By Carolina Tejada, Agencia Prensa Rural, April 7, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
“The community was the victim of psychological torture, of verbal abuse, of physical battery; the boys and girls that were there were dragged out of their houses and forced to sit on the basketball court on the cement and tolerate the sun for three hours. Those are actions that are not part of carrying out a supposed operation, like they are saying.”
The only way to get to the soggy green area of Puerto Leguízamo is by air or by water, on the Putumayo River. It’s a border area that connects the territory with the neighbors Ecuador and Perú. Because of that, it’s strategic for the armed groups and the drug traffic they are fighting about, and they fight more intensely now, since the signing of the Peace Agreement, for control of the area. It’s a forgotten territory, where there is no presence at all of a government that might guarantee the rights of the collection of campesinos and indigenous people. They live there, sharing the territory, in the midst of crops grown for illegal uses, as an economic lifeline for the precariousness of living in the territory. There are also subsistence crops and the fishing that is not part of the residents’ economic dynamic, but rather it complements the families’ sustenance, and there is also some cattle raising that is increasing on the shores. This population also shares in the violence brewing in the competition between regular and irregular armies.
The different versions
The Minister of Defense, Diego Molano Aponte, used his Twitter account this March 28 to announce, “Thanks to the offensive operations of the Armed Forces, which are continuing, against FARC dissidents, we neutralized 9 criminals and captured 4 more in Puerto Laguízamo, Putumayo . .” #ConTodasNuestrasFuerzas The Minister was calling for the protection of Colombia. The operation, as he called it, “was not against campesinos, but rather against FARC dissidents.” There were no innocent indigenous people, but rather narco coca growers. There was no bazaar; it was against criminals . . .” The one that carried out the “offensive operation” by the Army was General Édgar Alberto Rodríguez, chief of Joint Command #3, which was implicated in cases of false positives when it was in Huila.
While the Army’s triumphalism boasted from the capital on social networks and communications media close to the administration, the campesino and indigenous communities were claiming the other side of the coin. There had been an unspeakable massacre, perpetrated by the Army.
The community complained that those who were at the bazaar were threatened when more than 20 men, dressed in black and wearing masks, arrived, and in the best style of paramilitary actions in this country, they attacked the people and starting shooting indiscriminately. The people ran to save their lives. There was no military response, neither was there a confrontation that would have been justified by the attack. They killed the people at point blank range. It was said.
After these claims, Senator Iván Cepeda demanded a response from the high ranking military commanders and from the Defense Ministry; however, the Senator commented that, “General Zapateiro is screaming answers that evade any explanation of the massacre perpetrated by the Army in Putumayo. He isn’t saying anything solid, nor calmly explaining what happened. It’s evident that he’s hiding the responsibility for what happened . . .” And that’s the way it was. Because of that, they put a together a committee for accompaniment in the area, organizations for the defense of human rights, along with the Public Defender, and some communications media arrived at the place to see first hand in the communities what had happened.
In conversations with one of the human rights defenders in the region, Yuri Quintero, who had been threatened by the armed groups on several occasions for denouncing their arbitrary acts against the people, he said, “The community was indeed having a bazaar and, as day was coming, a lot of people were pretty drunk,” because of the celebration that had begun on the 26th. And “you can’t deny that there are armed actors in this part of the region. But nothing justifies what they did,” he said. He reflected, “We find ourselves with a massacre, with a State crime, with an extrajudicial execution. They were trying to show that everyone that was killed belong to a group, and they were trying to show that there was a battle with another armed actor, and really, that never happened.”
The bloodcurdling complaints
There have been many complaints collected there, in the midst of the fear and the prohibitions, the people told how at first they came dressed in black, with their faces covered, screaming at the people. They said we were an armed group and they asked where the guerrilla was. The residents begged them not to shoot at the people that were at the bazaar, because they were civilians. But they didn’t care. When the people heard the helicopter and the river patrol boats, they insisted, “Don’t shoot. You’re all here and we are going to be bombed.” When the helicopter landed they could see the men in black, who had already fired at the people at point-blank range; then they put on a different outfit, an Army uniform, and charged into the settlement. The terrified people told them, “All of you are killing us. Why are you killing us if you’re the Army and you have to protect us?”
People were injured and others were killed. One of the women that had been wounded was the wife of the President of the Community Action Board. In the midst of the situation, she had run away to save her life, but down at the river, she was hit by a bullet. She fell, calling for help. Nevertheless, the Army, now in their camouflage, smashed her onto the ground while the inhabitants looked on. Ana María Sarría was her name, she was an Evangelical, say the community, one who ran and died with her Bible in her hand.
In the case of the President of the Board, there is a collection of complaints. The gentleman, say the survivors, he ran, as everybody did, to hide behind a big palm tree there in the settlement. He was shot in the forehead, from a distance. To tie up the loose ends here, comments Quintero, “The people here are telling us that at some point on the radio they told the soldiers, ‘Get down to the dock, get down to the dock’. Then they figured that the order was, since the president of the Board ran and, and in that place the only one that could hit him was the sniper, and the order was to fire. That’s to say, the Armed Forces used their military intelligence to cut down a possible leader who had information, but they ended up killing the president of the Board. And because of the bad information, they had the satisfaction of continuing the killing. That’s what they’ve done before.”
The indigenous governor, they found him dead and took him to the basketball court; it was actually a cement court for different sports in the community. Then, “while they were there on the court, they placed guns next to the bodies, while they were saying that these were guerrillas. The people could see them placing the weapons there and taking pictures,” said Quintero.
The Attorney General’s Forensic Medicine Unit identified the following people that were massacred: the President of the Community Action Board (JAC) of the town (vereda) of Remanso; Divier Hernández Rojas and his wife, Ana María Sarria Barrera; a child 16 years old, Brayan Santiago Pama; the indigenous governor of the Kichwa Cabildo, Pablo Panduro Coquinche, and Oscar Olivo Yela. Some of the people that were wounded were identified as Willinton Galíndez, Vanessa Rivadeneira Reyes, and Nora Andrade. One of them was pregnant.
“I’m telling you this first hand,” says the leader. “The community has been the victim of psychological torture, of verbal abuse, of physical battery, the boys and girls that were there were dragged out of their houses and forced to sit on the cement basketball court and endure the sun for more than three hours. These are actions that don’t qualify as the support of a supposed military operation the way they are saying.”
These cases, says Quintero, are similar to those that happened in the District (corregimiento) of Yurilla in previous years. The difference is that no humanitarian accompaniment was allowed to enter to verify the complaints coming from the communities. The people demand justice for these events.