On Tuesday 1st August I woke up excited and enthusiastic: Gildardo Tuberquía, leader of the Peace Community was about to arrive to Bogotá accompanied by Operazione Colomba for meetings with the Diplomatic Corps.
They arrived early to the PBI house where we had a working breakfast in order to coordinate ourselves for the different meetings and also to share more information on the current situation in San José de Apartado.
On 6th July, the hamlet of La Cristalina woke to find graffiti by the neo-paramilitary group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) everywhere: on the walls of the school, the walls of houses and even on some animals.1 This scene was to repeat itself on 11th July in the center of San José de Apartado where 25 houses were painted with the phrase “AGC, we are here to stay”.2 The Peace Community of San José de Apartado has been denouncing the expansion and the increased control of this group since September 2016, when the guerrilla group the FARC retreated from the area in accordance with the peace process.
In addition, the presence of this group in the area has been denounced in the Human Rights Ombudsman´s risk reports since the year 2009 as the Popular Training Institute (IPC) recounts:
“It is notable that since the year 2009 the Early Warning System of the Human Rights Ombudsman´s Office, in risk report No. 003-09 of 17th February, alerted about the presence of post-paramilitary groups patrolling the streets that lead to San José de Apartadó, especially in Caracolí. And in August 2013, Acasa registered that the entrance of paramilitaries in La Hoz and Rodoxalí generated a large displacement of 30 families from these hamlets”.3
As a result of these reports, the Human Rights Ombudsman, Carols Alfonso Negret, undertook a visit to San José de Apartadó on Friday 28th July 2017 in order to meet with leaders of the region. At the end of his visit, the Human Rights Ombudsman declared that “nearly 6000 inhabitants are at risk due to the presence of men from the illegal armed group in the area, who have imposed mobility restrictions and have set up control points.”4
The reports that the Peace Community publish about the situation have put their members in a situation of greater vulnerability. Since the beginning of the year they have received various threats from the AGC. For this reason we organise meetings with embassies and international organisations so that Gildardo can tell them in person what the rural population is living through.
Gildardo Tuberquía, leader of the Peace Community
Gildardo Tuberquía has been a member of the Peace Community since its beginnings and entered into the Internal Committee in the second elections of the same year it was created in 1997. He remembers that the day the Peace Community was created the rural population had high expectations that they would be respected and that they would be able to stay in their territory, but the week of its creation, Gildardo and his family were forced to displace themselves to the hamlet La Unión towards the center of San José where they had to begin organising the community from scratch.
Since 2008, Gildardo has lived in the Peace Hamlet in the hamlet of Mulatos, that the community built in commemoration of the leader Luis Eduardo Guerra, who was killed with his family on 21st February 2005 in a military-paramilitary operation that is known as the Mulatos and La Resbalosa Massacre.5 After this tragedy this territory was converted into sacred territory for the Peace Community. They built a memorial to the victims, a library in the name of Luis Eduardo and they undertake pilgrimages so as to never forget. This hamlet is 6-7 hours from the center of the municipality and the access is difficult but it is a beautiful place. After the massacre the Peace Community cut all communication with the State entities having lost all trust in them.
Gildardo recognises that living in the hamlet of Mulatos is a risk but leaving would mean a regression for the Community and for all those who have returned to the hamlets. The love they have for their land is the most solid foundation of the Peace Community. Gildardo recounts that despite everything he has lived through since 1996, the campesinos will always resist and return to their land, they are displaced, but they will return.
In San José de Apartado there is no peace
On 19th July, two members of the the Community were robbed in the public transport from Apartadó to San José, accompanied by international observers.6 The money they had to pay the campesinos who sold their cacao was stolen.7 They see this as an attack directed towards the Community and towards their economic project with the cacao business. Through their publications they affirm that the AGC is charging the campesinos and the traders extortions but they don´t accept it nor do they pay it, in this sense stealing their money is a way to oblige them to accept their presence, according to Gildardo. In the past months the Peace Community has denounced the territorial control in the hamlets of the region: armed men dressed in camouflage break into homes, threaten, extort and steal provisions from the families.8
On 17th May, Gildardo came to give his testimony to the Congress during a public debate on the crimes against human rights defenders and social leaders convoked by Alirio Uribe and Ángela Robledo.9 In this space he showed a video that was taken on 14th April, detailing a group of men dressed in camouflage, others in civil clothing, with rifles and with their faces covered but with no insignia, so he asked who they were?
After this public denouncement in the Congress, Gildardo received more threats and since then has moved between La Holandita and Mulatos only with international accompaniment.
Political advocacy in Bogotá
Given this concerning situation, PBI supported the Community through organising a political advocacy tour in Bogotá. We were received by the Delegation of the European Union, the Swiss, Dutch, Canadian, French and Austrian Embassies and Todd Howland, representative of the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights of the United Nations and Amnesty International. Gildardo also met with the Italian Embassy and five Italian parliamentarians who were in Bogotá for a few days. In each meeting those in charge of human rights listened to Gildardo´s testimony with concern and re-affirmed their support for the Community. Gildardo also asked that the delegates visit the Community so they can meet with the people who live there and listen to them. An important request was that the problem in the area is recognised so that it can be tackled in an adequate manner, because up until now the authorities continue to deny the concerning situation in the area.10
1 Caracol, Investigan incursión de paramilitares en una vereda de Apartadó, Antioquia, 7 July 2017
2 El Espectador, ¿Vuelve la amenaza paramilitar a San José de Apartadó?, 11 July 2017
4 El Espectador, En riesgo 6.000 habitantes de San José de Apartadó por presencia de autodefensas, 28 July 2017
6 CdP, ¿Hasta cuándo tendremos que soportar esta ignominia?, 20 July 2017
7 The Community has been developing a project for many years which cultivates cacao and produces 100% organic chocolate
9 Ivan Cepeda, Comunidades denuncian campamentos de paramilitares en Urabá, 17 May 2017
10 Caracol, Desmienten presencia masiva de paramilitares en San José de Apartadó, en Urabá, 10 July 2017