“Amid this fear, there is a desire to live”: Retrospective on the Nordeste Antioqueño

Remedios and Segovia are two municipalities geographically connected and historically hard hit by the armed conflict. Both rural municipalities are part of the Nordeste Antioqueño [Northeastern Antioquia] subregion, in the department of Antioquia, which is cared for by the many working hands of the peasantry and those focused on artisanal mining. From the small towns one can see the branches of the San Lucas Mountains, in the Central Mountain range, which hold enormous wealth: gold. According to the Segovia Mayor’s Office, 7% of the country’s gold is from just this municipality and 39% comes from the Nordeste Antioqueño.[1] This explains the large number of miners who, generation after generation, have transmitted their knowledge on artisanal mining, a technique that is less harmful to nature in comparison to large-scale mining.

The abundance of natural resources in these lands and the arrival of multinational companies, such as the Canadian Gran Colombia Gold,[2] has provided the illegal armed groups who are present in the region with an extremely lucrative funding source in mining. In the Nordeste Antioqueño, a highly militarized region, communities have resisted by activating their own protection protocols, in the face of a lack of state support to guarantee their safety.[3] Despite the enormous work carried out by human rights organizations such as the Peasant Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC) and the Humanitarian Action Corporation for Coexistance Peace in Northeast Antioquia (CAHUCOPANA), both accompanied by PBI, the violence seems to be endless.

Retrospective on the Nordeste Antioqueño

Since the ’80s, Remedios and Segovia were established as geostrategic municipalities for the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Peoples’ Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). This was a time when the Uribe Agreements were being negotiated with the FARC-EP, with the failed aim of a ceasefire,[4] and in 1985 the “Patriotic Union” political party was created. The inhabitants of Segovia and Remedios supported this party with their votes and a forceful militancy from the mining trade union movement.[5] In parallel, Remedios and Segovia, the latter of which is known as the “birthplace of the communist party in Antioquia”[6] saw the birth of several self-defense groups, such as the paramilitary group “Death to Revolutionaries of the Northeast” (MRN), led by Fidel Castaño, one of the key figures in Colombia paramilitarism.[7]

While members of the Patriotic Union party were being exterminated nationally[8], on 11 September 1988, in the town of Segovia, the MRN paramilitary group murdered 46 people. Decades later, in 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) determined the state’s responsibility in the Segovia massacre.[9] According to several testimonies, police and army members, belonging to the Bomboná Battalion of the XIV Brigade, did nothing to intervene in the scene of the crime as paramilitaries traveled freely throughout the municipality.[10]

This was the beginning of a long story of violence, stigmatization, and pain for the region’s inhabitants. With the aim of fighting the guerrillas, the army and police established alliances with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and with other paramilitary groups in the area, converting the civilian population into a military target. Slaughters, displacements, and massacres became commonplace for the inhabitants of this region of the country.[11]

In spite of the attempt to demobilize the paramilitary groups through peace negotiations (2003-2006) during the Álvaro Uribe Vélez administration, the violence continued.[12 In 2004, in the middle of the armed conflict, the AUC imposed a blockade on food and basic goods, affecting 2,500 peasants.[13] The humanitarian crisis caused by this blockade led to the foundation of CAHUCOPANA, a human rights organization accompanied by PBI since the 2013.[14]

Some years earlier, in 1996, the ACVC was founded, accompanied by PBI since 2007.[15] The organization promoted the creation of the Cimitarra River Valley Peasant Reserve Zone as a protection measure. It covers part of the Magdalena Medio region and the municipality of Remedios.

