(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator) interviewed survivors of the attack in which the social leader Jhon Taicus died three months ago in a rural area in Tumaco. The victims are reproaching the government because military troops from the Guaital Jungle Battalion #53 were encamped just a few meters from the house where the events took place.

“How could you allow somebody to kill Jhon right next to where you are?” Ligia Bernal reprimanded the group of soldiers that were camping a few meters away from her house where her partner Jhon Kevin Taicus Guanga was murdered last August 24. “We were often giving you a hand, we took good care of you,” the woman told the soldiers.

Ligia and Jhon’s house was located in the town (vereda) of Bellavista, about an hour from the urban part of the Municipality of Tumaco in Nariño Department. Bernal had been working there for 14 years, and she was living peacefully on those eight hectares of land at the edge of the Panamerican Highway bypass that connects La Perla del Pacifico with Pasto.

Just a glance from the highway, you see the little house with the sign “Guisa River Fish Products 84 Km”. The family sells tilapia, cachama, sábala, and live and frozen fry. In one part of the lot, you can see seven ponds for fish farming, motor pumps, and aeration equipment, all used to put an association together. The leader’s dead body was stretched out among the fish pools, as he had been running to escape his executioners.

Taicus was 51 years old; he was born in Ecuador and he had been established in the Municipality of Tumaco for 28 years. He was the legal representative of the United Agricultural Association for Highway Zone Progress (ASUP) and of the Guayacana Farmers Association  (Agrobrisas del 85). Through both efforts he was trying to diversify the campesinos’ agricultural production and to carry out some collective projects in Tumaco, planting forest species with commercial value, harvesting cacao, and cultivating fish farms or carrying out environmental efforts like cleaning up the gullies in the region.

ASUP had programmed the closing of its principal project for this November 30, but Jhon would not be allowed to see that. For several months, the association had been working to build a collective production unit located at kilometer 84 of the District (corregimiento) of La Guayacana, and this initiative was being supported by the Directorate of Carabineros and Environmental Protection (DICAR) of the National Police and by the United Nations Development Program (PNUD).

“He was a leftist social leader. I think that was the reason they killed him,” says Bernal, Taicus’ loving partner for nine years. As Bernal points out, Jhon Taicus was defending the policies of Historic Pact in the community, but that didn’t keep him from having relationships with and working with the Armed Forces who lived on and passed through his properties.

After the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC and the Colombian government, dozens of armed organizations have been disputing territorial control in Tumaco. According to statements by the Ombudsman’s Office in their Early Alerts, they are the Coordinated Guerrillas of the Pacific, part of the Second Marquetalia through the “Alfonso Cano” Column, Iván Ríos Front—previously known as The Accountants–, “Ariel Aidana Mobile Column”, and the “Oliver Sinisterra Front”. On the other side is the Central Command Staff (EMC) with the “Urías Rondón” and “Franco Benavides” organizations.

A few meters from the property where he was murdered, Taicus was installing an encampment for the Guaital Jungle Battalion #53, part of the Hercules Joint Task Force for Stabilization and Consolidation. “Did the Army know about the attack?” the survivors are asking themselves. “Why didn’t anybody react?” they are asking, but nobody has answered them.

The tragedy

On the morning of August 24, Jhon Taicus got up early to work with the collective unit where the association that he represented is promoting the development of fish farming. At about 3:00 in the afternoon he went to the house, where Ligia was waiting with lunch. That day Antonio* and his wife Teresa*, friends of Ligia and Jhon, were visiting them at their house. “We got to be friends because they were selling fish and we were buying it. Later on, we also started growing some little fish with them,” explains Antonio.

“We are survivors, because they also tried to kill me,” he added.

Antonio, Teresa, and their children had built a house close to Ligia and Jhon’s house, but after a year, they left Tumaco. “Because of security issues, because of those groups, I decided to take my children away from there,” recounts Antonio. Eventually they traveled back to this region, worked their land, and visited their friends, Jhon and Ligia.

That day Antonio was helping Ligia clean some of the fish ponds and they were all expecting to get together for lunch at around 2:30 in the afternoon. “The four of us were at the table. Two minutes later, my wife got up from the table and went out to sweep the patio. Since we were leaving in the morning the next day, we were going to leave everything really organized for them, because they were always very busy. But then we hear a car come to a stop, screeching the tires.”

