Two very real specters cast a pall over hopes for peace

By Alfonso Insuasty Rodriguez*

Colombia_-_Antioquia_-_El_Bagre.svgThe negotiation process between the FARC-EP and the national government is a healthy one, as demonstrated by the fact that near the recent end of 2015 it produced a fourth agreement on a key issue pertaining to the victims of the conflict titled:  Integrated System of Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition, including the Special Tribunal for Peace; and Commitment on Human Rights.

The agreement is comprehensive and detailed; there will be amnesty for the great majority of the guerrillas; only the main and direct perpetrators of crimes against humanity will be punished, and they will not go to jail if they confess their crimes. An independent judiciary different from the current one will be created to conduct the trials. And this “restorative” justice shall also apply to members of the military or anyone responsible for crimes during the armed conflict. The agreement is being heralded as the centerpiece of a “comprehensive system of truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition” because “the victims are the priority”. (Download Draft Agreement on Victims) 

In addition, on January 19, 2016, in a joint statement the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP announced the establishment of a tripartite mechanism (UN, Government of Colombia and FARC) for monitoring and verification of a bilateral ceasefire and surrender of weapons that constitutes “a strong signal and a happy premonition that the peace process in Colombia is heading inexorably toward ending the longest conflict on the continent”. (See the Comunique)

Moreover, and as concrete gestures of goodwill aimed at generating trust, on January 19, 2016, the government announced the names of 17 pardoned FARC-EP fighters who will be freed from Colombian jails, and announced the names of 13 others as part of the fulfillment of a public announcement by President Santos in December of 2015.

For its part, the FARC-EP released its work plan for de-escalation of the armed conflict and establishing trust entitled: “Streamlining in Havana and de-escalating in Colombia”, where in addition to the declaration of 6 unilateral ceasefires, with the sixth still in force, measures were included such as the following:

  • Implementation of the pilot project for decontamination and removal of explosive devices that is progressing well
  • Protection of trade unionists, human rights defenders, social leaders, politicians and peasants
  • Measures employed in the search for, location, identification and return of missing persons and identification of remains of those deceased during the conflict
  • Improving prison conditions for guerrilla fighters and the accused or convicted of  collaborating with the FARC-EP
  • Review of their legal status, and performing acts of recognition of responsibilities of all parties.I

In addition to these measures, the FARC-EP proposed, in a public statement in January 2016, the release of soldiers, guerrillas, and imprisoned social leaders who are suffering from serious health situations. (See the Comunique).

But meanwhile in Colombia, two specters have already arisen that constitute a fundamental impediment to any real progress in these demonstrations of goodwill and trust. They are the growing and sustained advance of paramilitarism in Colombia and the abusive behavior on the part of by some members of the security forces (both army and police) that constitutes a violation of human rights.

Recent events in the Department of Antioquia, in the municipality of Bagre, provide an excelllent example of the seriousness of these phenomena (in evidence throughout the country). They serve as a concrete example of the specters threatening the construction of a stable and lasting peace.

As a Social Monitoring Group charged with following up the implementation of the unilateral cease-fire, we would like to provide an account of the events below, as a test case:

El Bagre, another municipality taken over by paramilitaries:

On January 7, 2016 a paramilitary group entered the rural settlements of El Coral and Primavera around El Bagre (Antioquia), an agricultural and mining town. There, paramilitaries kidnapped 3 people and also physically and verbally attacked two adults and shot at a third who managed to escape but was left traumatized.

In January 8 of this year, 600 families in the area known as Puerto Claver, on the outskirts of Bagre (Antioquia), were displaced as a result of the advance of the paramilitary group calling itself the “Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces”. The inhabitants were forced to abandon their farms and plots of land; their possessions were looted, they lost their chickens and cattle , animals that were taken as food for the paramilitaries; add to this the loss of their subsistence crops such as rice and corn. In addition, this illegal armed group kept the communities’ own Verification Committees from entering to assess the condition of their holdings.

This paramilitary advance, as is the case in the Department of Choco, has led to the development of heavy fighting among an ELN alliance and the FARC-EP who seek to prevent the advance of this paramilitary organization.

On January 9th, there was a report of the disappearance of a young man by the name of Jair de Jesus Suarez who was working on a farm. Another minor was accosted in a similar manner, but he was tied up and verbally abused and then released, while Jair was taken away.

In El Bagre (Antioquia) and the affected rural settlements, a lack of food is already beginning to be felt. However, the humanitarian aid that the government sent has been inadequate to meet urgent basic needs.

The community of Puerto Claver, in the municipality of El Bagre (Antioquia), expressed concern over the blatant, uniformed, paramilitary motorcycle patrol armed with heavy weapons in full view on the town’s streets.

Meanwhile, thanks to reports from the public and media pressure, Colombian Army troops arrived at one of the camps where the paramilitaries calling themselves “Gaitanistas” were found and there they discovered the bodies of three peasants who had been reported missing. One of them had been beheaded and his body was transported by military helicopter; the other two had been buried. It is expected that the Attorney General’s Office will have a presence there and carry out the necessary procedures.

In Cáceres, a municipality that borders El Bagre, in the early hours of Sunday, January 17, 2016, Gaula troops (Colombian Army) carried out an operation in a gathering spot where a family celebration was being held in honor of Melisa Espitia’s 15th birthday celebration. Although Melisa was nine months pregnant at the time, the military came in, threw the members of the party to the floor and fired, causing the death of the young woman and of Jose Antonio Fabra. (See note.)

What is the future of the communities across the country that today are faced with this growing problem?

Total abandonment, left to their fate?

What is actually at stake in these territories?

This situation. It is paramilitary activity in much of the rural and urban territory of Colombia, compounded by the excessive use of force on the part of security forces.

Two very real specters that cast a pall over hopes for peace.

∗Insuasty Alfonso Rodriguez: Lawyer, Bachelor of Philosophy, specialist in public policy and political science, Doctoral student at the Institute for Thought and Culture in Latin America (Ipecal-Mexico), Researcher-Lecturer University of San Buenaventura Medellín, member of the independent research group http://www.Kavilando.org; Medelin, Colombia. Contact: Alfonso.insuasty@usbmed.edu.co

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