“Today, once again, our territory is invaded by paramilitaries”

PBI: Welcome to the PBI Coffee Break, today we are hosting Marco Fidel Velasquez and Ana Martinez Moreno, from the organisation CAVIDA of the Cacarica collective territory.  CAVIDA stands for Communities of Self-Determination, Life and Dignity of Cacarica.  Where does the name come from?

Marco: The name was born from a process of resistance, because we started thinking that we wanted self-determination.  To achieve self-determination, we had to resist the adversity from multinationals, corporations, the Government and from being abandoned by the State.

Marco Fidel Velasquez
Marco Fidel Velasquez from the organisation CAVIDA of the Cacarica collective territory.

Ana: Today, once again, our territory is invaded by paramilitaries. From Salaqui to Cacarica, which is a collective territory of the black communities.

Marco: There have been many incursions.  The ‘Gaitanistas’ are reinforcing their presence throughout the Lower Atrato, and in the whole of the Uraba region.  The way they are reinforcing their checkpoints, their control of the traffic on the Atrato River and even on the roads, is worrying.

PBI: Since September 2016 you have been reporting that these groups are entering the Cacarica collective territory and since January 2017 they are closing in on the Humanitarian Zones.  By way of a reminder, the Humanitarian Zones are a model that you implemented when you returned after being displaced, they are based on International Humanitarian Law, to ensure that as the civilian population you are respected, have the right to be distinguished from combatants, and can resist from within your territory; but despite this, today you still run a very high risk.

Marco: Twenty days ago, in Cacarica we went through a tragic, difficult situation with the paramilitaries, they captured the community of Bijao and have been using it as a base to go out and control the other communities.

Ana: The paramilitaries come in dressed in camouflage uniforms, they come running, surround the village, then immediately go by each house and demand a meeting, they are saying that they have arrived in the territory and they are not going to leave.

Marco: The day before yesterday they came into Nueva Esperanza en Dios Humanitarian Zone, at 7:45 in the morning, like a terrifying barbaric horde. They searched every house, including the house of the accompaniers from the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) and also the house where Peace Brigades International always stays when it comes; all these houses were searched.

Photo: Charlotte Kesl

In other words, the few accompaniment mechanisms which are maintained in the Humanitarian Zones by the will of some national and international organisations, and the Humanitarian Zone itself, were violated.  What is happening in the Bijao community is sad, it’s hard.  They arrive and the first thing they do is call the community to a meeting and say to it: “first of all, we are not just passing by, we are here to stay.  Secondly, we don’t want informants, addicts, drugs, or rapists…”.

This information is harsh, but then they also say: “If you see the Army, tell us”.  So, they want people to become informants, but informants that only work for them, and the communities won’t play that game.  They say to the community that because the State never fulfilled its promises to it, never gave them anything, they will bring Christmas to the community. The next day they brought three boats filled with boxes of toys and in the afternoon, they called all the children to the football field and gave them dolls, cars, toys…

PBI: Are they always wearing camouflage?

Marco: They always wear camouflage and are armed. They give lots of toys to all the children in the community, then they hold a party, butcher a cow, give some meat to each household, make a big soup for all the people, give alcohol to whomever wants to drink. It is another way of seducing them.

And they also tell them: “You have been completely abandoned by the State. We are going to help you, we’ll build schools, health centres, river canals, school canteens”. In other words, they are doing what the State isn’t, they are talking about doing it themselves and replacing the Government in fulfilling its responsibilities to the communities and this is extremely hard, because it is a way of seducing young people from communities, here in Lower Atrato, that have been completely abandoned, and also where the academic level is very low.

PBI: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a judgment against the Colombian State, in December 2013, for failing to protect the civilian population during Operation Genesis.  In that decision, the Court ordered the State to indemnify the victims of the Operation, to return their lands to them and to guarantee security in their territory.  To what extent has the State complied with the sentence?

Ana: Some families have received one million, one million five hundred thousand pesos (approximately US$400-500) as an indemnity.  This is just not enough, dear Lord, compared to the cost of living today.

Ana Martinez Moreno
Ana Martinez Moreno, from the organisation CAVIDA of the Cacarica collective territory.

PBI: What would you ask the Colombian State to do about this situation and the danger you face, and about compensation for Operation Genesis?

Ana: First, that it fulfills what has already been agreed, and completely dismantles the paramilitaries, and this isn’t just CAVIDA saying this, it is the whole territory, because if they do not do this, there will be a catastrophe.  Regarding the compensation, it must comply with what the Court ordered it to do.

 “If the State does not respond there will be a catastrophe”

PBI: Soon, from the 24 to 27 February, you will commemorate 20 years since Operation Genesis, which is a very important moment for the Communities. What does this commemoration mean to you?

Ana: It means a lot to us, because it means remembering what happened in 1997. We believe that we can never forget that moment which was such a tragedy for us. The idea is to commemorate these 20 years.

The case of operation Genesis vs. Colombia

Marco: It has been twenty years, and not one of them went by without us having to report an incident, not one when something difficult didn’t happen to the communities.  In 20 years we have not had one month at complete peace, there are always problems, worries, threats. We have had 19 commemorations, and this year we want to have the 20th, and we want to do it differently, despite the situation we are living, there deserves to be a commemoration like we have had in on previous occasions.

“In 20 years, we haven’t had one month of peace”

During 1997, ‘Operation Genesis’ caused the forced displacement of approximately 15,000 people. Photo: El Tiempo

More than 85 people from the organisation were killed, and there are 10 to 15 people currently targeted by threats, but this will not silence us.  We are going to paint this commemoration many colours to reflect a bit of happiness amidst so much adversity.  And to tell the armed groups that our Humanitarian Zones, our river valleys need them all to leave us be.

We will do a pilgrimage to all the communities, we went to the first, which was Bijao, and we couldn’t stay long because of the paramilitary presence. We left and 10 minutes later the village was full of paramilitaries asking what we had said, what we were doing. Even the pilgrimage is difficult to organise, many people are not going on the walk because they are afraid.

We are commemorating 20 years since we were displaced, but it is also 20 years of forging resistance amidst so much adversity, two decades of pain. But we have the hope that one day we will be happy. It is 20 years of so much impunity, but we hope that one day there will be justice.  It is 20 years of so much misery, but we are demanding what we rightfully deserve, what is ours, what was once taken from us, we want them to give it back, and not even all of it, but just to give us back the possibility of rebuilding what we lost.

PBI: Thank you very much for sharing your stories with us.  We will always accompany you and your requests.

Marco Fidel Velásquez and Ana Martínez Moreno with Nathalie, PBI Colombia

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