EL TIEMPO, May 4, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

At 25 days before the Presidential election, social and community leaders from the 15 municipalities in Montes de María complain that there is a criminal campaign by the Clan del Golfo to prohibit free and conscientious voting in this region of the Colombian Carribbean.

According to communities in the municipalities of Ovejas, Colosó, Los Palmitos, San Onofre, Cármen de Bolívar, Zambrano, and Marialabaja, the criminal gang is carrying out a political campaign, and imposing prohibitions against the voters in the rural area.

They are forbidding leaders and communities to campaign for the Historic Pact Party.

“They are having meetings in the towns (veredas) and districts (corregimientos) and insisting that they are the ones that will be imposing security on Election Day,” said a social leader in the Municipality of Ovejas, who asked that their name be kept confidential.

In at least a dozen of the towns and settlements the violent gangs have already ordered that no one is allowed to go out and vote on May 29, the communities are complaining.

“These men have total control in the rural areas, and it will be impossible for the people that live in the towns and settlements to go out to exercise their right to vote,” they point out.

According to the inhabitants of this region, the so-called Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces are prohibiting the leaders from campaigning for the Historic Pact Party.

“For example, in the District of Canutal, Sr. Macario Mesa doesn’t permit any kind of political advertising, or anything about alternative movements that may be against the current administration,” they complain.

According to the leaders of the region in Canutal, Canutalito, and El Salado (Cármen de Bolívar) they are the targets of this political crime.

They are imposing curfews and at night they use the roads as strategic corridors for moving drugs.

“The objective of the criminals in the region is to replace the government in basic functions such as administering justice. In several municipalities, they punish robbery, they impose forced labor, and they force thieves to pay back what they stole. They impose schedules for leaving and entering the districts and the towns during the night,” complains a leader from Cármen de Bolívar.

According to the communities, it’s exactly in those hours of the night that they patrol the districts and towns, carrying the political message and promising that ‘we’re here to furnish security’.”

“Part of the population is falling for their game and is generating some loyalties that could be damaging for the rest of the communities, as has happened in the past and resulted in the stigmatization of the people and half a hundred massacres,” they say in Ovejas.

And while the communities are confined by order of the violent gangs, at night the roads are turned into strategic corridors for moving the drugs.

Last April 21, two Police Officers were murdered while on duty, during brutal and cowardly attacks by the violent gangs at two points in Montes de María. The first crime was committed on kilometer one on the road that goes from El Cármen de Bolívar to Zambrano. Patrol Officer Francisco Pacheco Arellano died there. On the same day, in the municipality of Colosó, Sucre Department, Patrol Officer Fabián Berrío Mercado was murdered by gunmen.

Faced with those events, the Governor of Bolívar, Vicente Biel, revealed that there had been a “plan pistola” orchestrated by the Clan del Golfo right in the middle of the election season.

The Community is asking the Ombudsman’s Office to issue an early alert for the whole territory.

On this Wednesday morning, the Council for Peace, Living Together, Reconciliation, and Human Rights in Montes de María published a complaint about the recruitment of boys, girls, and young people, “not just for drug trafficking activities, but also to become part of the ranks of the organized armed groups—GAO. Besides that, the children are victims of abuse and sexual exploitation, which degrades their future and their life plans.”

In this region, there are already four early alerts by the Ombudsman’s Office, for four municipalities: Cármen de Bolívar, Ovejas, Marialabaja, and Colosó. But now, the Peace Council in the region is asking the Ombudsman’s Office for an early alert for the whole Montes de María territory.

In Zambrano (Bolívar Department) the initials of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces have appeared on the walls of several houses.

The criminal gang feeds on the drug traffic and the drug traffic in this region takes a mandatory step between southern Bolívar and the Gulf of Morrosquillo, where the criminals get the drugs onto ocean traffic toward Europe, the United States, and Central America. They were strengthened by the pandemic and now they are imposing their terror with blood and fire.

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