Cauca Update

There is a great deal going on in Colombia even beyond Cauca. I am a bit backlogged in terms of article writing, but an article updating and explaining the situation throughout Colombia is definitely on the agenda. Meanwhile, some more information on the military and political situation in Northern Cauca.

I forgot to link here to the article I did a few days ago. on the topic. There is also an op-ed by Daniel Garcia-Pena Jaramillo, a very good analyst with long experience with the FARC and the government from when he was peace commissioner during the negotiations in the 1990s. His piece is on the political failure of the FARC. His last line expresses a disbelief that is widely felt.

Even worse than not speaking though, is not listening. I don’t understand a guerrilla organization that is indifferent to what the people say can aspire to be the army of the people.

Since he wrote his piece and I wrote mine the military confrontation continues. On April 28 the Colombian daily El Tiempo reported new combats in the towns of Jambalo and Tacueyo, which neighbours Toribio (I visited Jambalo briefly last year during my trip to Cauca and have several photos of Tacueyo in the photo essay on the movement). In Tacueyo three minors were injured by a pipe bomb.

These attacks have taken place since members of the community have begun to return. On April 25 El Tiempo reported that 5000 people who had left Toribio were returning. Mayor Arquimedes Vitonas expressed worries that “now will come the selective assassinations.” On April 26, the indigenous council of Jambalo reported that ‘in a gesture of nonviolent resistance the community of Jambalo has decided to remain in Permanent Assembly so long as the conditions under which they can return to their homes are absent.” (They assembled in the centre of town and camped there overnight – defying the armed actors who told them to leave.)

I believe the most important single piece of news in the area is the statement made by the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), whose communique of two days ago demanded that the military organizations ‘silence the guns so words can be heard’. They call for 1) a ceasefire, 2) demilitarization of the region, and 3) commencement of negotiations toward a political solution to the conflict. A translation (I can’t take credit for it) of this communique is below.


In face of the escalation of the war in our territory, and taking into account the difficult situation in which we are living, we the Nasa Paez communities reiterate before national an international opinion – as has already been expressed in the official communiqués of the ACIN beginning on April 15, 2005 (see – our call to a:


We say this taking into account our deep rejection of:

The declarations of Mr. President of the Republic Álvaro Uribe Vélez concerning his firm decision to “eradicate the guerrillas from Cauca” and no dialogue with terrorist groups until they put an end to their military actions (in the same way that has been done with the self-defense groups).

The continued presence and political pressure from the members of the FARC on the dwellers of a wide area of Northern Cauca and their expressed position of strengthening their military control in that territory.

Faced with these radical positions of the actors at war, we the indigenous peoples of the Northern zone of the department reiterate OUR DECLARATION OF A STATE OF HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY until there exist true guarantees for human rights, international humanitarian law and, above all, for the community process of the indigenous communities.

We openly manifest that we the indigenous population, as a whole and as each individual person, are in imminent danger of being subjected to processes of legal prosecution or execution, currently or afterwards, by any one of the actors involved in the conflict.



Buy any good languages lately?

Lots to report. New combats in Jambalo; the people of the communities have started returning to their homes; Nicaragua is exploding in protest; the Mexican electoral scandal in which the current President Fox was trying to prevent the leftist favourite for the 2006 election, Lopez Obrador, from being allowed to run, by the most outrageous convoluted procedure, seems to have ended with a total victory for Lopez Obrador (Mexico’s attorney general resigned); but I don’t have time tonight to explain any of it in detail. There will be more stuff on Cauca tomorrow, but if you need stuff on Mexico or Nicaragua you’ll probably have to ask for it in the comments section.

To tide you over for tonight I will pass you this note that I got that part of me simply can’t believe. It’s searingly written, and I haven’t seen anything about it elsewhere. See what you think.

Kahnawake Band Council Sells Mohawk Language to Microsoft

MNN. April 20, 2005. The Canadian government Department of Indian Affairs band council in Kahnawake is launching a “language” auction. They’re selling the Mohawk language to the highest bidder. They’re signing an agreement with multi-national corporation, Microsoft, to “co-develop an innovative Kanienkehaka language project”!

Section 4- Ownership of Work By Microsoft; License To Microsoft Materials states as follows: “The Mohawks” agree to dissolve all rights that we may have to any and all copyrights in the work and assigns all rights, title and interests over to Microsoft including but not limited to . the right to sue for infringements which may occur before the date of this Agreement, and to collect and retain damages from any such infringements..”

