By Javier Patiño C., CAMBIOColombia, March 17, 2024


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Just 15 minutes away from Cali, the Jaime Martínez Front imposes its rules, and punishes anyone that violates them with forced labor on the road they use to transport their coca whenever they want to. CAMBIO was able to talk with people that live there, people who are living in the midst of the terror imposed by the Dissidents. This is a report from a region where the government didn’t return.

Fifteen minutes from Cali, there’s a city that the government does not rule: Jamundí. There, for four years, all authority is imposed by the Jaime Martínez Front of the FARC Dissidents. In recent months the situation has gotten worse, to the point that the Police and the Colombian Army have been expelled by the communities themselves, who, under pressure by the criminals, carry out frequent violent protests. The dead bodies lie in the streets for hours, waiting for legal recognition of the death, which never arrives because the agents of the Technical Investigation Corps (TCI in Spanish) can’t enter without protection. So the remains are collected by the only two funeral homes that operate in the area: Remansos de Paz (Peaceful Havens), and Funerales del Valle. Here is the X-ray of a municipality that is at the mercy of criminals.

Jamundí, in the southern part of Valle Department, has a strategic geographical position. It is, if you like, the joint that communicates between Valle and Cauca Departments. That makes it an ideal corridor for sending out coca and marijuana, which is transported from Buenaventura to El Naya, on the way to the Pacific Ocean. The principal income for the people who live in the high part of Jamundí and their neighbors comes from the 1,500 hectares of coca planted in the region, and from the laboratories that process the alkaloids

This situation is nothing new for the 75,000 residents of the rural and urban areas who have lived together with the illegal business and who now are witnesses to the lost opportunity in the Peace Agreement with the FARC, signed in 2016, that resulted in a demonstration of the government’s lack of capacity to recover the territory where the FARC guerrillas had ruled.

CAMBIO was able to talk with four people that live in Jamundí. One of them described what it’s like to live in the midst of the wave of violence that’s affecting the municipality, exploding out of the confrontation among different illegal groups that are disputing control of the territory; among them the FARC Dissidents.

“What the people of Jamundí are experiencing is the degradation of the armed groups that used to have a centralized command structure and characteristics of belligerence with a political orientation, like the now-defunct FARC. But that has given way to a criminal group which is seeking to acquire benefits from the drug trafficking business and illegal mining,” said the resident.

The importance of the region

The territory of Jamundí extends for 627.7 square kilometers. It borders with Cali and Buenaventura on the northwest, with Puerto Tejada to the north, to the east with Villa Rica, to the south with Suárez, Buenos Aires, and Santander de Quilichao. According to data from Colombia’s Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), it’s a subregion where 60.4 % of the population is concentrated in rural areas. Of the residents of Cali, the most important city in the region, 21.74% live in Jamundí.

(Map omitted)

Being one of the last coca-growing enclaves in the country has altered public order in Jamundí. It’s shielded there after it’s planted, until it’s processed and packaged to be sent overseas.

Changes in the groups

Historically, Jamundí was an area of influence for the 30th Front, for the Urbano Manuel Cepeda Vargas Front, and the Miller Perdomo Mobile Column that were all part of the Occidental Bloc or Occidental Joint Command, led by Pablo Catatumbo.

Violent protests don’t satisfy Iván Mordisco; now he wants to attack the garrisons directly.

“The illegal group has always been present,” said one of the residents. “It was the authority in the rural part of Jamundí, which led the people living there to dream of an elusive peace. After their demobilization in 2016, which only lasted two years, there was a reduction of homicides and of the violent activities.”

According to an investigation by Julián Laverde of Icesi University, elements like the military and historic and geographic institutions functioned together to begin the renewal of the conflict with the arrival of new armed actors and a new wave of violence.

The high part of the rural area of the municipality has been most affected by the arrival of the new armed actors that replaced the FARC. The first to arrive were the Pelusos, who operated in the area in 2018. That same year, they were displaced by the Jaime Martínez Front of the FARC Dissidents.

According to the Icesi report, the conflict intensified with the arrival of the Dissidents. That was mainly because the Jaime Martínez didn’t have a political structure. What you see in the countryside is a group of guerrilla fighters, 17, 18, 19, 20 years old, whose commanders were no more than 30, partly made up of gangs of hit men. Now they wear bracelets with the four distinctive letters: “FARC”. As they don’t have any military or political education, the outlook in the countryside is getting worse.

This situation developed after the exit of the Colombian Army’s High Mountain Battalion. It had been located in the Municipality of La Messeta, and their departure left the high part of the Municipality without any military presence. The dismantling of that unit was ordered as part of the commitments that were signed between the government and the FARC. “At first the departure of the soldiers was received positively, but with the passage of the years, you could see that it was not the best decision, because in reality, it made it more difficult for the troops to return; the Dissidents were not going to allow their enemy to come back,” said a woman who lived in the area.

The power of Jaime Martínez

The FARC had complete control of Jamundí. The guerrillas took advantage of the fact that, by law, the Community Action Boards had to maintain a registry of their members and issue identification to every resident.

