By Cindy A. Morales Castillo, EL ESPECTADOR, June 12, 2024

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The threats against their leaders started months ago, but they have sharpened in recent weeks. The multinational, Chiquita Brands, which this week was found guilty of financing paramilitary operations in the ‘90’s, has operated in this area.

The declaration that the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó made 27 years ago to stay neutral in the conflict that the country was living through after two vicious massacres that almost turned them into a ghost community seems to have lost its effects according to the armed groups.

This week new threats against the leaders of these people, who are located in a rural part of Urabá in Antioquia, have one again set off alarms about the increasing control by the Clan del Golfo in this area, and have also revived the ghosts of the paramilitaries that have ravaged this part of the country.

It’s not just paradoxical, but also a symptom of the recycling of the violence in this region where these acts of violence are taking place in the same week in which a court in Florida found the multinational Chiquita Brands guilty of financing paramilitary groups in Colombia in the ‘90’s, right here in this part of Urabá.

In fact, several of the residents here told Colombia+20 that the court decision in the United States is a “recognition of all the complaints we’ve been making here for years.”

Although the harassment against the people here started around the end of December, the high point of the conflict was evidenced a few months ago after the murders last March 19 of Nallely Sepúlveda and her brother-in-law Édinson David, 14 years old, the wife and brother of the Community’s humanitarian coordinator.

A person close to the Community who, for reasons of security did not want to reveal their name, told Colombia+20 that, although the lives of several of the group’s leaders are at risk, Germán Graciano, their legal representative, is particularly in the sights of the Clan del Golfo.

On their web page, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó has published lengthy messages detailing the violent acts that have taken place between April and May. That includes telephone calls with threats to kill Graciano, unlawful detainers, theft of farm machinery, killing their animals, and alleged acts of spying carried out by people who identify themselves as paramilitaries. There are also complaints of illegal forced registration and bad acts by staff of the Attorney General’s Office.

“Their desire to exterminate our way of life is without any limits. They threaten us; they destroy our plantings and our harvests, our fences and our gates; they announce that we have only three choices: bow down to their will, go to prison, or be murdered. Our choices will always be for living and we will never refuse to protect that choice,” says one of the entries on their web page.

According to the residents’ complaints, in mid-April there was a meeting called by the paramilitaries for leaders of Community Action Boards in the District (corregimiento) of San José de Apartadó. The Community says that at this meeting, a man who identified himself as Mateo said that they would be exterminating the Community. “He made an announcement of the extermination of our Peace Community (. . .) and they were going to eliminate Germán Graciano first of all, as well as his family circle,” they recounted.

In a conversation with this newspaper, Graciano noted that this threat is just one of the ways the armed groups have used to destroy the unity of the residents. “Add to that the killing of the animals. They send messages saying they didn’t do it, just to make us fight and argue among ourselves. They’ve even co-opted members of the Community Action Boards to organize campaigns against our Community, using people that don’t live here to rupture our social fabric,” he says.

For Graciano, some of the reasons for these events seem to be just like what was going on with the Chiquita Brands banana company. “Things have changed, but many things not so much. The only thing the Community does is protect its land and the way we live on it, and that’s why they want to finish us off and kill us. That court decision uncorked this smelly pot with the banana company in Urabá, and you know that those business leaders are still here. There are economic and business interests in the Port of Antioquia. What we are doing here is exercising our authority and our autonomy to support our rights to our land, but that’s not what a lot of people want; so the armed groups, some authorities, they want to kill us,” he insisted.

Just a few days ago, the UN Office of Human Rights in Colombia once again issued a warning about the threats against the leaders of the Peace Community in Apartadó. “We condemn and we express our concern about the threats against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó,” the Office published in its X account (formerly Twitter).

Besides that, the Director of Human Rights in the Interior Ministry, Franklin Castañeda, went out to the Community this week in order to, as he put it on his X account, “follow up on the agreements we made last March” when the double murder took place.

Nevertheless, Graciano says that the Peace Community doesn’t expect anything to come from that meeting, and that they don’t want anything from the government. “We don’t want money or anything. We want justice and that they allow us to live; we want to preserve our lives. We don’t ask for anything more.”

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