A Maori student visiting from New Zealand warned, “Language is a sacred thing not to be appropriated by Microsoft. This is how they co-opt our culture. Microsoft will make a lot of money on this. Now you have no river, no land, you don’t even have your own language. Your language is your essence of being and they are stealing it”. She said that the song of one of their people has been copyrighted by a football team down there. Now they can’t write about it unless they pay money to the football team.

Disgusting giveaway. The band council of Kahnawake is giving away the rights to the Mohawk language which our ancestors have been developing since Sky Woman fell to earth. This is an unprecedented insult. The band council cannot sign away our rights on behalf of us or the generations yet unborn. We will be opening ourselves up to policing and lawsuits by this mega corp which will become the ultimate authority on the use of our language.

No consultation. If Microsoft sincerely wishes to contribute its expertise to the Kanienkehaka people so that it can benefit from the wisdom collected and preserved in our language, it needs to come and meet with us, the People. Microsoft must present its project to a proper traditional consultation process. This agreement was made in secret. It is not legal because there was no valid consultation with the People.

The Kanienkehaka language belongs to the Kanienkehaka people. It has been passed down from one generation to the next since time immemorial – long before Europeans came here to colonize us. The language contains the collective knowledge and wisdom of all of our ancestors. It is our duty to learn it, preserve it and pass it on to the generations to come. It establishes our tie to our land where our ancestors have lived for thousands of years.

Tongue-tied! Most members of the current band council have neglected their duty to learn the language. They do not own it and yet they are selling it. The band council is always signing agreements that continuously put our nation, our people, our lands, and now even our language at risk.

Microsoft represents the conglomerate that massacred our ancestors, put us in concentration camps on our homeland, forced laws and ways meant to eliminate us. Now we are being forced to ask for their permission to speak and use our language!

The Kanienkehaka Onkwawen:na Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center in Kahnawake refused to support the agreement. They accused the band council of “knowingly and unilaterally agree[ing] to sell our intellectual property rights . to a foreign corporate entity that seek sto gain full ownership, monopoly and control of our language”. The band council rejects our traditional governments. They are creatures of the Canadian government created under their illegal Indian Act. The councilors commit themselves to defend and uphold the laws of Canada. This is proof that they have discarded their responsibility to their people.

Residential schools. From the time the Europeans arrived, our people have been subjected to colonization. Our children were forced into residential schools and denied the right to speak our language! In some schools almost 100% of the children died. Overall, around 50% did not come out of these institutions alive. Those who did lost their languages. In Kahnawake there were nuns and priests who had the same job, to force the Indian out of us. Kanienkeha is who we are. It is our identity. It defines our ties to the land and to each other. No one has ANY right to sell us! We the Kanienkehaka of Kahnawake must stand up now and defend ourselves

Tongue tax. As the agreement states, “In the event that taxes are required to be withheld on payment made under this Agreement by ANY government authority, Microsoft may deduct such taxes from the amount owed the Mohawks and pay them to the appropriate taxing authority”. In other words, Microssoft has agreed to be an instrument of colonization parasiting on our heritage. They want to cook our tongues for breakfast. The band council has agreed to chop off bits of our flesh to give to whatever bandit demands a slice of the action. And people called us “cannibals”! We Kanienkehaka will now be forced to pay taxes on the unique way we flip our tongues. Nothing is more quintessential to Kanienkehaka identity than the Kanienkeha language. The colonizers stole our land and now they are trying to steal our language. They will be selling our language to other people. It’s a product to them. They will have a market for it in Germany and elsewhere.

How do we stop this? This is one of the richest corporations in the world. They have all the lawyers they want at their beck and call. We can’t afford any. But we have tongues to speak for ourselves. Everyone should email Microsoft to complain. Otkon! Microsoft! Go ahead and sue me. You might get some more choice Mohawk words from me.

Kahentinetha Horn
MNN Mohawk Nation News

Noam Chomsky, Jeff Blankfort, and me

Over a year ago Steve Shalom and I interviewed Noam Chomsky about Israel/Palestine. I was hoping to get him to clarify a few things. I felt that I disagreed with him on the Palestinian right of return and on the so-called ‘one-state solution’ to the conflict. His arguments against both these things were unique and unlike any I’d heard before, and given how much I’ve learned from him over the years, I figured (as no doubt many do) that if we disagreed, it must be because I misunderstood something. But no, after the interview more than ever, I realized that I understood what he was saying just fine, and really did genuinely disagree.