A Continuum of Violence

Despite the huge efforts from human rights organizations in recent decades, the violence seems to be endless. An apparent calm after the signature of the Peace Agreement in 2016 was interrupted by new waves of clashes and repression from illegal and legal armed actors who fight to control the highly coveted territory. Today multiple illegal armed groups are in the territory: the ELN, FARC dissidents, and different groups that arose from the paramilitary structure, such as the Gaitan Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), all amid high-level militarization. And, in case this was insufficient, a complaint from the Mayor’s Office of Remedios indicated ties between the AGC and the municipal police of Segovia.[16]

Today, the intensification of the conflict is seen with the high numbers of selective murders in recent months, mainly young people from the region.[17] The consequences of this context are illegal checkpoints on the roads,[18] harassment from state security forces that puts the civilian population at risk,[19] threats against human rights defenders and the population at large.[20] An example of this, the threats received repeatedly by Ramiro Ortega, a member of the ACVC, in September 2021.[21]

In July of that year, due to the serious context, CAHUCOPANA led a Humanitarian Commission in Remedios that once again showed the risks faced by the civilian population in the Nordeste Antioqueño. PBI accompanied the Humanitarian Commission and observed first hand a concerning escalation of the armed conflict. According to CAHUCOPANA, the cause of this reconfiguration to the conflict is the state’s non-fulfillment of the Peace Agreement.

Carlos Morales, Cahucopana coordinator:

Is important to mention that the ‘Juan Carlos Castañeda’ Reincorporation and Training Space (ETCR) was established in the township of Carrizal, which was supposed to generate a comprehensive state presence. However, on a regional level the conflict was reactivated, driven by legal and illegal armed actors who seek to establish territorial control. Currently, in Remedios and Segovia there is presence of paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and state security forces, leaving the community in the crossfire. An increase in human rights violations has been seen with murders, threats, extorsion, and international humanitarian law infractions, thus generating a difficult and complex situation that has left the civilian population and community leaders, and human rights defenders in the middle. They have been limited, persecuted, and stigmatized due to their leadership.” [22]

Since the end of 2021, an alarming number of selective murders and threats have been registered against social leaders and human rights defenders.[23] In October 2021, an international humanitarian mission led by CAHUCOPAN—with participation from the embassies of Norway and Germany and the MAPP-OAS—verified the situation of risk experienced by the population. An individual was murdered in a rural community very close to the mission,[24] accompanied by PBI, giving the participating international community a glimpse into the reality faced by those living in the township of Carrizal, Remedios.

This year does not promise major improvements. Just in January there were several concerning incidents, such as armed clashes in Carrizal,[25] an incursion of heavily armed men in a small village near Segovia,[26] and an attack against the Remedios police station.[27]

Despite the anxiety, fear, and decades of violence, at the center is an ongoing desire to live in peace. In this mountainous region, full of ancestral wisdom, the peasants resist working their land each day and miners resist day in and out as they go to the mines in search of their sustenance. It is thanks to human rights organizations, like CAHUCOPANA and ACVC, that the population remains united. The area’s social leaders seek to provide security to the population using complaints, dialogue, research, and education.

One of the most effective tools to tackle the violence are collective protection measures. These measures have nonviolence as a central principal and seek, through community action, a way to pressure the armed actors to put an end to the violence. Examples of these collective measures are: human rights schools, for organizational capacity development; humanitarian refuges, to provide security to people who experience forced displacement; and humanitarian missions, to increase visibility and make know the region’s reality. An example of the latter are the recent visits from the UN Human Rights Office[28] and the International Committee of the Red Cross[29] at the end of January.

There are endless examples that vary depending on the organization and the community. What is similar are the risks experienced by those put into practice collective protection measures and the desire for a life in peace. As a member of the accompanied organization CAHUCOPANA said, “amid the fear, there is a desire to live.”

[6]Rutas del Conflicto: Masacre de Segovia y La Cruzada, 15 October 2019

[11]Centro de Memoria Histórica: 26 años de recuerdos, 22 November 2014

[13]El Tiempo: Preparación Acción Humanitaria, 20 February 2004


[19]CAHUCOPANA: Tweet, 28 November 2021.

[22]CAHUCOPANA: Tweet, 22 July 2021.

[23]PBI: Tweet, 23 November 2021.

[24]CAHUCOPANA: Tweet, 26 October 2021.

[25]CAHUCOPANA: Tweet, 21 January 2022.

[28]Cahucopana, Tweet, 27 January 2022.

[29]Cahucopana: Tweet, 26 January 2022.

Leave a Reply