Colombia+20, EL ESPECTADOR, May 10, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Colombia+20 spoke with leaders of Antioquia, Magdalena, Sucre, Córdoba, and Bajo Cauca about their analysis after the end of the Armed Stoppage. They all criticized the administration and repeated their calls to search for a negotiated end to the armed conflict.
The Armed Stoppage is over, but in the 11 departments that were affected, total calm has not returned yet, because the AGC are still there. That’s what the leaders consulted by Colombia+20 in Córdoba, Antioquia, Bajo Cauca, Magdalena, and Chocó had to say. They explained that what happened between 5:00 p.m. and midnight on May 9 proves that the situation they and the Ombudsman have warned about countless times still continues: there is violent expansion and control by the AGC in their territories.
The result of the measures of confinement, imposed by the armed group as retaliation for the extradition of Daíro Antonio Úsuga, “Otoniel”, is not yet clear. The Unit for Investigation and Prosecution (UIA) of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) registered a total of 24 murders of civilians between May 4 and 4:30 p.m. on May 8, while the Defense Ministry only reported 3 murders from May 4 until 5:00 a.m. on May 9.
According to the UIA, in addition, there were 300 acts of violence that affected civilians in 178 municipalities. Among those were 15 attempted homicides, 26 cases of forced roadblocks, 118 cases of destruction of property, and 5 attacks on humanitarian missions. There were also 22 armed attacks on the Armed Forces and two murders of soldiers. On the other hand, according to the Defense Ministry, between May 4 and 5:00 a.m. on May 9, 187 burned vehicles were reported, 4 roadblocks and effects on 8 transportation terminals. Besides, it reported 6 Police officers injured and one killed, and 1 soldier injured and another killed.
For Carlos Zapata, an investigator from the Human Rights Observatory at the Popular Training Institute, the Armed Stoppage demonstrates that President Iván Duque’s statement that “the capture of Otoniel marks the beginning of the end of the Clan del Golfo” is false. “The administration and the Armed Forces see a reality that is opposite to the reality being experienced in the countryside. What we have seen is that this armed group has been strengthened on different military fronts in the northern and western areas of the country. They were able once again to move the ELN towards the Atrato; they are stronger in the southern part of Córdoba, in Bajo Cauca, and in the northeast of Antioquia, and moved the 18th and 36th Fronts of the FARC dissidents towards the north,” he explains.
The analyst, who worked for eight years with the Early Alert System of the Ombudsman’s Office, believes that the Armed Forces ought to take responsibility “either for inefficiency or for connivance”. “In many territories, they have been complaining that, for at least a year, they have seen no confrontations between the Colombian Army and the AGC. That connivance allows the expansion of territorial control by their enemies. But, more than that, this Armed Stoppage demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the administration’s defense policy. It was evident that there would be a collateral effect that they, with their intelligence equipment, should have been able to foresee. They can’t continue with the same lying rhetoric, with Minister Moreno saying they have full control, that the administration is on the offensive against the criminals, when what we have seen is an administration that is corralled,” says the investigator.
Córdoba Department was the one most affected by the Armed Stoppage. According to an account by the Human Rights Observatory of Southern Córdoba, in that subregion alone there were at least 9 homicides, 5 attempted murders, 4 threats against social leaders, 33 collective confinements, 18 burned vehicles, 74 new graffiti by the AGC, and 1 massive displacement in Puerto Libertador. But the violent acts and the confinement extended throughout the Department, even including Montería.
For one leader in the south, what happened in this department was a demonstration of power by the Clan del Golfo or AGC. “We saw what we already knew: they have control of the countryside, but there is also a lack of will by the government to finish off that armed organization,” he said. More than that, he insisted that the Armed Forces did nothing to avoid the Armed Stoppage, and didn’t even predict it. “Instead, they turned over to them all of the conditions they needed to be able to do it. The Police even told people that if the AGC says, ‘Don’t go out,’ then don’t go out, because we have no way to protect you. That’s why people were confined in all of the districts (corrigimientos) and municipalities, even in Montería; there weren’t even any soldiers in the streets.”
In the districts, they were saying, even the Police were confined. “The people obeyed, and if anyone didn’t want to obey, they took the consequences, because there were even garbage trucks burned and there was nobody to protect them. The national administration was distinguished by its absence, but neither was there any direct action by the department or municipal officials,” pointed out the leader. He also said that the civilian population was the one that had ended up paying the consequences for the government’s decisions, with which they were not at all in agreement. “We believe that Otoniel ought to have stayed in Colombia, telling the whole truth about the atrocities he had committed, instead of being extradited,” he added.
According to the Liberty Legal Corporation, in this department the Armed Stoppage extended to areas where there had already been complaints about the serious humanitarian crisis. In Bajo Cauca and Urabá, the municipalities of Amalfi, Segovia, and Remedios in the northeastern region and Puerto Berrio in the Magdalena Medio, where around 881,525 people live. There, stores were closed, free transit of people and any kind of transportation was prohibited, which generated shortages. The message has been, ‘the person or business or anybody else that disobeys this order, we won’t be responsible, you will be declared to be a military objective,’” complained the Corporation on May 5.
