From the Humanitarian Refuge of Puerto López

On the 27th of June citizens of the towns of Puerto Claver, El Bagre and Puerto López came to El Bagre to march for peace.  Despite the threats received by the organisers of the march, and the wave of assassinations of community leaders[1] over the previous months more than 200 people gathered in a demonstration of hope.

PBI accompanies members of Aheramigua, (the association of miners and campesinos of Guamocó) who organised the march and who work with communities in the region through capacity-building and education to help them demand their constitutional rights in this conflicted region of Colombia where state-control far from consolidated.

March for Peace in the town of El Bagre, Antioquía
March for Peace in the town of El Bagre, Antioquía

The accords between the Colombian government and the FARC marking a bilateral ceasefire have been recently signed in Havana; however, in this area of Colombia other actors are present.  It is the paramilitary groups – now denominated as Clan del Golfo by the Colombian government or ‘Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia’ (AGC) – who are allegedly responsible for the recent violence, including the assassination of William Castillo Chima, a community leader and co-founder of Aheramigua in El Bagre on March 7th 2016.[2]

Graffitti in Puerto López.  It reads “Brother Soldier Join the Fight”
Graffitti in Puerto López. It reads “Brother Soldier Join the Fight”

The current conflict is over control of territory and economic interests. El Bagre is in a strategic position between Santander, Bolivar, Antioquía and Cordoba and is also estimated to be one of the largest gold deposits in the world.  Fertile soils make El Bagre ideal for the cultivation of coca.  It is also an area where there has been barely any investment in infrastructure, education or health care.  Poor access to external markets limit the viability of legal produce and create an economic reliance on informal mining and the cultivation of coca as a cash crop. The instability in the region serves the ends of those who would profit by criminal means.  The work of Aheramigua in organizing these communities is a direct challenge to the armed actors.[3]  It is rumoured that the AGC have a list of 70 community leaders and activists they plan to assassinate, including members of Aheramigua.[4]

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Mules laden with gasoline for mining and/or the processing of coca leaves into coca paste crossing the Río Tigüi ferry.

The Colombian government has distributed mining concessions to transnational mining companies with little consultation despite the local communities’ reliance on traditional artisanal mining.[5]

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Mining in El Bagre
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An abandoned house in Puerto López. Many residents have been displaced through direct threats and the general violence in the town. Since the beginning of the year many families have been displaced from Puerto López through fear, direct threats of violence and of economic necessity.

Aheramigua brought the community together to socialise the idea of the humanitarian refuge and to gain the support and assent of the community.  Various demands were then made of the State on the community’s behalf.[6]

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A store which buys gold.

On June 29th came the news that Wilson Mendoza Cabrera, a mototaxista (motorcycle taxi driver) and organiser of the mototaxistas in his suburb of El Bagre had been assassinated.   17 people have been assassinated so far this year (to the date of writing) for their involvement in social movements in the sub-region.[7]

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Support for the Humanitarian Refuge and Aheramigua displayed outside a local business.

Puerto López has been designated a humanitarian refuge by Ahermamigua with the assent of the community as a territory of peace in the midst of war.[8]

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Pauline Sfez of PBI volunteer from France in Puerto López. Physical and political accompaniment by PBI helps to protect the human rights defenders of Aheramigua who are working in the region and to raise awareness of the groundbreaking peace-building work they are accomplishing despite the very real and present danger of such work in such a conflictive zone.

Hamish Low is a PBI volunteer from Aotearoa, New Zealand

Footnotes

[1] Prensa Rural: Presencia paramilitar y asesinato selectivo de campesinos en El Bagre, Antioquia, 9 de junio de 2016; El Espectador, El Bagre, epicentro de ataques a defensores de derechos humanos, 12 de julio de 2016

[2] Semana: El Bagre, en una guerra sin cuartel, 7 de mayo de 2016

[3] RCN:  Mininterior visitará El Bagre, Antioquia, ante denuncias de ola violenta, 8 de julio de 2016

[4] El Colombiano: Líderes campesinos asesinados en el corregimiento de Puerto López, El Bagre, 5 de julio de 2016

[5] IPC: Política de formalización expulsa mineros del territorio, 27 de enero de 2016

[6] Prensa Rural: Campamento de Refugio Humanitario en El Bagre, Antioquia, 21 de junio de 2016

[7] Verdad Abierta: En El Bagre, Antioquia, ya nadie contabiliza los muertos, 8 de julio de 2016

[8] Prensa Rural: Campamento de Refugio Humanitario en El Bagre, Antioquia, 21 de junio de 2016; Prensa Rural: Campamento de refugio humanitario continúa por crisis humanitaria en la región, 8 de julio de 2016

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