Eighteen years ago, an event took place that profoundly impacted the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó: the Massacre of Mulatos and La Resbalosa, during which eight people, three of them minors, were cruelly murdered. This massacre, perpetrated by the XVII Brigade of the Colombian Army together with the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the paramilitary group that existed in the territory at the time, marked a milestone of separation with the State due to the lack of security guarantees and its responsibility for the impunity of these and other acts of violence that the Peace Community has faced since its creation. The community, which declared itself a Peace Community on March 23rd 1997 as a strategy of resistance and survival in their territory in the midst of the armed conflict, has not ceased to be the target of acts of violence by both legal and illegal armed actors.
Now, with the strength and determination accumulated over years of resistance and struggle, the Community paid tribute to the 8 people murdered, 7 of whom were members of the Peace Community: Luis Eduardo Guerra, Bellanira Areiza, Deiner Guerra, Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia, Sandra Muñoz, Natalia Tuberquia Muñoz and Santiago Tuberquia Muñoz. In this commemorative and solemn act, the children of the Peace Community sang songs to remember their lost family members. Each member, physically absent, yet inevitably present in the collective memory to continue defending the land and demanding justice, was remembered.
On 4 November 2022, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) recognized the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) as a collective victim with a special intervention role in Case 08, the opening of which was announced in late August of this year. This case before the Colombian transitional justice system investigates crimes committed by members of the state security forces and other state agents, in association with paramilitary groups or third party civilians in the context of the armed conflict. Since 1987, when CREDHOS began its work to defend and protect human rights in the city of Barrancabermeja, the organization has documented, in detail, 16 cases of extrajudicial executions against its members, perpetrated by paramilitary groups with the connivance of Colombian state agents, in addition to10 cases of forced displacement, four assassination attempts, and arbitrary arrests. “Today Like Yesterday: Report on the victimization of human rights defenders in the Magdalena Medio region in the context of the armed conflict (1987-2016) -CREDHOS Case” is the title of the report filed by the organization before the JEP, which details the incidents affecting over 80 members between 1987 and 2016. And, indeed, “today like yesterday” serious attacks continue against the emblematic organization based in Barrancabermeja: on 27 October of this year CREDHOS was declared a military target after publicly denouncing the authorities’ lack of response to escalating violence in Barrancabermeja. CREDHOS also called for answers relative to alleged ties between state authorities and the Gaitan Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) paramilitary group.
The struggle of women in search of their loved ones, victims of enforced disappearance
“So many years have gone by since my son was disappeared. Although time goes by, months and years, I won’t stop searching for him or the truth about what happened. Those of us mothers who search for our disappeared loved ones, we don’t see obstacles, we don’t hear discouraging voices; we are strong women with our eyes set on the horizon, searching for those who were taken from us; we are thousands of mothers searching for truth, a body to cry over, and more than anything… that this doesn’t happen again”.
Operations Genesis and Cacarica: In the face of terror, a resistance story
The Bajo Atrato region, in northeastern Colombian, has been particularly hard hit by violence and the armed conflict. According to the Victims Unit, the registry for this area includes close to 429,820 victims of forced displacement, dispossession, selective murders, and other victimizing acts. One of the cruelest events that marked forever the history of the Atrato River’s Afro-Colombian communities occurred in the Cacarica river basin. Between the 24 and 27 of February 1997, Operation Genesis was executed. It was an offensive led by General Rito Alejo del Río, then commander of the Army’s 17th Brigade, in coordination with the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Elmer Cárdenas Bloc) paramilitary group, and under the pretext of taking back control from the FARC-EP guerrillas. In parallel and through joint operations with Military Troops, the paramilitary group called the Peasant Self-defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU), initiated Operation Cacarica, crossing the Atrato River until they invaded the Salaquí, Truandó, and Perancho river basins.
On the 21 February 2005, the fields of Mulatos and La Resbalosa in Antioquia were the scene of a horrific crime which once again targetted the local population. The rural division is an area located around five hours from the Peace Community’s main village, la Holandita. Eight people, of whom four were minors, were killed, dismembered and buried in a mass grave. Among the eight victims, seven were members of the Peace Community: Luis Eduardo Guerra, historical leader and founder of the Community, Bellanira Areiza, his partner and Deiner Andrés Guerra, his 11 year old son; Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia Graciano, the coordinator of the Humanitarian Zone of La Resbalosa, Sandra Milena Muñoz Posso, his wife andNatalia and Santiago, their two children aged 5 years and 20 months.
The massacre was carried out by a commando of around 60 paramilitaries from the Heroes de Tolová Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) alongside soldiers attached to the Army’s XVII Brigade. These events, which deeply marked the path of resistance of the Peace Community, exposed the viciousness of a war that, rather than combating those who had taken up arms, was waged against small farmers and peasants who were striving towards peace in the midst of so much violence. The militaristic actions against the Peace Community were not new, nor would they cease after the massacre. According to Brígida González, founder and historical leader of the Community, with that massacre they wanted to reaffirm, “once again, that there should be no social organizations” .