Four men with pistols in their hands got out of a white Chevrolet Sprint and they started shooting at the house and everybody was running around, trying to save their lives. “I was saved by a miracle. I was able to get myself into a bedroom and I just kept quiet in there,” recounts Bernal. She remembers that her husband went out the back door where the fish ponds were. Bernal thinks that her partner was going to the military squadron that was camped a few meters from their house.

For his part, Antonio threw himself down to the floor while the bullets were flying overhead. A few minutes later one of the men went into the kitchen and found him on the floor and pointed the gun at his head. The shot missed and there was only a superficial wound on Antonio’s hand, and when his executioner pulled the trigger again to finish the job, there was nothing but a metallic sound. The gun was empty.

The man ran out the front door and the car started. The neighbors are sure that besides the Spring—in Tumaco-Ricaurte language—there came another car plus an SUV carrying four men with long guns. “They were like their back-up”, guessed the locals.

“I went out to look for my wife, I thought they killed her,” says Antonio. However, Teresa, hearing the bullets, ran out of the back of the house and crossed through the fish ponds to get to the military encampment just a few meters away. She put her hopes on the military camp there, that the soldiers would help everybody.”

“The Army was barely 50 meters away, maybe 80 meters behind the fish ponds. They were living behind the fish ponds,” insists Antonio. “At that distance, could they hear the gunfire?” “Of course they could! My God!” answered Antonio excitedly, and he added, “The neighbors came over, they live about a kilometer away, and the yard got full of people that heard the gunfire. Neighbors that heard the gunfire came from a kilometer away. People that are sick and tired of all the gunfire. The Army had to have heard everything that happened.”

The people that live near there are explaining that the military troops often set up a checkpoint in front of Ligia and Jhon’s house, on the bypass from the Pan-American highway, but on that day they had placed the checkpoint a kilometer closer to Ricaurte and just some of the soldiers remained in the encampment.

Antonio ran up to the military encampment. “I found my wife on her knees, begging them to help us.” But the group of 12 soldiers, some of them in their underwear, were unaffected. “They came to kill a person right in front of you and you don’t do anything? Get out of here!,” he complained. Antonio and Teresa went back to look for their friends and when Teresa went by the fish ponds, she found Jhon’s lifeless body. A bullet had hit him in his lung.

“Doña Ligia was out of control. She went over to her husband’s body. She saw him lying dead and kept on walking. My wife told her to look at him, and took her back to where his body was. She saw him and kind of came to; she knelt down and she started to cry,” said Antonio.

Only 15 minutes later on that same day, the troops arrived, said Bernal. The soldiers broke down the camp and they wouldn’t allow the rest of the families to get back to their properties. The survivors complained that nobody came to the place to investigate. “Nobody came. The funeral home and the Army were there, but that’s all,” said Antonio.

The next day Bernal took Taicus’ body to Ecuador, to hold his wake in his native country.

Nobody helped them

“Don Jhon and Doña Ligia collaborated frequently with the Army. For example, she had a little store, and whatever the soldiers didn’t have, Don Jhon would go and get it for them. If they the needed a gallon of gas, Don Jhon would find it for them. He would ship and deliver things for them, he kept their things in his cooler. Anything they needed, Don Jhon would ‘fly’ to do them a favor,” Antonio recounted.

Members of the organization Jhon belonged to are calling the attention of different agencies to the events that took place, but they have received very few responses. One of the things they did was to file a complaint against the soldiers to the Inspector General’s Office, “asking that they investigate why those people were allowed to kill him, when on other occasions the soldiers had said that they would protect him,” states one of them who, for reasons of security, asked that his name not be revealed.

Ligia Bernal had to leave and be displaced from her properties, and she remains in hiding. “I left everything behind, abandoned. I left the association behind, my business, my station . . . everything, she says. As she explained to this newspaper, she had suffered intimidations, and she has heard through third parties that her life is at risk.

A year before, “The Accountants”, –or the “Iván Ríos Front”, who are part of the Second Marquetalia—had already threatened Jhon. “Better go and look for Jhon, because he’s already dead,” recalls Bernal about those telephoned threats. Now she indignantly remembers how they told the squad of soldiers that was camping on their property about the threats, how the soldiers had promised that they would protect them.

“The Army, in which we had placed so much confidence, and whom we served in any way we could, risking our own lives, has been so dismal and disappointing. It was their duty to safeguard Jhon’s life. Nobody can replace the work he was doing,” Ligia concluded, weeping.

  • Names changed for the sake of security
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