One of the most affected areas in this department was Bajo Cauca. Just two weeks earlier, leaders in the area got together in Medellín with leaders from other subregions to reactivate the Antioquia Human Rights Group. “We emphasized our concerns about the failure to implement the Peace Agreement, and we analyzed how the lack of functioning of the government had left us in the midst of confrontations, and has shown that the ones that control the security in the north of Colombia are the AGC,” explains a leader who insists that this Armed Stoppage shows that they were right.
“We’ve been through armed stoppages before, but never one as bad as this, which has also reached populated centers and even capitals,” she adds. She also complained that in spite of those announcements about mixed patrols by the Minister of Defense in her territory, you couldn’t see any military presence and the Police stations didn’t have the capacity to respond to the current violence of the paramilitaries. The Police station in Tarazá was even shot at.
“In Caucasia there is a gigantic battalion, but on the road from there to Zaragoza people were being threatened and cars were burned every day. In El Bagre, every day there were people being injured by that group. And in Tarazá, the situation was really difficult because the people were just recovering from a flood. How are they going to be able to respect an armed stoppage when they are practically living in the street?” she asks. Because of that the leaders agree that the government has no interest in restoring public order or in dismantling the paramilitary groups, and that’s one of the promises in the Agreement.
According to a statement issued on Saturday by the Catholic Church and the ethnic organizations in the territories in Chocó, 30 municipalities in that department and 11 in Urabá remained confined because of the Armed Stoppage. “That shows that it’s the civilian population that is suffering in Colombia.”
After the four days of close-down and the burning of motorbikes and vehicles, this Monday the people are afraid to talk. Leaders in Bajo Atrato, where the AGC or Clan del Golfo maintain control of most of the countryside, they are criticizing why an armed group that is not part of the government can have the capability of closing down an entire population “that isn’t at fault for anything” and why there is no solution beyond national pronouncements. “It’s causing misery and indignation that there hasn’t even been any security council here, and neither the Mayor nor the Governor have had anything to say,” says one of them. This Monday, in the midst of the fear, the people starting going out into the streets again and re-opening the stores.
Nevertheless, the Church and the organizations came together to make a general appeal. “Given the circumstances of social and territorial control that the Clan del Golfo and the ELN are exercising in some regions of this country, we believe it’s absolutely necessary to deal once again with the option of a negotiated solution to the armed conflict,” states the communication.
“In Sucre the Armed Stoppage has now been lifted, but the panic continues,” says a human rights defender in Golfo de Morrosquillo. In Sucre Department, according to the complaint, the main places affected were the municipalities of La Mojana Sucreña, also Montes de María and San Onofre, Tolú, and Tolúviejo. “Those are places where we have been complaining about the reorganization and rearming of the paramilitaries for nearly two years, but the answer is always that it was just common crime,” they add.
According to what they said, on Monday the businesses remained closed, and parents didn’t send their children to school, because it’s a long ways and they were afraid that something would happen to them on their way. Just in the road that connects Coveñas with Córdoba, more than ten vehicles were burned, according to the report by the organizations.
“It’s the government’s fault; they have permitted a retreat in this region in the last two years. We think it’s a political strategy with the presidential elections so close, and it makes us afraid to say what we think the solution should be,” stated the leader, adding that in spite of the fact that there have been at least two Early Alerts about the situation in Sucre, “no effective action has been taken except some captures, but this is something that’s not going to be resolved with captures.”
The situation is similar in Magdalena Department, where the population woke up with the news that the Stoppage had been lifted, but they didn’t feel any more calm. There the AGC had killed three people in these four days, apparently for ignoring the confinement orders they had imposed, according to the Platform of Human Rights Defenders, Activists and Leaders of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta.
“The AGC have demonstrated that they have the capability of closing down a department, and militarily, the Armed Forces can’t oppose them. The situation of violence that we are stuck with here has overflowed with this Armed Stoppage, and that’s why we petitioned the government to carry out the re-establishment of peace and order here,” says Lerber Dimas Vásquez, who leads this organization and is a Professor in the University of Magdalena.
Vásquez describes what the campesinos of the Sierra Nevada have lost in these four days. Their crops of avocado and platano can’t be harvested because cars can’t get to the fields. “There are also towns like Nueva Venecia, totally incommunicado and without any lights because the utility company couldn’t go to repair the poles that had been blown over by a windstorm a few days earlier. That adds to the fear that’s pervading in the zones most affected by the violent actions, graffiti of “AGC” or, “We’ll kill anybody that opens this business” and burning vehicles, like in the banana area, El Banco and Ariguani,” he says. Besides that, according to complaints received by the Human Rights Defenders Platform, the armed group also forced some leaders to distribute false information by WhatsApp about violent acts, information intended to increase terror in the population.
For Professor Vásquez, those violent actions add to the environment that the people are experiencing every day, and the difference is that before, the conflict was between the AGC or Clan del Golfo and the Conquistadoras Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra, and now the violence is directed at the civilian population. “That is our concern right now. Before they were killing each other and there were effects on civilians in the middle of it, like the recent massive displacement in Ciénega, but we don’t understand why now the retribution is directly against the civilian population. The three people they killed were civilians; it has been civilians that they threatened, and the cars they burned belonged to civilians. This is a situation that has gotten out of control,” he said.