In fact, the idea to interview Noam about this stuff came out of some reading I’d done while thinking about writing a strategy piece disagreeing with Noam on these issues and also disagreeing with some other folks who I thought go too far in the other direction, or not too far (since I don’t think that’s possible in some directions), but off in the wrong direction. I was reading someone named Jeff Blankfort, for example, who I didn’t know. A book called ‘Fallen Pillars’, and another by someone in a group called the ‘Council for the National Interest’. These pieces and books had some very compelling arguments, but also missed some important things. I was hoping that by evaluating all of these writers together I could provide something useful for activists. But somehow I couldn’t quite pull it off, and ended up shelving it, and then settling for an interview with Noam.

Recently Jeff Blankfort wrote a long article with lots of quotes from Noam’s work as an extended critique of Noam’s analysis on Israel/Palestine. Like Blankfort’s other work, I thought it made good points. I also thought it was very unfair to Noam, very personal and vituperative, and undermined its own argument and principles in important ways with the audience it is intended to sway. Since his article ends with a call for open and civil debate all with a view to making the Palestine struggle more effective, I wrote him. Two email exchanges ensued, and we agreed that they would be useful for folks to read. I am including them below. His words will be bolded.

Exchange 1

Hi Jeff.

Justin, from ZNet, here. You might have seen the interview Steve Shalom and I did with Noam some time ago. I was, in that interview, trying to change his mind about some of the things you mention in your piece. Do you know Finkelstein? I also tried taking some of these things up with him, with no luck (I wrote about that encounter in my blog). I’ve interviewed Ilan Pappe on some of these things too.

Yes, I did see that interview while preparing my article. No, I don’t know Finkelstein although I have a great respect for him. It is not surprising that he declined since he feels very close to Chomsky who has come to his defense as he has to others who have been under attack. I have interview Pappe twice and he seems to be in general agreement with my position on the lobby as is Tanya Reinhart who I also have interviewed twice and who is also close to Chomsky who mentored her in her early academic years.

I wanted to say that I like your piece, ‘Damage Control’, and, indeed, agreed with a lot of it. About a year and a half ago I was thinking of trying to write a piece that critiqued both you and Noam, but things got ahead of me and I couldn’t figure out a way to do it properly.

I have two criticisms of your piece, however, that I believe undermine your stated intention of helping the Palestine solidarity movement.

1) The tone. You obviously think Noam has done a tremendous amount of damage to the cause. But you are snarky about it, even though you criticize Noam for being ‘smug’, etc. Calling Barsamian his ‘devoted Boswell’ is one example. But more important than that is when you quote right wing critics of Noam saying he only looks at evidence that suits him, acts more like an attorney than a historian, and is only appreciated for the sheer volume of what he’s done. On the first point, how are any of us, including you and certainly Sharp, any different? When you go into the details of how counterevidence is ignored in his work, you give people a basis to evaluate your arguments. When you say that Noam only looks at evidence that favours his conclusions, you’re smearing Noam in a way that does no service to any movement. When you say he’s mostly appreciated for the volume of work, you’re certainly not speaking to all the people who have learned a great deal from him – people you dismiss as his ‘followers’ and imply – as you accuse him of doing – of being stupid, etc. I’m not going to go through and list the reasons Noam is so much appreciated. I disagree with him most strongly on the points you bring up in your work, and on various other points. But you aren’t going to make headway with your (important) case by sounding mean-spirited.

I makes no bones about it. I do believe Noam has done a tremendous amount of damage to the Palestinian cause (and in a private letter he wrote before I began my article, he said the same of me). It is for this reason that I finally decided to write it and as I read more and more of his prolific output I realized that I had made the right decision. The irony, of course, is that at the same time that he has turned more people on to left politics and to the injustices heaped on the Palestinians than any one else, he has misled with what I believe is spurious information to the point that whatever efforts they have undertaken to now have been ineffectual. I have been active on this issue since spending four months in Lebanon and Jordan in 1970 and so I have had an ample opportunity to see how this has played out.

