The marshes are bodies of water that are essential to the ecosystem, bodies of water which give life to extraordinary flora and fauna. These natural phenomena also attract economic interests that threaten to damage them, even to make them disappear, as is the case with the rivers and marshes of Magdalena Medio. In this region, full of water and environmental defenders, extractive activities, agribusiness and extensive cattle ranching are advancing, devastating in their path territories inhabited by ancestral communities, in the case of Sur de Bolívar especially Afro-Colombian peoples, peasants and artisanal fishermen.
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 and Natalia 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” .
The region of Magdalena Medio, home to 6% of Colombia’s armed conflict victims, has historically suffered serious impacts from the extractivist economic model. Today, once again, its environmental leaders and human rights defenders are under serious threat and at risk of displacement. For more than a century, communities have been victims of the expropriation of their lands, the expansion of agribusiness and the exploitation of hydrocarbons, severely affecting the region’s diverse fauna and flora within the countless water sources, rivers and marshes. Oil extraction has caused irreparable environmental damage, and has seriously affected communities’ ancestral fishing economies. Moreover, the enclave economy of the Magdalena Medio region has not generated benefits for the communities that protect it, where communities suffer limited access to clean drinking water and energy services.
Recently, through their constant denouncement of serious human rights violations, human rights and environmental organizations such as the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) have succeeded in getting the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to turn its attention to the region and to prioritize the investigation of crimes committed by the security forces during the armed conflict. In spite of the importance of this recent decision by the JEP to prioritize the Magdalena Medio region in relation to the severe impacts suffered by the population within the context of the armed conflict, members of CREDHOS and allied organizations such as the Committee for the Defense of Water, Life and Territory (AGUAWIL) and the Federation of Artisanal, Environmental and Tourist Fishermen of Santander (Fedepesán) continue to be exposed to alarmingly high levels of risk. It is essential that these serious allegations are investigated and clarified to ensure true guarantees of non-repetition in one of the regions most affected by the armed conflict.
Continue reading DEATH THREATS PERSIST AGAINST ENVIRONMENTALISTS IN MAGDALENA MEDIO
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.