Travelling through Uraba during Plan Pistol

It is 5:20 in the morning, we are outside our house in Apartado, Uraba, waiting for the taxi that will take us to La Europa Farm, where we have been accompanying for a while.  After a long wait, the car finally arrives to pick us up.  As he helps me with the luggage, the driver whispers an apology.  Last night there were rumours of a public order problem, and so he hadn’t been sure that he would be able to do the trip.  The team had evaluated it the night before. When we left, everything seemed normal, no-one talks about security problems on the bus.

Leaving Apartado, we saw a jeep make the turning towards San Jose de Apartado.  Recently, the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, which PBI has accompanied for many years, has been repeatedly warning of the presence of paramilitary groups in the area, near the road to the coast.

We drive along that same road to the coast.  As part of a gigantic project to improve Colombia’s road infrastructure, in 2015 they started projects Mar 1 and Mar 2, which will connect Medellin to the Caribbean Sea. [1]

As we approach Turbo there are several billboards advertising the new logistical port of Pisisi in Turbo, which is due to be built.[2] Once that is completed and the port is connected to Medellin, Buenaventura and other transport hubs in Colombia through Mar 1 and Mar 2, Turbo will be able to receive large ships full of containers. [3]

As we pass through Turbo, people start talking about the infamous Usuga family in the area. Otoniel, one of the Usuga brothers, is the number one target of Operation Agamemnon, which started in 2015 in the Uraba region and its aim, according to the National Police, is to fight the ‘Urabeños’, which the State authorities now call the ‘Gulf Clan’.[4]

Even though the National Police recently said that the Gulf Clan’s forces have been reduced by half in recent years, they seem ever more present in the hamlets around Turbo and San Jose de Apartado, where it isn’t just the Peace Community saying that there has been an increase in the neo-paramilitaries’ presence and operations.[5]

On the journey from the Gulf of Uraba to the north, we meet many trucks being escorted by the Police, a measure that was taken because of the rise in extortions by neo-paramilitary groups, which had increased after the FARC withdrew from the area.[6]

After Sincelejo, Sucre, the journey by collective taxi continues to Ovejas.  Also in the car are the relatives of a policeman who was murdered.  They are on the way to his burial.  During lunch in Ovejas the atmosphere is tense. The town is full of members of the Police and Army wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying assault rifles.

We finally reach the farm.  The mototaxis use all their skills to bring us and our backpacks safely to La Europa Farm.  It is an art, driving a motorcycle through mud, that continues to be a mystery and a miracle to me.

Photo: Charlotte Kesl

Approximately forty families live in La Europa Farm, people who returned in recent years to reclaim their land after having been displaced in the 1990s by constant persecution and violence.[7] The response to their claim has been vandalism of their crops, intimidation and several attempted murders against the members of the association which represents them.[8] We spend the following days with people from the farm, accompanying them and doing self-protection workshops with them.[9]

When the threats don´t end (January 2017)

Interview with leader Argemiro Lara: The land issue must be resolved (December 2016)

At night we gather round the television to watch the news and every night it becomes clearer.  Plan Pistol is in full effect.  The presenter explains that the paramilitaries’ plan is to assassinate policemen in several departments, especially in Uraba.[10]  In the days before we left for the farm there were rumours circulating of leaflets by the AGC (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia) against human rights defenders, and the police announced they had made several important arrests and uncovered crucial evidence.[11]

Four days later, I am coming back along the same route, and the chatter on the buses has changed.  The passengers are saying that the Police escorting the trucks are often themselves escorted by the Army.  We can see checkpoints manned by Police with their weapons poised to shoot, accompanied by the Army.  “Yes, it looks like things are getting serious in Uraba” and “this level of violence hasn’t been seen since the times of Escobar” are phrases we hear a lot and in the atmosphere you can feel the uncertainty about where this situation will lead to, in the midst of what is supposedly a peace-building era.



[1] El Colombiano: Autopista Mar 1 estará en operación en el año 2021, 29 October 2015
[2] El Colombiano: Puerto Pisisi, en Urabá, iniciará su construcción en un mes, 12 April 2017
[3] DW: Mil toneladas de cocaína en cargamento de bananas destino a Bruselas, 5 May 2017
[4] El Colombiano: “Urabeños”, de narcos a terroristas, 16 May 2017
[5] El Espectador: “El paramilitarismo en Colombia sí existe”: Cinep, 3 May 2017
[6] Semana: Urabá, el nido de los nuevos paramilitares, 25 April 2017
[7] PBI Colombia: “Hay que resolver el tema de la tierra”, 29 November 2016
[8] PBI Colombia: Cuando las amenazas no cesan, 24 January 2017
[9] PBI Colombia: “No dar talleres, ni charlas, no acompañar emocionalmente, sino ir más allá”, 20 March 2014
[10] Verdad Abierta: La amenaza ´gaitanista´, un reto para la seguridad ciudadana, 25 May 2017
[11] El Colombiano: “Urabeños”, de narcos a terroristas, 16 May 2017

Leave a Reply