Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, April 1, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Once more our Peace Community in San José de Apartadó sees an ethical and moral obligation to make a record of what we are experiencing and what we are suffering. In the last few days, we have been conscious of what has been happening in the first quarter century of being a Peace Community. That makes us look back, in order to understand the turns and the crossroads on our path. The shocks and the fears have not stopped, but we aren’t looking only for tranquility, but rather for coherence and honesty. We continue to be surrounded and threatened by the paramilitaries; and we are more and more able to see them as an evident governmental power, with all of the protections that it’s possible to imagine. They act in broad daylight, threaten everybody, and they fear nothing, because the government protects them. We cannot keep silent; rather, we must do what we can to see that everybody knows about it.
Now we want to make a record of the following events:
Since the last weeks of February 2022, there has been fierce persecution, by well-known paramilitary commanders in this area, of some former combatants of the now-defunct FARC-EP who signed the Peace Agreements and now are civilian residents who are working the land in a dignified way, in the same area where they once joined together to make war, but they did not wish to continue that. According to reports, the well-known paramilitaries like alias “El Iguano”, a former combatant with Front 58 who later joined the paramilitaries; alias “Deivis” and alias “Rene”, also former combatants with Front 58; and also alias “El Viejo” (“The Old Guy”) and “John Jairo”, former FARC-EP combatants, are trying to force the other former combatants that live around here to join the paramilitaries, while at the same time they are carrying out intense recruitment of minors in this area. According to reports, some of these paramilitaries that control this area, and are demobilized FARC-EP, are receiving benefits in the demobilization process coordinated by the national government and, at the same time, they are active members of the paramilitaries.
In the fourth week of February 2022, in the urban center of Apartadó, a resident of the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó, and close to our Community, was confronted by two well-known paramilitaries. The victim was taken against his will by two subjects, and driven to a regional paramilitary commander who subjected him to lengthy questioning about the movements and activities of the leaders, and of the Community. When he didn’t find the information about the Community that he wanted, he let the man go.
On Sunday, February 27, 2022, in the home of families in our Community in the town (vereda) of Arenas Altas in the District of San José de Apartadó, a sack of rice and a garden hose, among other articles, and food supplies were stolen at a time when the owners were not at home. These events are seen in a very worrisome message in which the well-known paramilitaries have been going around close to the property, with the intention of finding out what things the Community owns. This was made plain in a statement by the administrator of the property owned by the paramilitary alias “El Viejo” in Arenas Altas. They claim they are planning to invade the Community’s property in Arenas Altas.
On March 2, 2022, during the morning, our Peace Community learned of the presence of a group of soldiers camped on our private property on the La Roncona farm. Our Community headed out there and respectfully requested that the soldiers leave our property. Some minutes later the soldiers collected their belongings and left, not without first claiming that they didn’t know that the property belonged to our Peace Community. They showed that attitude in spite of the distinctive signs that identify the property and are placed in very visible locations.
On Thursday, March 3, 2022, at 10:00 a.m., for about 20 minutes, a military contingent that was camped in the town of La Unión in the District of San José de Apartadó, was supposedly furnishing protection for the Colombian Army’s demining Battalion No. 6. Members of this mysterious and controversial humanitarian demining project entered and arbitrarily surrounded the residence of Arley Tuberquia, a member of the Internal Council of our Peace Community while he happened not to be at home. The troops illegally photographed his home. Immediately, the members of the Community that were present requested the soldiers to leave and to stop taking pictures of his house, and to delete the photos they had taken. The soldiers reacted arrogantly and insultingly, showing their annoyance and threatening us. They used dirty words against the Community, telling us to get away from them and that they had no intention of deleting the photos. The left the place slowly, and not without taking pictures of a family, which also had a 6-year-old child. Already last October 23 of 2021, in the Department of Boyacá, Arley Tuberquia had been the victim of robbery and stalking when they took his suitcase that contained documents relevant to the Community. The acts were designed to be added to the list of assaults that different agencies of the government are promoting against our community’s way of life.
On Thursday, March 25, 2022, at 7:00 a.m., a group of members of the Army’s humanitarian demining Battalion No. 6 barged into the Community settlement in the Rigoberto Guzmán Peace Village, which is the private property of our Peace Community, in the town of La Unión in the District of San José de Apartadó.
In the last weeks of March 2022, in the urban center of San José de Apartadó, and in some of its towns, a rumor was spreading that the paramilitaries were planning to go into the Peace Community dressed like a gang of common criminals that comes in to rob and kill, so that their crimes would not be blamed on the paramilitaries, nor on the government agencies and businesses that are connected to them. They would just be, which is now routine in this country, “criminal gangs” or “illegal armed groups” or “outsiders” or “anonymous criminals”; so that the “justice system” would have a thousand excuses to leave the event in impunity, never mentioning the paramilitaries at all.
