The Peace Community: Impunity and Paramilitary Control

February 21 commemorated the Mulatos and La Resbalosa massacre perpetrated by the XVII Brigade of the Army and the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC, in Spanish) paramilitary group, in which eight individuals were killed, seven of whom were members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and three of whom were minors.[1] In 2005, during Operation Fénix, around 60 paramilitary members, together with army troops, assassinated Peace Community leader, Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family in the hamlet of Mulatos, and then killed the family of Alfonso Bolívar, a leader of the Resbalosa humanitarian zone. Since then, this day is remembered each year in the rural communities, as an act of memory and to denounce the ongoing impunity in the country.

Both then Minister of Defense and former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez tried to hide the massacre’s true responsibility and the National Army’s involvement,[2] in addition to weakening the Peace Community’s resistance project, by generating the distorted idea that certain leaders were collaborating with FARC-EP guerrillas. The accusations and attacks directed by the authorities against the Peace Community led to the decision to cut all ties with the state.[3]

Despite various attempts to obstruct truth and justice, in 2019 the Supreme Court declared that the massacre was perpetrated by the army in collusion with the AUC. However, of the 66 military members investigated for their possible involvement, only six were convicted and most high-level commanders remain free.[4] Moreover, in 2020, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) assumed jurisdiction over the case and, 18 years after the massacre, it remains in impunity.[5] The transitional justice system faces serious challenges due to a lack of contributions of truth from those ultimately responsible for serious human rights violations. An example is the case of Mario Montoyaformer army commander during the Álvaro Uribe administration and maximum responsible party for hundreds of extrajudicial executions—whom the JEP is considering expelling due to his reluctance to contribute to the truth.[6] As in so many other cases, victims in the General Mario Montoya case felt that the truth provided was insufficient.[7]

The new government has placed at the center of its political project the need to end the conflict through a dialogue with victim communities. This participation is key to overcome the country’s historic inequalities and violence. On 4 December, the Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez, the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, and Diana Sánchez, director of human rights at the Ministry of Defense, visited La Holandita, the Peace Community’s main settlement. A meeting was held to hear about the serious attacks suffered since the communities creation. This was the first time that high-level government representatives have visited since the massacre was perpetrated.[8] Even so, the Peace Community remains firm in its convictions and will not restore formal relations until the necessary conditions to do so have been met.

The Peace Community continues to be the target of serious attacks and denounces the persistence of ties between state security forces and the Gaitan Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), a group that arose out of the paramilitary structure.[9] Only a week after the Defense Minister’s visit, several members of the Peace Community received death threats while returning from working their land.[10] The Peace Community settlements, in addition to being located at strategic points, are a symbol of non-violent resistance, which was materialized through the creation of a conflict-neutral zone. Attempts by paramilitary groups, and economic and political actors to displace the Community from its territory are reflected in the emblematic case of La Roncona, land that the Community has cultivated and inhabited for over 25 years. The land was invaded in 2018, allegedly promoted by the Mayor’s Office of Apartadó,[11] ignoring the Peace Community’s historic struggle and its community project in defense of land, which has cost dozens of human lives and the endless attacks that persist today. On 8 February, the hearing on the La Roncona property was postponed for the fourth time without just cause,[12] in a clear strategy of judicial delays and impunity.

PBI Colombia

[1] El Espectador: La Comunidad de Paz Resiste, 21 February 2021.

[2] Semana: “Uribe mancilló la honra de Apartadó”, 28 May 2013.

[3] El Espectador: 16 años de impunidad: La justicia en el caso de la masacre de Mulatos y La Resbalosa, 21 February 2021.

[4] PBI Colombia: La masacre que transformó a la Comunidad de Paz para siempre, 21 February 2022.

[5] El Espectador: Masacre de San José de Apartadó, otro caso en manos de la JEP, 26 January 2021.

[6]At the end of September 2022, the general (r) appeared before the JEP. He is involved in case 03, which investigates murders and enforced disappearances presented as combat casualties by state agents.

[7] El Espectador: Procuraduría pidió a la JEP que no expulse al general (r) Mario Montoya, por ahora, 16 February 2023.

[8] Ministro de Defensa (@Ivan_Velasquez_): tweet, 4 December 2022. Comunidad de Paz (@cdpsanjose): tweet, 4 December 2022.

[9] Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó: Aun contextuados en un gobierno de Pacto Histórico, la represión y la persecución no dan tregua, 30 December 2022.


[11] Padre Javier Giraldo: Ataques a la Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó durante el Gobierno del presidente Duque, 2020.

[12] PBI Colombia (@pbicolombia): tweet, 8 February 2022.

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