efforts by the community authorities, by national and international organizations that defend human rights, and by the Catholic Church, there is no relief for this territory. Bombings, military bases, marines, stigmatization and obliviousness are the only things the government brings to San Juan.

This has occasioned an escalation of the conflict that seems to have intensified this week. According to information from the communities, there are now more confrontations on the shores of the San Juan, especially in the District (corregimiento) of Copoma, Vereda Tordo, and Brisas. A person that lives there, who, for the sake of security, is not identified*, contacted Colombia Informa to complain about what has been going on in the last three days.

Colombia Informa: What has been the situation in San Juan?

The situation is terribly complicated because up to this minute there had been an offensive against the armed groups, which was what the communities were talking about (mostly against the ELN) and that brought a military base to one of the districts that was called Noanamá, in the Municipality of Medio San Juan. That is what the Army was telling us about all of its military operations; that they were combatting the illegal groups. But we are worried about the militarization, because that leaves us immersed in the conflict.

Really, the Armed Forces are not doing the job of defending the communities. Rather, they are working together with the AGC. And that is what we have been claiming; we’ve been complaining about that. For us the situation is very worrisome because it intensifies the presence of those groups every day, and they intensify their dispute right inside the communities. And they aren’t just fighting out in the countryside, but rather right inside the communities.

And we can see that the objective of the presence of the Armed Forces is to come into the communities, stay a day or two, and then leave. Immediately the AGC come into the communities. Because of that we have seen children killed, young people, and adults, all killed. When the paramilitaries come in, they threaten that nobody can move. And to that you add the terror of being identified as a collaborator with subversive groups.

There are quantities of things that really are worrying us a lot, and not much we can do about it from here in the country, because anybody who says anything becomes a military objective. And that’s not just a threat; they have done it; people have been killed.

CI: How did you find out about the relationship between the Armed Forces and the AGC?

The Armed Forces came into the communities dressed up like the groups that aren’t legal. Sometimes they make like they’re Dissidents; sometimes they act like the ELN with those bracelets that they wear. And then, the same people come back as members of the Armed Forces.

But we can also see the complicity because one of them is on one side of the river and the other one is on the other side; and never in San Juan has there ever been any confrontation between the Armed Forces and the AGC. That has not happened.

The situation gets worse after a bombing where they kill a guerrilla commander. The military operations increase and so does the presence of the AGC.

CI: And what has been going on in the last two days?

The communities have decided that when a group with those characteristics arrives, they go away, to protect their lives. But on February 14 the AGC arrived in the community of Negrida and they took it over. Since then, they won’t let anybody move.

Today (February 16) the community just left, because they saw no protection. There could be a confrontation and it’s the civilian population that has to pay. We also found out that the AGC went to the communities all along the shore of the Tordo River, and the people that live on the shore are in captivity; nobody can move.

We’re worried because they are confining the communities and the civilian population. Nobody can leave or report on the situation and on the crisis they are living through, until they get around to deciding what they want to do (whether they want to stay, or whether they want to go, or when they will allow anybody to move.)

And in reality, there has been no response at all by the government in any of the communities about this situation. Not even on the part of the Armed Forces themselves, who are in the countryside. Previously, there had been a presence of the Armed Forces at all times. And now, they don’t visit, they don’t patrol.. Every day we used to go by the checkpoints that the Marines from the 15th Brigade put up for the civilians. But now they don’t even show up by the San Juan River.

What they say is that they are going to get the ELN out of the territory, and we are worried because there will be combat and they won’t let the communities move. All of the communities near the mouth of the Tordo River are confined. In fact, it’s a very delicate situation. Anybody that goes out is running the risk that there will be a checkpoint somewhere and they will make you stay, or that they will identify you, or they will kill you. That’s the situation in the Chocó.

CI: How many people have been killed this year so far?

So far this year, we have counted more than five people killed. And that was made public because of complaints.

CI:  Were any of the people killed minors?

Yes a girl was killed in Dipurdú. The paramilitaries came in shooting blood and fire at the community. There had not been any combat, not any confrontations. And later they took several people away, intimidating the community. They killed them and left their bodies on the beach.

CI : What day did that happen?

It was more or less January 15.

The Complaint by the Colombian Pacific Human Rights Network about these events.

CI : As you are authorities, what did you demand from the armed groups and the government in order to obtain guarantees for your lives and for your ability to remain in the countryside?

Previously, we had met with both sides that were disputing the territory (the ELN and the AGC). The communities had demanded that their territory be respected, as that would allow us to not be immersed in the confrontation. There was compliance with that for nearly three years, showing respect for the territory, and we were also able to travel on the river, because that’s the only way we have to travel anywhere. The San Juan River is our main highway.

That had been working until—we don’t know how it was—there was the confrontation. One day the AGC took over one of the towns that they weren’t supposed to take, Dipurdú. They burst into the town, took it over, threatening a lot of people there. Later on there was a confrontation and the community fled toward San Miguel and towards Medio San Juan.

After that, the Armed Forces came and they said they were going to take control. But they came to support the paramilitaries. The harassment and threats in the communities increased.

So, what did we demand? In the last few days, there came a communication from the community authorities to both groups. They asked them to please sit down, talk about it, and respect the agreements again. But in reality, we did not hear a specific response, but rather that their orders were to keep on fighting the war.

Are the Dissidents also present in the territory?

We haven’t been able to confirm that, no. Every time somebody says they were present, it’s been the Armed Forces that cook up those fakes. That we have been able to prove. Up to right now, the Dissidents are not here. It’s said that they are, but we really have not seen anyone we could identify as Dissidents patrolling.

*The name of the person who gave the interview has been omitted because of the current AGC threats stating that any person that talks about what is happening in the territory is a military objective.

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