Colombia+20, EL ESPECTADOR, June 17, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Inter-Ethnic Commission for Truth in the Pacific (CIVP) is an initiative supported by a hundred ethnic organizations. They gave it a mandate to investigate and produce a report that would explain the dynamics of the war in that region.
A fisherman, Abel Antonio González, was intercepted by a group of armed men when he was traveling between Taparal, ,a settlement on the edge of the San Juan River, and Quícharo, another town even smaller, that’s upstream by way of a small and crystal-clear tributary.
The armed men ordered him to get on a launch with them. They were going to take him away and kill him, but Abel Antonio was able to escape by jumping into the river, in spite of his injuries. He was able to get to Quícharo with the help of a brother, and from there he had to flee to Docordó, the only municipality in the region, the main city on the shore of the San Juan. Their threats followed him there, so Abel Antonio finally ended up displaced in Buenaventura. All of that happened in 2008, while the San Juan River area in Chocó was suffering from the battle between the FARC and the new paramilitary organizations that had been reconfigured after the demobilization of the Self-Defense Forces.
That event led the majority of the families of Quícharo to displace to other little towns on the banks of the San Juan River. The people were afraid of the retribution the armed gang might take because they had helped the fisherman Abel Antonio González to escape.
“The community displaced because there were rumors that the armed group that had tried to kill Sr. González would come to Quícharo to get back at the community for helping him. The three communities had to take the responsibility to meet with the illegal armed groups to urge them not to attack the community of Quícharo,” declared the residents.
That story is contained in one of the five volumes of the report, “Ethnocide, damage to the countryside and the perspectives of reconciliation”. The report was presented by the Inter-Ethnic Commission for Truth in the Pacific (CIVP) last June 15 in Bogotá. Delegates from the entire littoral, as well as members of the diplomatic corps, organizations for international cooperation, and representatives of different sectors of civil society were present. President Iván Duque was also invited to the event, but he did not confirm his attendance and his office responded that he had a schedule conflict.
“Human rights violations are continuing in the Pacific; we are experiencing a humanitarian tragedy,” declared the priest Albeiro Parra during the launching of the report. He detailed how the mandate to create its own Commission that would investigate and clarify the dynamics of the conflict in the region through an ethnic point of view, was issued by several ethnic-territorial organizations in 2014 during the annual assembly of the Pacific Regional Coordination, over which the priest presides.
That occurred before the dialogs at Havana had concluded successfully, and also before the Truth Commission had been created. The Truth Commission’s purpose was to produce a report (which will be delivered next June 28) to explain the causes underlying the violence in Colombia. Since then, a number of community councils and indigenous organizations thought to do a large-scale investigation that would do the same, from their perspective, from the collective territories of the Colombian Pacific.
The result is the recently issued report, that includes studies going back to 1982, when the first groups of guerrillas appeared in the Pacific region, up to 2018, the first year of Iván Duque’s term as President. The report is divided into five volumes that cover ten subregions of the shoreline, from Darién to Tumaco, at the border with Ecuador.
“This is a landmark,” declared Mary Cruz Rentería, Secretary General of the CIVP and an activist in the Black Communities Process in Buenaventura. “We had to do this report in a context where rights are being violated; it’s not a finished product,” she said. Her next goal will be to travel the shoreline again to publicize the findings of the investigation. The Inter-Ethnic Commission of Pacific Truth has no precedent in the whole world, as it is the first of its type that was created to explain the damage that the armed conflict has done to the ethnic communities. Her main political expectation is that the recommendations in the report will have an impact on civil society and on the government’s decision-making.
Jesús Alfonso Flórez, an anthropologist and former priest who aided the whole process, explains that the autonomous character and the autonomous and independent character of the CIVP are not seeking to rival, or to turn into a truth that would parallel the work of the Truth Commission. Rather, the efforts should be complementary.
In fact, this same report was furnished to the Truth Commission (CEV) in Cali during a private event with Commissioner Leyner Palacios who, before joining the Truth Commission, had worked as Secretary General of the CIVP. According to Palacios, one of the theses of the Truth Commission about the carnage of the conflict in the ethnic territories has to do with the structural racism that exists in Colombian society.
“That is allowed because it’s a way of consolidating the racism,” said Leyner Palacios when he spoke at the event. In his opinion, the violence against these communities doesn’t scandalize the establishment; it permits it and tolerates it, as if blacks and indigenous people were “people of lesser value.”
For the CIVP, the methodology of the whole process begins with understanding “the countryside as a matter of rights, and with that, it’s the first victim of the conflict,” claims Jesús Flórez, who emphasizes that the concept of ethnocide, which permeates the whole investigation, explains how the war destroyed the identity of the ethnic peoples. “The conflict generated other forms of relating to the countryside,” states Flórez.
Among the most significant findings are the several categories of damage caused by the war. These demonstrate the way that some key dynamics were destroyed, such as the identities of the Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples. That includes the use they made of their resources or the changes in production and in the traditional culture that generated, for example, the arrival of the illegal crops, the extractivism, or the megaprojects, with Buenaventura as an emblematic example of that last case.
According to the report, the violence provoked “a cultural deconstruction characterized as ethnocide, manifested in the profanation of the countryside through the damages to spirituality itself, to the environment, to the use and control of the land, to social relations, and to the dignity and integrity of the people.”
Among the revealing elements are the testimonies of the inhabitants who are aware of the armed groups that only operated in the Pacific region, and are practically unknown in the history of the country, as happens with the Indigenous Revolutionary Armed Forces (Farip), the Benkos Biohó group, that were Afro-Colombian guerrillas that existed near the San Juan River and were exterminated by the Colombian Army, or the Guevarista Revolutionary Army, the dissidents of the ELN that consolidated their base of operations between Chocó and western Risaralda, and which was the only guerrilla force that demobilized under the Justice and Peace Law.
According to the figures and tables cited in the report, the highest peaks of violence registered in the region happened (as in the rest of the country) with the rise of the paramilitaries at the end of the ‘90’s and the beginning of Democratic Security during the first Álvaro Uribe administration.
At the conclusion of the event, it was the turn of Juliette de Rivero, the representative in Colombia of the office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. Her words were the close of a program in which the ethnic peoples of the Pacific demanded that their testimonies be made known. “This truth has now been planted in our consciousness. It is a truth that gives pain to the countryside, to the peoples, to the women and the children,” said Rivero. And she made a forceful call to the armed groups: “Enough already with sowing terror and death!”