I know David and he does good radio but his failure to ask Chomsky the tough questions makes him appear some times like a lap dog. As far as the right wing critics, and I saw nothing that Sharp wrote that made me identify him as that, what was important to me was that he was saying exactly what my conclusions had been for some time. For that matter, I would recommend reading Pat Buchanan, a person I detest on many other issues, about US involvement in Iraq and our relations in Israel, before Chomsky because what Buchanan has to say, whatever his motives is what I see as the truth. And Chomsky does ignore or dismiss counter evidence. His failure, in my mind, to include the historic battles between Gerry Ford and Bush Senior in his many books, interviews and speeches is really unconscionable, and if I had additional space I would have criticized his description of Carter’s relations with Israel. To my mind, this is intellectually dishonest.

I would not use the term “stupid” for those who rely on him for information and whose eyes glaze over when you speak of him critically, but I certainly don’t have a great deal of respect for the political opinions of folks I know, mainly Marxists, in fact, who cite him verbatim (without attribution) when it comes to both the lobby and Israel’s alleged position as a US client state. If I had had the space I would have quoted from web sites in the UK and the US that do just that When I have tried to line up debates on these issues there are always excuses not to. Chomsky himself when approached in 1991 to debate me at the Socialist Scholars Conference after we had had an exchange in the old National Guardian, refused, saying “it wouldn’t be useful” (to whom, I wonder). When approached by the same person last year he again refused and didn’t recall the 1991 request. The same has been true with Joel Beinin and Phyllis Bennis, for the same reason “it wouldn’t be useful”) and Zunes, after agreeing to debate, kept putting it off with one excuse after another. He is now being asked by KPFA in Berkeley to do it. I won’t hold my breath, I don’t know about being “mean-spirited.” I am angry and I am not at all ashamed to admit it. What has been happening to the Palestinians is not a US directed exercise; the occupation is not something the US has supported for its own interests, but something it has opposed since Nixon, for geopolitical reasons, not for any benefit for the Palestinians and when Chomsky twists the truth about it, and people mimic that nonsense because of his ubiquitous presence, I am certainly justified and I want others to be angry to.

2) The quoting, with approval, of folks like Sharp, or folks from the Council on the National Interest. The fact that there is a group of imperialists who don’t like Israel doesn’t have very much to do with justice for Palestine. I found a part of Findley’s book where he discusses an arms deal with Saudi Arabia that was blocked by Israel. When Noam compares Israel to a powerless client state whose economy is controlled by the US, you can rightly and sarcastically say ‘poor Israel’. But when I read Findley’s line about the arms dealers, I thought: ‘oh, poor arms dealers.’ If, as you argue, Noam’s work has made it hard for some activists to come to grips with Israel’s real relationship to the US, how much worse have been unholy alliances with a variety of right-wing forces? This can be trumped up, to be sure, and inevitably is, with all the charges of antisemitism and so on. But we have to discern very clearly who our real friends and allies are and who our real enemies are. I don’t see CNI as being allies.

You pick out a line in Findley’s book whereas I can pullout whole chapters in Chomsky’s. Who is telling the truth about the lobby? Findley or Chomsky? That’s what’s important, not whether Findley qualifies in your book as an “imperialist,” a definition I don’t happen to agree with, although some of the folks in CNI well may be. What is important to me is that they are telling the truth regarding US support for Israel and the voices of the left are not. And frankly, one of the reasons the left is not is that as an American Indian leader told me back in 1988, “they’re are too many liberal Zionists.” When I sued the ADL for spying back in 1992, my lawyer was former congressman Pete McCloskey, a Republican and classmate at Yale with Bush Senior. He opposed the Vietnam War, defended Geronimo Pratt and has more integrity than any registered Democrat I have ever known with the exception of Cynthia McKinney. This weekend I will be on a program with Paul Findley, Azmi Bishara and Diana Buttu among others, speaking about Palestinian rights and the lobby and I have no problem with that.

One reason Chomsky has been so effective is that his ‘followers’ can instantly know something about each other’s overall moral perspective and world view. Not everything, but something – and that’s more than you can say about most writers. Reading your stuff over a couple of years, I still don’t have a sense of where you’re coming from. That’s largely because of the things I mentioned above. When you said that Bush Sr.’s overall record adds up to being a war criminal, I thought – okay, this guy and I might be on the same page politically. Same with when you said there’s no limit to how much dirty work the US is ready to do for itself, these days, etc. But you are, in some sense, trying to convince Chomsky’s ‘followers’ that being really consistent with Chomsky’s positions on human rights, imperialism, etc., means breaking with Chomsky on the issue of Israel/Palestine. That’s how I think of it. You aren’t going to do that by smearing Noam or quoting right-wingers.

