Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

August 25, 2022

Translated by Eunice Gibson (CSN volunteer translator)

Once again, our Peace Community turns to humanity and to history to make a record of the new attacks against the civilian population around here and against our Peace Community.

The events that we want to record on this occasion are the following:

On Friday, March 11, 2002, Investigator YESID AVELLANEDA, an aide to the Third Specialized Prosecutor from Bogotá, JOSÉ IGNACIO UMBARILA RODRÍGUEZ, a prosecutor of crimes of “false testimony” and related matters, contacted Fr. JAVIER GIRALDO, S.J., who accompanies our Peace Community. They told him that the prosecutors had opened a case against him on the orders of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) because of answers he gave in the investigations of ex-General RITO ALEJO DEL RÍO. The ex-General has submitted to the JEP, and claims that he is innocent of everything he is accused of, and that the criminals are those that have accused him of helping paramilitaries and other crimes against humanity.

Fr. Javier Giraldo filed a Conscientious Objection, a status that he has assumed since 2005, after proving in numerous cases the horrendous corruption that Colombia’s legal system suffers. This episode demonstrates that even the JEP, an entity originated in the Peace Agreement of 2016, and which had created expectations of the diminution of impunity, has fallen into the habitual corruption and, worse, because it has shown condescension toward the criminals and hostility to the complainants and the victims. Fr. Giraldo sent the Third Specialized Judge some important documents showing the context, such as the Petitions we have sent to all of Colombia’s highest courts on January 19, 2009, asking them to declare a “state of unconstitutionality” in Urabá. The Petition included numerous legal cases that had affected our Community and the campesinos around here, where the prosecutors, representatives of the Inspector General’s Office, legal officials, judges and Justices committed the crimes of adopting false testimony and faked evidence, as well as bribes, threats, and different tricks that were really wicked. The document contained 180 pages, accusing criminal officials with their real names, but the high Courts preferred to maintain them in their positions and avoid any kind of investigation and punishment.

Fr. Giraldo also sent the prosecutor the ultra-documented narrative of the seven strategies of extermination and genocide against our Peace Community, where numerous government institutions had been acting in complicity. Fr. Giraldo also sent the prosecutor his well-supported Conscientious Objection with 40 pages, as well as the introductory document for his presentation before the JEP of the forced disappearances in the decade of the ‘80’s, and finally, he attached the 20 pieces of documentary evidence of the crimes perpetrated by ex-General Rito Alejo del Río. They are published in a volume titled “The Debt to Humanity” from CINEP[1] in 2004. The action by the JEP in this case leaves us perplexed and confirms us in our decision not to recognize the JEP’s jurisdiction to take over the investigation of the crimes that have affected us.

On Friday, May 6, 2022, the Justice and Peace Branch of the Superior Tribunal in Medellín issued a decision against 9 people demobilized from 4 blocs of the FARC, including alias “Karina” (or Elda Neyls Mosquera García) and alias “Samir” (or Danis Daniel Sierra Martínez). File No. 110016000253 200883435. The decision consists of 5,964 pages and is characterized, as are the generality of the decisions based on the “Peace and Justice Law” (Statute 975/05), by the irresponsible credulousness that the legal actors assume with any phony “confession” of the former combatants and their false testimony, without any substantiation whatsoever, without subjecting them to contrary evidence or rigorous analysis. This is especially true when the ex-combatants agree to accuse members of nongovernmental social movements or projects. It’s as if they had negotiation quotas to obtain reductions or abolition of penalties, or to accumulate properties that could have served as reparations for the victims of their serious violations of international human rights law.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Maria Isabel Arango discredits the majority opinion. She adopted a system of investigation and trial of “patterns of macrocriminality” which requires analysis of events together, and not case by case, as does the majority opinion (see page 136 of the dissent) and, added to that, the majority accepted what the claimants were saying as totally credible.

Given these structural failings in the decision, relying on the credibility of the false witnesses, i.e. alias “Isaias” and alias “Manicortico”, who state that the La Roncona Farm was taken and expropriated by the FARC and put in the charge of the administration of militants of the Patriotic Union as “their collaborators”. Because of that they asked that that property be declared “a forfeited asset” (see pages 5807 and 5815). Worse than false, absurd, and evil. That decision proves the perversity of the negotiations that provided a model of transitional justice (Statute 975/05) designed to guarantee impunity for the paramilitaries.

There should be an investigation of how far the Justice who wrote the decision, JUAN GUILLERMO CÁRDENAS GÓMEZ, allowed himself to be coopted by people as awful as “Samir”, whose lies and slanders made him famous and who, together with the military and officials of the extreme right has been trying to plunder the peaceful possession by our Peace Community of 25 years, inflicting crimes in order to get reductions and suspensions of penalties. Once again what stands out here is the rotten state of our system of “justice”.

