By Edinson Arley Bolaños, Director, RevistaRAYA, June 18, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Starting in 2010, Emiro Nel Sánchez filed ten complaints with the Attorney General’s Office. In spite of the serious threats and the attempts on his life by the Clan del Golfo in Córdoba, the agency never investigated who was behind the efforts to stop him from recovering the land belonging to thousands of campesinos who had been evicted by the paramilitaries of Carlos Castaño. The farms that were the subject of the threats are registered in documents that RevistaRAYA can now reveal.
Last June 9, while it was traveling in the rural area of the Municipality Arboletes (Antioquia Department), in a vehicle assigned to him by the government along with his permanent bodyguards, the land restitution leader Emiro Nel Sánchez Medrano was intercepted by heavily armed men who kidnapped him after taking away the pistol from his bodyguard. Three days later, last June 12, his body was found in front of the cemetery in the District (corregimiento) of Bongamella, in the Municipality of San Pelao, (Córdoba Department). He appeared to have bled to death from gunshot wounds.
The National Protection Unit (UNP) denounced the event, along with the human rights platform Cordoberxia, which issued a statement describing the work Emiro had been doing as President of the land restitution foundation Fuvirtcan. They requested a prompt and rigorous investigation to put the hit men and the planners of the killing behind bars. RevistaRAYA has had access to the ten complaints Emiro had filed in Montería (Córdoba Department) during more than a decade. Throughout all that time, those who were threatening him always accused him of giving information about them, the land thieves, to the prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office.
That Office, in a report that analyzes land theft, issued in June of 2018, pointed out that Sánchez was one of the 27 national land restitution leaders who had filed the most complaints about threats to his life because of the work he was doing in Córdoba and Urabá. In that document you can see the threats that were not investigated when he was threatened for demanding restitution of the land stolen from his mother in northern Urabá, and for having obtained restitution, along with hundreds of campesinos, of the farms “Las Tangas”, “Las Catas”, “Jaraguay”, “Los Campanos”, “La 35 Norte de Urabá”, among other parcels that the government had taken away from the land thieves: the founders of paramilitarism like Carlos Castaño and drug traffickers, and Pablo Escobar’s straw men, like the Moncada brothers. That was the way to repair the harm done to the campesinos, but the straw men and the big land owners never accepted it.
Sánchez filed one of those complaints on November 14, 2013. According to what he told the prosecutors, while he was working on land restitution in northern Urabá, on October 17 of that year, at 6:00 p.m., when he returned to his house in Montería, a neighbor warned him to be careful, because men on motorcycles were looking for him. “He told me to watch out because people we don’t know had been parked in front of my house on a red motorcycle, looking inside the house, and as they were moving around, he saw they had a gun. My neighbor asked me not to report his name, as a woman that’s being protected lives nearby and she saw the strangers looking around,” recounted Emiro Sánchez. He immediately added that, “on November 7 at 6:00 in the morning, my partner opened a window and before she opened the door there were two strange men on a white motorcycle, motor running, and when they realized that she had seen them, they disappeared from the neighborhood. They were wearing closed helmets, blue jeans, and white tee shirts. One was short, and the other one was tall,” he added.
On January 19, 2015, he filed another complaint with the Attorney General’s Office as President of the Fuvirtcan Foundation. He related that at 6:00 o’clock that morning he found a threatening pamphlet at his house. It stated the following: “Señor Fubasdecor and Fuvirtcan and other comrades, the time of your death has come; we are going to disappear all of you and we know who you are, butting into parcels like “Las Catas” and “Jaraguay”, “Los Campanos”, “Las Tangas”, “La 35 North Urabá”, and other parcels in Córdoba that belong to us, and you are furnishing the prosecutors with information about us, and that’s why they have killed a lot of our comrades and some of them are in prison. We’re going to declare war on you and your SOB’s, MoFo’s. We lost the “Las Catas” parcel and we’re also being sued for several more that we know of. We’re not going to let these farms be taken away from us by restitution. We’re going to beat you to a pulp, because you’re bothering us you MoFo dogs, government suck-ups, get ready, because this year we’re coming for you. We’re going to burn you alive so you pay for everything you’ve done to us,” says the document.