I agree that Chomsky has been effective, but at doing what? Certainly not building a movement which is something only those with rose colored glasses can see in this country. And yes, Chomskyites are like a cult. Some do good work. Some don’t. But when it comes to taking constructive action and building the kind of movement that these days require it just isn’t there. As Israel Shahak noted in his letter to me, Chomsky appeals to those who are looking for easy answers. Where am I coming from? Progressive and radical political activity going back to 1944 when I was ten and my father ran the congressional campaign of the first person to be elected to Congress as a write-in, and the SOB promptly sold out as did every other Demo I worked for until I understood how the system worked. I protested the Korean War, was doing civil rights work in LA before there was movement of that name, was active against the Vietnam war, worked with and for a time was the “official” photographer for the Black Panthers, and of course, my work around Palestine.. I, like my friend, Amira Hass, am pessimistic about the future and when she told me before the second intifada that the only things that kept her going as “anger,” what keeps me going is my sense of outrage..

I am guessing you are going to keep this up, and I think you should. But your work isn’t going to lead to the kind of critical thinking and rethinking this movement needs unless it’s cleaned up a bit, is my feeling.

From the responses I have received thus far, including some from friends of Chomsky, I would disagree. And the response, in general, have been overwhelmingly positive and the article is on a number of web sites including Deir Yassin Remembered of which I am a board member.

Exchange 2:

Thanks for the reply. I do understand you a bit better now, but you seem quite unmoved by what I have had to say, and I am unmoved by your answers It seems to me there wouldn’t be much profit in going back and forth endlessly over email. Though I do think that your article has had an impact, has perhaps opened the discussion, and I believe in your stated aims (of making the Palestine movement more effective), even though I think your work doesn’t fulfill those aims as much as it should, and easily could have.

JB: From what I have seen already, it has begun to stir a debate and further questions about the issues I raised. True, a few who appreciated the article suggested that it might have been organized differently, and even in a less personal manner, but it would have been less honest on my part since, at least from my evaluation, Chomsky’s role in organizing around the I-P issue has been critical and it overall, whatever his motives, it has been instrumental in keeping it ineffective. In real terms, this means not challenging either locally or nationally, liberal Democratic politicians who may be PC on every other issue but back Israel to the bloody hilt, literally, when called upon to do so. In San Francisco, we have Nancy Pelosi, the House whip who has been given a pass by all but a few of the marginalized left who know where the organizing begins, and Tom Lantos, who gets labor support because he is strong on their issues, and again, like Pelosi, is ignored by both ANSWER and UFPJ. Chomsky’s relegation of Congress to the sidelines when it comes to Israel has produced similar responses to culpable Democrats across the country.

1) You have great respect for Finkelstein, Hass, Reinhart, Pappe – but not Noam? You are happy to say all of them support your position, presumably because you think they are (justly) respected, but you don’t think the same of Noam, who you suggest is only respected because of sheer volume of writing? You really don’t think conceding that Noam has more going for him than output and friendships would strengthen what you are saying at all?

JB: I have great respect for them because of the content of their writings as well as their personal courage. While such judgements, of course, are purely personal, I don’t think Noam measures up to any of that group in either category. What he has done, and for which credit is due, is support and assist numerous scholars here and in Israel but this while meritorious, does not account for the deficiencies that I have found in his writings. That is not to say we are on totally different pages, far from it. On most issues, we are in total agreement, but on the critical ones on this critical issue, we are poles apart. And since, in a manner inconsistent with any definition of “intellectual” he not only is unwilling to debate me, he says openly that he won’t even read what I’ve written.

2) It’s not one line out of Findley’s book I have a problem with, it’s the whole concept of ‘the National Interest’ as conceived by the figures who make up the CNI. Theirs is not a left critique. I believe that there is room for a left critique of Noam on Palestine issues, and you make some of the strongest points for that critique. But you also muddy the waters by throwing in these arguments about national interest, Pat Buchanan, and so on. What’s at stake is the kind of political alliance or coalition that could force change in the US-Israel relationship. Here’s where you and I probably have an analytical disagreement. I don’t think the US would abandon Israel unless the political culture in the US changed massively in favor of oppressed constituencies, anti-racist consciousness, more democratic media. I think you think that more conventional political pressure on politicians could make a bigger difference than I do. If you are right, then we can work with CNI or Pat Buchanan on an issue-by-issue basis. If I’m right, then by letting them in the boat we’re throwing others out – and I don’t mean liberal zionists but oppressed constituencies who are unimpressed by the politics of CNI on other issues.