On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at 11:00 a.m., a member of our Community was confronted by a well-known paramilitary in the area, who told him that sooner or later the Peace Community will be exterminated. This announcement has been repeated an infinite number of times for the last 25 years. At first it was the soldiers of the Colombian Army that were going around the towns (veredas) perpetrating crimes. Later it was also the paramilitary groups that were multiplying in this area, and most recently it was the representative of FEDECACAO[2] in this region, Sr. CÉSAR JARAMILLO, who has signed up a lot of delegates of the Community Action Boards for a statement titled “No More Peace Community.”

On that same Tuesday, July 26, 2022, Sr. OVIDIO TORRES AREIZA is a very well-known personage in the history of our Peace Community, for allowing himself to be coopted by the Colombian Army and to steal a computer from our Community in the early morning of June 30, 2006, and turn it over to the 17th Brigade, using an intermediary. Besides pushing blackmail and threats against members of our Community, then in his capacity as a paramilitary, he confronted a member of the Internal Council of our Community to claim an interest in meeting with several members of the Council. But not so much with ARLEY TUBERQUIA, also a member of our Community and of the Internal Council. Three days later the reason why OVIDIO wanted to exclude ARLEY from his meeting with members of our Internal Council became clear. Arley had been chosen by OVIDIO, and apparently by other former collaborators with the Army in this region, to defame our Internal Council, by means of infamous slanders, stating shamelessly that ARLEY was connected to the paramilitaries and that he had been collaborating closely with the 17th Brigade for many years. His slanders were so spurious that the dates that he gave in reference to events, and to the claimed connection between our Community leader and the Brigade and the paramilitaries were dates when our leader didn’t even live in this region. Rather he was living in another place that is far away from Urabá.

For many years, the 17th Brigade and its whole military intelligence apparatus were accustomed to accusing the leaders of our Peace Community, as well as numerous other social leaders in this region and in the country, of being members of guerrilla groups. They did it because, as the soldiers would repeat in all of the towns, it was the Army’s way of destroying “legally” the local movements and social projects, besides murdering and filing false charges against those people. “Either we prosecute them, or we kill them,” were their exact words.

Now that the insurgent groups that operated in this area have demobilized, and that the criminality, mostly carried out by the Armed Forces, has been exposed, such as the thousands of “false positives”, forced disappearances, and thousands of other crimes they are being charged with, the means they use now to degrade social leaders in the public’s opinion is to accuse them of collaborating with the Army or the Police. This act of perversion is the same, but the entities change as the situation has developed.

On Friday, July 29, 2022, our Peace Community learned of the intentions of a paramilitary commander in the region to call a meeting of the civilian population of several towns in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartado. Included were the families that live in La Unión. For that meeting they were planning to pressure the parents to require their children to study in the school at La Unión, and if they refused, they would have to think about moving somewhere else. In the same way, they wanted to pressure the adults, demanding that they join the Community Action Boards, and if they refused, if they didn’t join the Boards, they would need to understand that an unconnected or independent adult could not remain in the town.

The residents of the different towns in San José said they were desperate because the paramilitaries would not allow them to plant crops on their farms independently. They wouldn’t allow them to plant corn or rice, among other things, claiming that whoever disobeyed their orders would have to pay a fine that would vary between five and ten million pesos (roughly USD $1,130 and $2,260 at today’s rates). It’s evident that all of this violates the Constitution and denies fundamental human rights supposedly protected by international law.

On Friday, July 29, 2022, in the town of Alto Joaquín, in the Municipality of Tierralta, Córdoba Department, there was a combat, apparently between Colombian Army troops and the paramilitaries. The battle took place in areas very close to the work and living spaces of our Peace Community in that town. After the battle, the soldiers and the paramilitaries prohibited the campesino families around there from leaving their houses for two days, subjecting them to confinement, and keeping them from doing their farm work, the only sustenance for their families.

In the first week of August, 2022, several residents of the region told our Peace Community that from the command staff of the Colombian Army’s Demining Battalion No. 6 there were indications of displeasure and at the same time an interest in filing legal actions against the existence of our Peace Community, because we have complained about the actions that violate our rights and that put the civilian population at risk.

On Tuesday, August 2, 2022, our Peace Community obtained an audio that had been circulating on social networks in the town of La Unión, where a resident, who was also a beneficiary and a signer of the Peace Agreements, claims, “I already know who the snitcher is,” referring to the person that told our Community about the serious events that occurred in La Unión, carried out by agents of the Armed Forces.

On Thursday, August 4, 2022, our Peace Community learned of the complaints by the residents of the town of La Unión, in the District of San José de Apartadó. They were saying that an agent of the Colombian Army’s Demining Battalion No.6, whom they nicknamed “The Horse”, was going around encouraging teenagers with money and cell phones, that he offered in order to abuse them. We have already on other occasions filed complaints about the historic close relationship between the soldiers of that Battalion and some of the local residents, including children who hang out at their encampments all day and part of the night.

