Death and Displacement Foretold in Colombia

Freemansburg, PA

Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his novel, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold“, relates the details of a murder in a town in which everyone is aware that a murder will occur, and no one is able to stop it. This novel is reality for many in Colombia, as waves of targeted political violence have eliminated thousands of labor organizers, members of the Union Patriotic Party, human rights activists, and business owners. Many of the victims are aware they are under threat of death, and continue with their work. As Chris Dudley has named them in his book of the same name about the Patriotic Union Party, they are “Walking Ghosts“.

On January 15 of this year, Luis Eduardo Guerra, a founder of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, stated in an interview, “Today we are talking, tomorrow we can be dead. Today we are in San Jose, tomorrow the community can be displaced by a massacre of 20 0r 30 people. In this region anything is possible.” We know now that Luis was a walking ghost, and that his statement foretold his own death, for on February 20 or 21, in a rural settlement of the Peace Community, he died in a massacre. He was beaten and tortured along with his eleven-year-old son Deiner, and his partner Deyaneira Areiza. Their dismembered bodies were left lying in the forest for days, while the local Prosecutor delayed in their recovery and in investigating the crime scene. The family of Alfonso Bolivar was also massacred in their home — Alfonso, his wife Sandra Milena Muñoz, and their children Natalia Andrea Tuberquia, 4 years old, and Santiago Tuberquia Muñoz, 18 months. Another person was caught up in the murders by chance, Alejandro Pérez. Luis Eduardo Guerra was well known in Colombia, and in the United States and Europe, where he had done speaking tours. He met several times with the Vice-President of Colombia, and was an important negotiator between the Peace Community and the government of Colombia. His presence will be missed, but his memory will live on in the resistance of the community.

Unfortunately, Luis Eduardo also foretold the fate of the Peace Community itself, which has now displaced from the town of San José de Apartadó. On March 30, the police and the military entered the town center, and took over a house where they will establish a police station. They filmed the residents of the town, and passed out flyers. Police and a priest came to the town center, beating drums and passing out candy and encouraging the people to cooperate. When children refused the advances, the priest snapped “You will pay dearly for this.” The Community knows that they cannot be protected by those responsible for so many deaths of their members, by forces which have never brought justice to them. Further, if the community accepts this police/military presence, they will soon be embroiled in the conflict in which they have pledged not to participate. On April 2, they began their displacement to a nearby farm, where they will continue their project.

I was living in San Jose at the time of the massacre, as a volunteer with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). The crime occurred while the Colombian Army, with the various units of the 17th Brigade and the 11th Brigade, exercised significant control over the entire region. There was combat from February 20 through the 22nd. I saw an attack helicopter firing rockets and shooting machine guns at this time. There were numerous over flights of other helicopters. Residents in outlying areas fled their houses and lived for over a week in the jungle under threat from military/paramilitary patrols. The response by the Prosecutor to the crime was sluggish at best. Members of the community, accompanied by FOR and Peace Brigades International volunteers, as well as a volunteer from the local Pastoral Social of the Catholic Church waited at the crime scene for 2 nights for the Prosecutor to take control of the bodies of Luis Eduardo, Deiner, and Deyaneira.

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was created in 1997, by Catholic Church and community leaders desperate for a strategy to save a civilian population in the midst of the decades long civil war that has created 3 million internal refugees. Peace Community members declare themselves neutral in the conflict, and pledge to not carry arms, to not participate in any way in the war, to not aid any of the armed actors. The community has been attacked over the years by all parties to the conflict. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled on several occasions that the Colombian Government shall protect its existence. The Peace Community has the support of the international accompaniment of FOR and Peace Brigades International. It is part of an autonomous and peace community movement in Colombia that is seeking non-violent means both to survive and to advocate for peace in the midst of the Colombian conflict. Despite this national and international support, the community remains on the edge of existence, and the Colombian government will not protect it.

The massacre has horrified Colombia. The major daily newspaper of Colombia, El Tiempo, ran a lead editorial calling for a complete investigation of the crime. Unfortunately, the chances for justice are slim. The Peace Community has lost over 140 members in the last 8 years to assassination and “disappearance”, and none have been investigated and brought to trial. This is the state of human rights in Colombia — impunity reigns. The military blames the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), without an investigation. The FARC has denied the allegations. Local people on the scene are convinced the military committed the crime, probably in conjunction with the paramilitary group AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia). The letters A U C were painted on the walls of one of the houses in the area. Furthermore, the recent attempts by the community to establish “humanitarian zones”, one of which is located where the massacre took place, provided another motive for the paramilitary to attack.

This crime against humanity epitomizes the dirty war in Colombia. It occurs at a time when the government is attempting to legitimize the paramilitary forces with a demobilization process that would provide impunity for many such crimes. Currently, the United States is considering a new phase of “Plan Colombia”, with a projected $579 million in military and police aid to be sent in fiscal year 2006. A $35 million dollar military appropriation is being held up by the State Department pending a review of the human rights record of the Colombian military. I believe the United States State Department and Congress should demand a complete and transparent investigation of this crime before any more funds are released in support of this war without end. As well, the international community, especially Europe, needs to re-examine its support for the Uribe project in Colombia, and use this case as a lens to view the reality of Colombia in this age of the Paramilitary Government.

The Community will continue its struggle to survive and resist. As Luis Eduardo stated in his January 15 interview, “We want to defend our Constitution and tell the State: it is you who are violating it. We are legitimizing the State, not attacking it. Economically it is difficult for these communities to resist, but we continue making an effort to develop projects that will provide us with an existence and a minimum dignity as persons, there is a very clear saying, while the stomach is full, we are able to accomplish much, when the stomach is empty, it is all over.,”

To keep track of events in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, check out their website, cdpsanjose.org.

JOE DeRAYMOND can be reached at: jderaymond@enter.net










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