This March 23, 2022, our Peace Community commemorated 25 years of existence. Twenty-five years ago, on March 23, 1997, in the presence and accompaniment of the Bishop of Apartadó, Monsignor Tulio Duque Gutiérrez, and members of the European Parliament, in the little school in San José de Apartoó, we proclaimed our Public Declaration of Peace Community. We sought to have the government and all of the armed actors cease trying to get us and the civilian population to take sides in the war, even though, as was established in the government’s secret manuals, they had been preparing since the ‘70’s of the 20th century, and even though they violated all of the international rules of armed conflicts. The government preferred to continue its path of crime, and as a response to our Declaration, it bombed 27 of the 32 towns in San José, while they ordered the paramilitaries to visit all of the towns where people still lived, to give those people a maximum of four days to abandon the region if they didn’t want to be killed. In the quarter century that has passed, we have counted at least 307 extrajudicial executions among our supporters. Fifty-three of those took place before the foundation of the Peace Community; 194 were in the first 21 years of peaceful resistance. Of those, 138 were formal members of our Community, and 56 were part of our family and social support. In that same period the FARC-EP eliminated 46 campesinos in the area, including 18 members of our Community, and 28 from our family and social supporters. Of the remaining 14, our information is insufficient because of the terror and displacements.
But beyond the lives that were destroyed, our community suffered every kind of violence and abuse that exceeded 1,500 crimes identified by international law as crimes against humanity, since they harm not only the individual victims, but also humanity itself: forced disappearances, tortures, displacements, indiscriminate armed attacks, illegal deprivation of liberty, legal frame-ups, forced displacement, hunger blockades, illegal registration, illegal and criminal trespassing on private land, burning down houses and crops, robbery and destruction of domestic animals and provisions for survival, sexual abuses, desecration of corpses, slanders, defamations, stigmatizations, false reports, threats, muzzling, or attempting to impede any complaints by unconstitutional civil rights actions.
Even though the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court for Human Rights issued interim equitable relief and provisional measures, the decades have passed without the Colombian government complying with the Court’s orders. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has also been converted into the “king’s jester” while three of its judgments on the merits and several of its Orders for Monitoring have been ignored, but apparently the Court is not disturbed by the contempt, and that explains the horrendous chaos that Colombia is experiencing.
The International Criminal Court opened a file about our Peace Community in 2006. We are sure that all of the 1,500 crimes for which we have filed complaints are of acts of systemic and serious nature that is required by the Statute of Rome, and that more than 90 unattended documents of protest that we have sent to Heads of State reveal the implication of those that our Constitution considers the most responsible for the crimes, but, after 16 years, the ICC prosecutor considered that the JEP would solve all of our legal problems, even the elements of the Statute of Rome, and that therefore they could wash their hands of the Colombia Case. That is impossible because the Peace Agreement that originated the JEP only permits those who admit crimes specific to the armed conflict or in relation to the conflict to enjoy its legal benefits; but the armed aggressions against unarmed people can never be taken as an action that is part of an armed conflict except with profound manipulation and evil intentions.
The 25th anniversary was a simple festival, surrounded by threats and carrying the grievous weight of the eight methods of extermination that the government has practiced against us in this quarter of a century: physical extermination with cruel death; ideological stigmatization, with the President of the Republic himself calling us “subsidiaries of the guerrillas”; degradation by the media through mass, medium, and local communications, not only by the press, but by television and radio; biological eradication, by hunger blockades, killing even truck drivers and store owners to keep us from getting food and drink; legal criminalization, by multiple spurious files with the legal system—with falsified evidence and untruthful witnesses—that the high Courts themselves have refused to re-examine so that the shameful rot cannot come to light; social exclusion, denying the Community the crumbs of a budget to which we have a right through our forced payment (tax) to the government; economic extermination, or commercialization of our grief, offering meager secret payments for the dead, in exchange for renouncing justice, even though it would result in exclusion from the Peace Community.
The 25th anniversary was a simple festival of just one day. We were accompanied by five delegates from the diplomatic services in Colombia of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Sweden. When they arrived, they joined our march, which began at the La Roncona farm, by which our Community has raised a large part of our food in these two decades, and that now they are trying to take from us with their perverse “land law”. There the delegates from the Embassies performed a lovely gesture of solidarity by planting some food-bearing trees. Later, at a site marked by tragedy, where the paramilitaries, coming from the urban part of San José, carrying weapons to kill the Community’s legal representative and other members of the Internal Council on December 29, 2017, they read the introduction to the Declaration that was proclaimed 25 years ago. Later on, in the central kiosk of San Josecito, there were some displays about our history and our problems, we heard messages from numerous communities who were following the celebration from distant locations; twenty-five birthday cakes were consumed, and we took a historic photograph of the people that were present. There was a theatrical group, music, and long-time friends accompanied us on a day that will be remembered for our way of life and our resistance. We have no intention of giving that up, whether or not it costs the lives of those of us who persist, because we are convinced that any other alternative is surrender of the principles that we have shown to be valid and beautiful
With renewed gratitude, after looking back at our history, we greet everyone who has walked beside us, encouraging us, and supporting us, never letting us lose heart, from distant corners of Colombia and of the world. Thousand thanks.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, April 1, 2022