"More Than Complicated"

Looking ahead, the way that big businessmen do, the Pacific coast and the eastern plains are the country’s most promising regions in terms of value and profitability, taking into account the FTA [free trade agreement] and the paramilitaries’ “reinsertion.” Or as the youngsters in Planning [the presidency’s Department of Planning] might say, in the future soybeans, oil palm, corn, and sugarcane should displace the obsolete extensive cattle-ranching, bananas and basic food crops. And this project has been underway for several years now.

The planners and investors have had to overcome three obstacles to make their dreams reality: the poor people who occupy lands and live in these regions, the illegal crops that give these people what the state doesn’t, and the guerrillas, who fish in these turbid waters [profit from the chaos].

Behind the economic project is another, developed by who knows whom, which consists of:

1) Implanting paramilitary groups, carefully protected by the security forces and legitimized by the gamonales [local political bosses, wealthy landowners and businessmen].

2) Fumigating with poisons to displace both the coca crops and the population. The resulting displacement of crops to new areas widens the theater of war to regions that are proposed to be included in the development package, and those displaced are treated as criminals who legally have no right to benefit from the government’s [emergency humanitarian aid] programs.

3) When the hornet’s nest is stirred up, the security forces enter to finish off the plan, and the minister in power solemnly declares that the issue “is very complicated.”

The model is repeated with severe regularity in the zones they have had their eyes on: the eastern plains, from the Arauca River [border with Venezuela] to [the southern department of] Guaviare; and the Pacific, from the Darién hills [on the Panama border] to the Mataje River [border with Ecuador]. It has been decided to fill [the eastern department of] Vichada to the [south-central department of] Meta with African oil palms, while the lands in Casanare and Arauca are prepared for genetically modified sorghum and corn.

On the Pacific coast, in addition to the bananas for Chiquita Brands that extend from Urabá [near the Panama border] to the south, Urapalma [an African oil palm company widely believed to be tied to–or owned by–paramilitaries], with [local paramilitary leader] El Alemán in the lead, has established beachheads on the Juguamiandó and Curvaradó rivers to grow African oil palm and, in the short term, to produce biodiesel. In a few years, the entire Pacific region will look like Tumaco, Puerto Wilches, San Alberto and San Carlos de Guaroa [areas with extensive oil palm plantations] look today.

The playbook has been set into motion right now in El Charco, Nariño [in southwestern Colombia], a forgotten port that was erased from the map by a tsunami in 1906. Everything has been prepared with an astonishing amount of care. Last year, paramilitaries from a group called the New Generation Organization–whose initials are NGO and whose commander has called himself Armando Paz–took over El Charco. The population reacted and forced the “paras” out.

But in June there was a massacre of eleven people in Sanquianga. This provoked a large demonstration of indigenous people, afro-Colombians and mestizos to protest against these acts of violence. The dioceses of Tumaco, Guapi and Buenaventura warned of the danger they faced and issued a call to respect the civilian population.

Nonetheless, the plan continued apace: on January 16, 2007, the commanders of the New Generation Organization entered Playa Bazan, in El Charco, now backed by the Black Eagles [the largest of the rapidly growing “new” paramilitary groups]. At the beginning of February the glyphosate bombardment began near the Tapaje river. At the end of that month the Marines entered via the villages of Taija and El Hojal, and rapidly occupied La Tola and Sequihonda after fighting with the FARC.

The forced displacement increased with every armed confrontation, bombardment or operation. Monsignor Girón, of the Tumaco Diocese, denounced the threats made by the “NGO” paramilitaries “against members of social, indigenous, ecclesiastical, and humanitarian organizations defending human rights in Nariño, among them the Pastoral Social [Caritas] of our own diocese.” Days later, Santos, the defense minister, acknowledged that today there are 400 families displaced in El Charco; Bishops Héctor Fabio Henao and Gustavo Girón corrected him: there were more than 1,000.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which should know, cried: what is happening in El Charco is also happening in the municipalities of Barbacoas, Cumbitara, Policarpa, Magüí, Linares, La Llanada, Sotomayor, Iscuandé, Samaniego, Ipiales and Cumbal [all in Nariño], and it asked that the entire region be declared a humanitarian crisis zone.

More than “complicated,” Mr. Minister, is what is happening in Nariño, which by the way shares a border with Ecuador.

ALFREDO MOLANO is one of Colombia’s leading scholars and political analysts. He is the author of many books of oral history, two of which, The Dispossessed and Loyal Soldiers in the Cocaine Kingdom, have been translated into English.