EL TIEMPO, January 7, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

A tour of several areas affected by the violence shows that, for now, there is optimism.

In spite of the false start by the national administration about a supposed bilateral ceasefire with the ELN, in several areas of the country there are signs that those agreements with other armed groups that began on the 1st of January at least so far are having positive results. 

The four organizations that have availed themselves of the plan are: the FARC-EP Central Command Staff, where they are working on the definition of the protocol for the commencement of conversations in the next few days; the “Second Marquetalia” where there have been meetings with the commanders to advance in the definition of methods and issues to be on the table for the peace conversations; the “Gaitantista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia”, and the “Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada.”

In a tour by EL TIEMPO of several of the areas most affected by the operations of these armed groups, we found that there is agreement that this process represents a relief and a hope for peace in their communities, but there are also high expectations of the management by the Petro administration in these negotiations, because they trust that it will be the first step to achieve “total peace”.

The Governor of Valle, Clara Luz Roldán, feels that there is excitement about the announcements. “As a pacifist and part of the Peace Cabinet, I feel as if I’m experiencing the excitement of seeing my region living in peace and prosperity,” said the Governor.

And the Bishop of Buenaventura, one of the areas most affected by those illegal groups, Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo, indicated that he hopes that these agreements can be maintained for at least six more months.

However, in the matter of public order, there were complaints this week of confrontations in the rural area of this port in Valle del Cauca between the “Clan del Golfo” and the ELN. The Navy found a dismembered corpse in the District (corregimiento) of Bajo Calima. It could not be concluded that the body was that of a member of one of those groups.

Also, authorities, leaders, and communities in Cauca told EL TIEMPO that the agreement had held, and that they trusted that it would all end well.

Leaders of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC in Spanish) expressed their support for the ceasefire. “The rural populations, those who have suffered the impacts of the war, deserve these different scenarios,” said the First Counselor of CRIC, Eduin Capaz.

For his part, the Secretary of Government of Cauca, Diego Aguilar, says that this announcement is an answer to the clamor of the people of Cauca, who for years have suffered the consequences of the armed conflict. “We hope that in the coming days, that besides the ‘Segunda Marquetalia” and the ‘Central Command Staff’, other armed groups will be added to the ceasefire, and that in this way we will finally have a country reconciled and at peace,” he said.

Next, Fabio López, a social leader, stated that even though it’s positive, there also needs to be accompaniment in the area of public policies. Cauca is one of the Departments most affected by the conflict. According to Police data, these illegal armed groups are present in at least 35 of its municipalities.

EL TIEMPO learned that there is also tranquility in Nariño in the area of public order, ever since January 1st.

The Governor of Nariño, Jhon Rojas, recognized the willingness of Gustavo Petro’s administration to achieve “total peace”, “but with all of the clamor and will of these communities, they expect that they will implement the agreements and that there will be real peace,”

Meanwhile, Huberney Ramírez, a member of the Pacific Nariño Human Rights Network, asked that the administration “not make the errors that were made before, when they established routes for the construction of the Peace Agreement.”

Likewise, Yuri Quintero, Secretary General of the Putumayo Human Rights Network, expressed jubilation about the announcement, but he asked for a better connection between the Armed Forces and the national administration.

“We were very happy to hear the news, and ever since the ceasefire was ordered there have not been any more hostilities. For us as rights defenders, and for the communities, it’s an important step and we hope that the process will be respected and will succeed in achieving the “total peace” that the administration talks about. However, we also hope for the commitment of the Armed Forces, because as long as the militarization of the countryside is maintained, it can incite hostilities with the armed groups,” Quintero pointed out.

In Putumayo the groups “Carolina Ramírez”and “Border Commandos”, both FARC dissidents, are still committing crimes.

Confidence in the Caribbean Departments

It’s reported in Magdalena that the bilateral ceasefire has contributed to tranquility in the Sierra and its surroundings; the community has even witnessed the way in which the groups have abandoned the towns (veredas), and the Armed Forces are doing the same.

According to the anthropologist and expert in violence, Lerber Dimas, they are carrying out the agreement so far and there has been a cessation of hostilities.

“The communities in some sectors have told us that the members of these groups have been absent for several weeks and that the Armed Forces have also been retired progressively by the government, thus carrying out the bilateral part,” commented Dimas, but he noted that it’s important to monitor it in the populations affected by the murders, extortions, and threats by these armed groups, because with the retiring of the authorities in the area, the inhabitants are left unprotected.

The “Self-Defense Forces of the Conquerors of the Sierra Nevada” (ACSN in Spanish), also known as “Los Pachencas” and the “Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia” (AGC in Spanish) or “Clan del Golfo” are active in this part of the country, with both of them having an impact in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Last year 195 crimes, mostly related to the war between these criminal groups, were registered, just in the capital city of Magdalena. For now, authorities register a tranquil commencement of the year in this area.

Meanwhile, from Córdoba, Jorge Elias Ricardo Rada, President of the South Córdoba Association of Campesinos (ASCSUCOR in Spanish), declared that the bilateral ceasefire is the best news for his region at the beginning of this year, because so far, the AGC that operate in his territory have kept their word.

Prudence in Antioquia

In Antioquia, although there is hope of reaching peace with the “Clan del Golfo”, the armed group that has its main base in the Antioquia part of Urabá, there is still skepticism and they prefer prudence, because, on more than one occasion during 2022, the Department was on maximum alert because of the “armed stoppages” decreed by that armed organization.

“There is a lot of expectation, but there is also a lot of silence. One way or another, we have learned from the history of Urabá, and the bad guys are now very quiet on these issues, but the people keep hoping,” says the City Clerk in Apartadó, Rubén Darío  Correa.

According to official data, the AGC are present in the 15 municipalities assigned to the Urabá Police Department (11 in Antioquia and 4 in Chocó) with some 1,200 men.

“It’s an important step to the extent that there is an agreement to sit down and look each other in the eye, and that it also be done with several groups, because you see that in the end all the groups have the same common thread,” concluded a representative of the Inspector General.

In Antioquia, no confrontation with the “Clan del Golfo” has been registered in this first week of 2023. However, we have recently learned that there is fear among the residents of San José de Urabá, a District (corregimiento) in Dabeiba, after the unexpected departure of the 17 Police officers that guarded this area of the Department.

The infrastructure problems with the Police station at that location made it impossible for the officers to do their work, and so they abandoned it on December 31.

With these things going on, there are complaints about a supposed presence of members of the “Clan del Golfo” that had arrived at that location, because of the absence of Police in the area. Nevertheless, authorities have not confirmed these declarations.

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