Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
December 30, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
There are only two days until the end of this year and the beginning of a new one, but the stealth with which the paramilitaries are gaining strength in this region is both surprising and terrifying. The architecture and the power of the paramilitaries has been established in our region so blatantly and with the complicity of the various government institutions; they buy ranches, they build mansions, they go around in luxury cars, the product of their criminal activities. And where are the agencies of the government? Are they accomplices or maybe even partners in this rampaging and out of control criminal organization?
Once again, we turn to the humanity of the many peoples and communities of the world, raising our voices to cry out and at the same time, to testify before history so that some day they will be judged.
The latest events are:
On Tuesday, November 8, 2022, we were perplexed by disrespectful treatment by the 2nd Branch of the Civil Court of the Apartadó Circuit. As a matter of fact, our Peace Community has been threatened with being stripped of the ownership of our farm at La Roncona, a farm that is essential for our subsistence. We have possessed it peacefully for 25 years, and we have initiated a suit for adverse possession in the Civil Court. A hearing set for October 26 was cancelled that very same day, when the participants were already in the city. The first reason we were given was that technical problems existed, but when the official cancellation document arrived (November 8, 2022), it stated that the head of the office was off between October 26 and October 28, a situation that must have been known days earlier, but our Community was not notified. This latest episode confirms the impropriety of our legal system. This is not the first time that this hearing has been cancelled, and furthermore, in this most recent case, it was rescheduled for February 8 at 9 p.m. Only that Court would think of scheduling hearings at 9 o’clock at night.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2022, our Community learned that a civilian, Lorena Otagri, a member of the Community Action Board of the town (vereda) of La Victoria, was threatened by paramilitaries with messages on social networks and also by telephone. As a civilian leader, she was summoned by the paramilitaries to a place located next to the military base in the urban part of San José de Apartadó.
On Thursday, November 10, 2022, at 11:00 p.m. and on several repeated occasions, two subjects traveling on motorcycles fired their pistols in the air over the road going to the urban part of San José, right in front of our settlement of San Josecito, leaving shell casings at the entrance. We frequently see paramilitaries going around with guns, radios, and in camouflage in and around the living and work spaces of our Community and around the different towns in the District (corregimiento) where they have total control.
On Tuesday, November 15, 2022, at 10:32 p.m., two subjects riding motorcycles fired two shots over the road to San José, in front of the entrance to our settlement at San Josecito. This is the second time now that paramilitaries go past our Community, with complete freedom to fire their weapons.
On Wednesday, November 16 and Thursday, November 17, 2022, several people were coming up to our Community to ask permission for the construction of roads over our properties. The roads would go in the direction of the towns in the District of San José de Apartadó. The people were saying that the Armed Forces would be doing the work, but they were asking the campesinos in the area to furnish authorization by the owners of all the different properties. Our Community has stated repeatedly that we disapprove of this method of planning and reconfiguration of properties being decided by the military and the paramilitaries, without any transparency. It serves to model a type of “development” or “antidevelopment” at the service of their plans, and it is just imposed without a democratic discussion with the campesino population.
In the week of November 20, 2022, several campesinos told us about meetings that the paramilitaries have sponsored in a number of towns in the District of San José. The paramilitaries continue to exercise social and economic control to keep the campesinos around here from doing their farm work. They threaten to impose a fine that could be as high as eight million pesos (roughly USD $1,700 at today’s exchange rates) on anyone that disobeys them.
On Tuesday, November 29, 2022, at 9:00 a.m., in the place known as Partidas de Arenas, between the town of La Unión and the urban part of San José, three subjects in dark clothing and carrying firearms were seen, looking very relaxed and meeting with property owners and “gentlemen” of the region.
On Friday, December 2, 2022, the property in the “Luis Eduardo Guerra Peace Village”, located in the town of Mulatos Medio was invaded by several people. Disrespectfully, and without any authorization, they were carrying out social and recreational activities there. Already a few days earlier some paramilitaries and some people that live there had announced the invasion of the space, which belongs to our Peace Community.
On Sunday, December 4, 2022, our Community held an informal dialog with the Minister of Defense and with the High Commissioner for Peace. They are the ones that asked for the meeting. We furnished them with testimony of all of the situations our Peace Community has suffered in more than 25 years, events for which the government and its agencies, particularly the Armed Forces and their civilian branches, were mostly responsible. In the same way, we reminded them that the Peace Committee has ruptured all dealing with government institutions for many years. We will lift the rupture only when the government fulfills the four conditions that the Community believes would constitute minimal evidence of the government’s good faith in eventual dialogs.
On that same Sunday, December 4, 2022, the Minister of Defense used social networks and his official account to communicate to the country that he had heard the past suffering of the Peace Community, and that the testimony showed that the Community is also suffering at the present time.
On that same Sunday, December 4, 2022, 30 minutes had not gone by after the Minister of Defense had left our Community when we saw well-known paramilitaries passing by our settlement at San Josecito on the public road in complete tranquility and peace of mind. It was just one more affront to our way of life, or perhaps to leave a clearer message that, in this area, they are the ones in charge, the military/paramilitary.
On Monday, December 5, 2022, using social networks, Senator María Fernanda Cabal, made infamous and irresponsible accusations, characterizing our Community and the man who accompanies us, Fr. Javier Giraldo, as guerrillas. In Colombian society, it’s very well known that she routinely lies, slanders, denigrates, and expresses hatred. That hatred is concentrated in the language of the lowest and dirtiest chicanery. Everybody knows that she does it because she can count on an ensemble of government agencies of control that are characterized by a system of impunity that has discredited and suppressed the most basic credibility of the legal system. That makes it absolutely useless to file lawsuits or criminal complaints that, in any government with rule of law, would prosecute those ignominious acts, but in Colombia, that is unthinkable. She belongs to an elite with the most abject power and immunity. Nevertheless, we repudiate and energetically condemn her disgraceful actions.
On Wednesday, December 7, 2022, at 2:00–3:00 p.m., two subjects in civilian clothes and carrying pistols were seen at the La Roncona farm property belonging to our Peace Community. This is not the first time; they repeat it every once in a while, in spite of our complaints that we have made to high officials of the Colombian government.
On that same Wednesday, December 7, 2022, at a place very close to the urban part of San José, several paramilitaries were seen riding mules, confronting people in the region. They had notebooks in their hands and were writing mysterious reports. Those census activities by the paramilitaries were being carried out in several towns in the District of San José de Apartadó.
On Thursday, December 15, 2022, members of our Community were confronted by a well-known paramilitary in this region. He claimed that the visit by the Minister of Defense to the Peace Community could be costly for us.
On Sunday, December 18, 2022, at the property known as La Cumbre, which belongs to our Peace Community, in the town of Mulatos, several head of cattle belonging to the paramilitaries came in. They had acquired the property next to that of Sr. Chanci. The animals damaged plantings of beans and other subsistence crops that belong to members of our Community.
On Wednesday, December 28, 2022, at 4:30 p.m., the well-known paramilitary, alias Wafer, came into our settlement at San Josecito, and stayed there for several minutes. When members of the Community and some internationals who accompany us reacted to him, he took off.
On Thursday, December 29, 2022, a well-known paramilitary warned of the total extermination of our way of life. He announced the possibility that they might kill one or two of our Community’s leaders, and he also offered money and commodities to members of our Community if they would abandon our way of life.
We thank the people and the communities from different corners of the world who with their generosity and humanity are the strength of our resistance, besides the different cultural realities that unite us in our diversity. They are a moral force that sustains us and encourages us in the kind of work without which it would simply be impossible to keep on walking.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
December 30, 2022