“The armed actors use this form of identification, not to protect the community, but rather to protect themselves. They ask to see identification to make sure that the individual is actually a resident. To know who’s coming in and who’s going out, and especially to locate “snitches” and infiltrators who might be a risk to their activities around the countryside,” said one social leader.

The residents also complain that the guerrillas impose schedules for the people’s movement, using strict measures: any travel between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. is prohibited; wearing a safety helmet while riding a motorcycle is not allowed, and any automobile that enters must have all windows open. All of these are regulations they have imposed in the area.

“That didn’t just start now. It’s been going on for five years,” says one of the residents. “There’s always been a speed limit. You can’t drive faster than 25 miles an hour. If you don’t obey that rule, you have to pay two million pesos (roughly USD $.51 at current exchange rates). If you can’t afford to pay it, you have to do 25 days of forced labor.”

The forced labor consists of constructing a highway that joins the El Naya region with the Pacific Ocean. It’s already 90% ready to transport the drug shipments. The authorities know about the rules they’ve made, but they don’t do anything. Here the law is imposed by the Dissidents.

“At the beginning of February, a group of cyclists was traveling on the road that joins Jamundí with Ampudia. Because they weren’t carrying identification or any permit, they were detained several hours by a group of Dissidents. Because they didn’t have money to pay, they took away their bicycles. A few days later, the guerrilla fighters gave the bicycles to a group of children as a gift from the illegal organizations,” said a resident of the area.

“The authorities have never been in this territory,” said another resident of Villa Colombia. “We have only had a police substation in Robles, which is not in the high zone, and another one in Timba, Cauca, which they closed up because of the guerrilla attacks. What’s most worrisome is that we don’t have police in any of our districts (corregimientos).”

The people miss having the soldiers present, but at the same time, they understand the fear that they must be feeling when they patrol in a region dominated by 400 armed men.

An uncertain future

It’s become a custom in the region to have violent protests against the soldiers of the Colombian Army’s Third Brigade. The authorities believe that these are ordered by the FARC Dissidents. “The majority of the campesinos do those for fear that there is going to be a forced eradication of coca crops. But in reality, they don’t discount the possibility of getting rid of the guerrillas, because they are sick of the rules imposed by the armed actors. The pain of seeing your family subjected to forced labor, seeing people going around carrying long guns at those illegal checkpoints,” says a resident.

The residents are also waiting for a commitment by the government to find a real substitution for the coca crops that have been their daily sustenance for decades.

A campesino that wants to plant a hectare of pineapples needs money to buy the supplies to be able to produce and sell them. “If he can’t afford the supplies, how will he get the pineapples out of here? There aren’t any decent roads, and you don’t know if anybody is going to buy the crop,” said one of the farm workers.

So the campesinos plant coca without caring that it’s illegal. Being the weakest link in the chain of production, they get the worst of it. They are pursued by the authorities to eradicate their crops, and also by the guerrilla fighters who expect them to remain in the business according to their rules.

Right now a pound of coca base sells for four million pesos (roughly USD $1.03 at current exchange rates), the armed actor charges them two million pesos as a tax, a deal which, in many regions, has diminished but is still easy to find in Jamundí. The road being built by the Dissidents lowers the cost of transportation to the Pacific.

Thus, in this area there are a lot of families that still sustain themselves with the coca leaf, and who are waiting for social investment by the government that would allow them to change their lives. “If that would happen, believe me that the communities themselves will start to make the change in the crops. The national and departmental governments have had a lot of voluntary substitution projects, but they don’t end up being profitable. So the people get the projects going really well, but when it gets to the middle, they’re left alone. They can’t afford to continue. As a result, they have to go back to the coca that puts food on the table,” says a social leader.

What do the authorities have to say?

According to General Erick Ramírez, who commands Comando No. 2, they have developed a strategy with the final objective of re-establishing public order in the Municipality. It’s being led by the Governor’s Office of Valle del Cauca, the Mayor’s Office of Jamundí, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Inspector General, the Attorney General, and the National Police.

That achieves two intermediate objectives: break up the control that the Jaime Martínez Central Command Staff of the FARC have been exercising over the population. The second objective is to transform the agricultural economy in these towns (veredas) and these districts (corregimientos) for food crops that support life and aren’t poison,” said General Ramírez.

In this area, said the General, there are several laboratories for chloralhydrate of cocaine, protected by the Dissidents. They protect their illegal economy by forcing violent protests and recruiting children. That is what the Jaime Martínez organization is doing.

Added to that is that military intelligence has confirmed that the commanders that operate in the high part of Jamundí aren’t responding to the negotiations with the government. They are continuing to kidnap, recruit children, carry out extortions, and deal in coca.

“This is something that also requires inter-interinstitutional management. We are on the way to solving it; it’s a process that isn’t going to be reversed. It’s a process where we have to feel that everybody in Valle del Cauca, everybody in Jamundí, is involved with the Armed Forces,” concluded the General.

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