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.
“Land of Joy” or So Bia Drua, in Embera, are the words used by the Indigenous communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Humanitarian and Ecological Reservation to refer to their territory, located in the municipality of Carmen del Darién, department of Chocó.
The reservation has two separate plots of land and is home to eight Ember Indigenous communities. The first lot is inhabited by the communities of Alto Guayabal (125 families with 365 individuals), Bidόkera Ancadía (26 families with 90 individuals), and Jaibía Coredocito (24 families with 75 individuals). The second is inhabited by the Dearadé (18 families with 59 individuals), Ibudó (25 families with 107 individuals), Padadó (12 families with 43 individuals), Chansodo (31 families with 128 individuals), and Urada (60 families with 230 individuals).
The reservation’s main bodies of water are the Ancadía, Jiguamiandó, Urada, and Tamboral rivers, all of which are tributaries of the Atrato River which flows through the department of Chocó in the Pacific region of Colombia. The rivers are an important source of livelihood for the communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Reservation, as they fish and use the fresh water for their daily activities.
The communities of the Urada-Jiguamiandó Reservation have a close and harmonic relationship with the natural world that surrounds them, collecting the medicinal plants they need to cure illnesses, fishing in the river, and taking care of their surroundings, which they have kept free of pollution.
In reality, the Indigenous communities are the only protectors of the land and environment. Even though they coexist in harmony with their natural surroundings, there are other interests in their territory that continue to prevent them from living in peace on their ancestral lands.
The threats faced by the Embera people, victims of numerous human rights violations in the context of the armed conflict, also include mining megaprojects. The communities—who have opposed the extractive projects for decades—know that mining will damage the aquifers, pollute the soil, water, and air, in addition to destroying the biodiversity. As a result of all this, there is a serious risk of displacement and cultural uprooting.
The communities who live in So Bia Drua are represented by the Embera Major Council – CAMERUJ. Argemiro Bailarín is a member of the Major Council, the Indigenous authority and an emblematic leader from the Uradá-Jiguaminadó Reservation.
Argemiro is well known for his defense of the territory, peace, and the protection of their culture and cosmovision. In November 2021, for the fifth anniversary of the signature of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP, the Embera leader participated in the radio program “Voces de la Tierra.” During the program the Indigenous leader highlighted that the communities continue to experience violence due to the armed conflict, while living amid the actions of large-scale mining and agribusiness projects, which see their territory as a business opportunity.
With support from the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP), since March 2020 the communities of Jiguamiandó, along with many others from different areas of Colombia, have been calling for a Global Humanitarian Agreement, which signifies a ceasefire amid an intensification of the conflict and an increase in combat operations. To date, there has been no government response to the 42 letters sent by over 150 communities.
1“Voces de la Tierra” led by the journalist Laura Casielles, in collaboration with Peace Brigades International, is a spot of the online radio program “Carne Cruda,” where defenders, social and Indigenous leaders talk about their reality from the territory.
Traveling by horseback through the Bajo Atrato, between the departments of Antioquia and Chocó, is the “Careperro” or Jaika tuma mountain, revered a sacred site for the Embera Eyabida Indigenous peoles. Eyadia is translated as “mountain inhabitants.” The Atrato River, which flows through both departments and into the Caribbean Sea, is inhabited by a multitude of Afro-Colombian, mixed-race, and Indigenous communities. Many of these communities are accompanied by the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP), an organization accompanied by PBI since 1994. Among these, along the banks of the Jiguamiandó River—a tributary of the Atrato—and close to the Jaika Tuma mountain, are eight communities of Embera people who are organized in the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Indigenous Reservation. For them, the mountain is a sacred site and source of life, as it provides water and is where the jaibaná—traditional doctors—collect their medicinal plants.
Historically, the ethnic communities of the Bajo Atrato region have resisted the interests of diverse megaprojects promoted in their ancestral territories. The actions of the banana, palm, and mining industries, which contributed to the dispossession of the communities’ territories, has had a common denominator—stomping on ancestral rights, committing grave human rights violations, and generating environmental impacts in their territories. In fact, some of these companies—which are an additional element in the armed conflict’s already complex web—have been investigated and, occasionally even convicted, for collaborating with paramilitary groups in the region.
The people of Buenaventura have been experiencing an escalation of the conflict since 2020. Today, all eyes are on the port city, because since last December 30, the lives of 170,500 people are at risk due to clashes between “Los Shotas” and “Los Espartanos”, two factions of “La Local”, a group inherited from paramilitarism. So far in 2021, according to the Pacific Regional Ombudsman’s Office, due to more than 38 confrontations that have taken place in the urban area of Buenaventura in January, 907 families – around 2186 people – have had to be forcibly displaced from their neighborhoods and 22 people have been killed, mostly young people between 16 and 35 years old who have refused to be recruited by these groups.
The vastness of green and the majestic Putumayo River are the first things you notice when you leave Jani Silva’s farm. One breathes tranquillity and fresh air, hears the birds and sees the cows running in the fields of the Perla Amazónica Peasant Reserve Zone (ZRCPA). Continue reading A born leader→