On Saturday, August 6, 2022, in the town of La Unión in the District of San José, our Community established the presence of soldiers from the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade chatting together with a well-known paramilitary from the populated area of that town.

On Monday, August 15, 2022, at 6:00 a.m., a dead body was found. It was CRISTÓBAL MESA, and his body was found very close to the urban part of San José de Apartadó, where there is both a military base and a Police Bunker. Cristóbal’s death took place under strange circumstances. His family found signs of violence on his body, which was found lying over a rock. On that same day at about 10:00 a.m., his family went to raise the body, as no competent legal authority showed up to carry out the technical legal procedure. Cristóbal had been a resident who was very close to our Peace Community. During that period, he had been subjected to so many threats and so much stalking that it had been necessary to seek protection measures for him from international organizations. The site where his corpse was found is an area totally controlled by the paramilitaries in the region, very near the urban center of San José, where there are plenty of government security officials from the Army and the Police who, for their part, hang out with paramilitary militants and leaders in bright daylight. They are protected by the systemic impunity that we have been complaining about for so many years. The result, also paradoxical, is that on that same day, another young man, known as Juan Camilo Higuita Úsuga who came from the District of San José de Apartadó, died by drowning.

On Saturday, August 20, 2022, in the change of command of the Armed Forces of Colombia, His Honor the President of the Republic, Dr. Gustavo Petro, announced an alliance between the Armed Forces and the campesinos. He stated: “Can the Armed Forces build irrigation districts, country roads, bridges? We know they can, by building rural housing and irrigation districts and bridges and country roads (. . .) Can’t we build an alliance with the Army—if all those abilities are there—and the campesinos need those projects (. . .) If we aren’t able to build a great campesino-military alliance, a great alliance between the government and the campesinos, we will not succeed in building a nation. There is a range of small projects, if we look from the point of view of the engineers, and look seriously from the point of view of building a nation, one that could bring together our soldiers and our campesinos” (. . .)

Those words, which repeat paragraphs from his inaugural speech, can do nothing but raise anxious alarm among the civilian populations that have opposed the insulting and unjustified presence of government Armed Forces in our communities for two centuries. They have never been respectful and democratic, but rather profoundly criminal and genocidal. It’s been repeated frequently in the academies that the government’s Armed Forces were designed to protect the borders from foreign armies, but in Colombia they have been used against the citizens of the country. The vast majority of the citizens have been treated as the “internal enemy” that has to be destroyed.

The tragic experience of our Peace Community could not be more revealing. But, besides that, the fusion between the military and civilians has produced in our country the most terrifying monster in our history: THE PARAMILITARIES, who, according to the final reports of the Truth Commission, were responsible for 47% of the victims of the social and armed conflict that has destroyed us. For many decades, Colombia has experienced with horror the membership in armed organizations and the training that the members receive. It necessarily creates a psychic deformity and profound identification with the practices that the use of weapons implies, the tendency, necessity and complete pleasure in the destruction of human lives. The structural objective of any lethal weapon is converted continually into the body and the soul of the armed individual, and into the ideal most cherished in the profession.

Our Peace Community has always opposed and denounced the evil of “civil-military operations” which always hid perverse objectives. Our Peace Community begs the new President to re-think that mistaken strategy, fatal for the future of our country. It would work as a lamentable stain on the proposals of social transformation that accompanied the inauguration of the new administration.

On Monday, August 22, 2022, at 3:00 p.m. on the way between the urban center of Apartadó and the center of San José de Apartadó, a vehicle in which several members of our Peace Community were traveling, including several members of the Internal Council, and also accompanied by some international organizations, was followed for several minutes by Sr. OVIDIO TORRES. At the place known as El Mangolo, there was also a known paramilitary from San José that was watching the motion of our vehicle.

On that same Monday, August 22, 2022, during the afternoon, we found the home of a member of our Peace Community in the town of Mulatos Medio had been ransacked. They stole fuel, food, tools, and farm equipment, as well as some personal objects. A few days earlier the home of another member of our Community in the Luis Eduardo Guerra Peace Village, located in the same town, was ransacked in the same way. It should be noted that those responsible for these events, which are going on in the towns of Resbalosa, Mulatos, and some other towns, are those same paramilitaries. There is a high permanent presence of paramilitaries traveling the roads and going to the homes of civilians with their communications radios and short guns, and later the house is found to be ransacked.

Raising our clamors, we report all these things to history, so that some day our journey of suffering will be judged, but at the same time, we have hope. We have the conviction that the memory of our brothers and sisters fallen as martyrs are paying with their blood for our horizon of life.

Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, August 25, 2022

[1] CINEP  is the Center for Research and Popular/Peace Education, a group sponsored by the Catholic Church.

[2] FEDECACAO is Colombia’s National Federation of Cacao Growers.

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