In that complaint, the leader Emiro Sánchez reiterated that he was filing the complaint with the intention that competent authorities would acknowledge it and act on it because, “we keep suffering from these threats by these illegal groups, and besides that, we’re tired of begging the government for help with this whole situation that we’re in, and that’s why we keep asking for help,” he concluded.
On May 25, 2015, at 9:00 o’clock at night, Emiro once more complained of the arrival of three armed men on motorcycles in the Villa Melisa neighborhood where he lived in Montería. “They parked there as if they were looking for somebody or waiting for them. Neighbors that were up at that time figured it out right away and they immediately locked up their houses, as did my partner. They did it because they saw that they had weapons, were wearing hoodies and had their helmets closed.
Days earlier, unknown men came there and were asking where the man who was leading land restitution lived. As I had just recently moved into the neighborhood, the people didn’t know me, so they didn’t tell them anything,” said Emiro Sánchez that day and he added that the men let the people see their weapons while they were prowling around.
Sánchez also commented that the only protection that the government provided at that time was a bulletproof vest, a transportation subsidy, and a cell phone.
In that same account, he told about his work in trying to recover the land that had been stolen from his mother in northern Urabá. “I had left home at 4:00 in the morning to check on some land in northern Urabá, some parcels in a farm in my mother’s name that I was reclaiming, and at the time of those events I must have been on my way home. But there were some snags in Urabá and I had to stay there, and that’s why they didn’t find me in Montería,” he said. On that day he also escaped being killed.
On December 11, 2015, the land restitution leader went back to the offices of the Attorney General in Montería and filed another complaint. He recounted how, at 10:42 in the morning he got a call from a man who said his name was Carlos Gómez, who supposedly worked at the morgue in Sincelejo. He told him to go over to the ampitheater to claim the body of Emiro Nel Sánchez Avilez, his son. “He told me he was in the morgue with two bullet wounds to his chest. That he had found him near the Riego District in Sincelejo, and when I go to pick him up, to let him know.” As he continued his story, he revealed that after ending the call from Gómez, his son called him and told him he was on the way over, and to wait for him because it was really serious what he was saying. It was obvious that it was a trick and they were planning to kill him.
On November 24, 2016, Emiro Sánchez filed another complaint because he kept on receiving threats. He furnished two pages of descriptions of what he was having to endure. On January 25, 2017, he went back to the Attorney General’s Office in Montería. He complained that one day before, a victims’ leader had called him, and we will not reveal their identity, and showed him a pamphlet that had come in an envelope with a document containing several names, including the name of Emiro Sánchez in the first row. According to the pamphlet, the group responsible for the work of the hit men called themselves the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), baptized by government forces as the “Clan del Golfo”.
The same neo-paramilitary group that surged out of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) of Carlos, Fidel, and Vicente Castaño. They had inherited thousands of hectares of land stolen from the campesinos and handed over to the big land owners of Córdoba and Urabá who are hanging on to them ruthlessly, using these armed men to act as their hired killers, but they camouflage it with the simple name “an illegal armed group”. The same ones that are trying to enter into dialogs for “total peace” with President Gustavo Petro, and who the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, had asked to respect the life of Emiro Sánchez.
After the murder of Sánchez, the Governor’s Office in Córdoba offered a reward of 40 million pesos (roughly USD $9,700 at today’s exchange rates) to a person who would reveal the location of the killers. In the same way, the Mayor’s Office in Montería pronounced its regret at what had happened. Paradoxically, the elite corps of investigators in the prosecutors Investigation Unit undertook an inquiry to find out exactly what had happened. The information is not far from their reach. It’s in the complaints that Emiro Sánchez filed with the Attorney General’s Office in Montería, but they were not heard and they were not investigated. Undoubtedly, they point to the heirs of Carlos, Fidel, and Vicente Castaño and to the former paramilitary chieftains Carlos Mauricio García, alias “Doble Cero” (“Double Zero”) and Efraín Pérez, alias “Eduardo 400”. Those last were in charge of building a training school for the Castaño brothers on the farm La 35 in San Pedro de Urabá.
The ten complaints were placed on file in the Attorney General’s Office, some of them labeled “inactive” and others consolidated but never investigated thoroughly. They merely constitute a historical record that Emiro Sánchez filed in case anyone might ever murder him.