JB: I understand and share your feelings concerning the term, “national interest.” but is that necessarily reactionary? Does it not depend on how that interest is perceived? I recently interviewed Prof. Andrew Bacevich who has written an important book, “The New American Militarism,” from what would be, I would guess, the CNI point of view, that the US military should exist to defend the country from attack from the outside and not as a global police force for US capital. He was coming to that point as a 23 year vet, West Point graduate, etc. While, no doubt, we have differing opinions on other issues, I think his book is more useful in convincing those not on the left of the unjustness of US policy and the present war in Iraq. How many progressives will buy and use the book? Not many, I would guess. In the case of Buchanan, it’s the same. If he is making the right arguments, ones that on the left you are only likely to find with Cockburn here, not to use them to stick one’s head in the sand. Back to the CNI, I am not aware that it takes positions on other issues than US support for Israel. If the left or progressive groups would adopt their position on this issue I would applause, but they don’t and I’m not holding my breath until they do.

3) On where you’re coming from: thanks for that. You didn’t have to say so much, but I do appreciate it. I’m much younger, though I think as outraged. And I don’t like the tendency our activists have of looking for ‘easy answers’ any more than you or Israel Shahak. But talk about easy answers, Jeff. As important as intra-left critique is for moving forward, and as important as I believe this particular critique is, you have to understand that there is a certain lack of proportion here? Surely Noam is not to blame for the situation in Palestine? And indeed, that even the movement has serious problems that go well beyond consequences of the bias towards Israel that Noam admitted he had in 1970?

JB: Of course, Noam is not to blame for the situation in Palestine. But I do know that the refusal over the years to place the Palestinian struggle for justice near the top of the movement’s international agenda has allowed it to develop to the point it has, and this has had to do with Chomsky’s point of view on the issues of Congress and the lobby and their connection to the aid issue and how it has been eagerly been taken up by those who are looking for the easy answers, “blame it all on US imperialism,” and, are either protective of Israel at some deeper level, like Chomsky, or afraid of provoking that bogeyman, “anti-semitism.”

The last comment in your email below suggests you are satisfied with the responses you’ve gotten and satisfied with your piece. If that’s the case I guess there’s not much point going too much further, especially in private email. On the other hand, if you’d like, I could post this all in my blog, along with your reply to this note (you should have the last word), and of course a link to your original leftcurve piece, in the interest of keeping the debate you opened going. I really do wish I found your piece as satisfying, but I don’t, for the reasons I’ve outlined. Still, there are important points there that activists should read.

JB: While I am pleased by the response that I have received so far, from sources that I respect, if I had more time and space, I might have organized the article differently. It’s essence, however, would be the same. As to putting this correspondence on your blog, that would be fine with me.

Canadian politics

This was a long day, and the kind of day I’ve needed. This morning I was on a Jamaican radio program called ‘The Breakfast Club’ – discussing Canadian politics, more or less debating a University of Toronto professor called Nelson Wiseman. Wiseman provided a ‘mainstream Canadian politics 101’ for the Jamaican audience, and I tried to raise some broader issues (the coup and occupation and mass murder in Haiti, the Conservative agenda, the Liberal agenda being nearly identical to the Conservative agenda, etc.). The program itself was a kind of debate format, with a ‘left-wing’ host named Trevor Munroe, a trade unionist and professor, and a ‘right-wing’ host named Anthony Abrahams who had been tourism minister for Jamaica. Later tonight I had a conversation with some other activists who were quite impressed with Jack Layton’s budget move. I think it was good too, but we all agreed/lamented the absence of strong social movements at this stage who were capable of intervening and pushing support for a budget that is, symbolically, a sort of a big deal in that it is a reversal of the major fiscal policy thrust of the past few decades. In a sense it proves what David Orchard was saying to me in our interview months back: he said Martin isn’t afraid of thousands of people on the streets. He’s afraid of 3 seats in Parliament. And so with a few seats in Parliament did the NDP achieve this major reverse. Now if movements were capable of intervening, they could push to actually make the reverse real and expand it.

I will have much more to say about Canadian politics in the coming days, since we might be in for another Fear and Loathing election. Canadians who want the report to have a different brand are welcome to suggest them.

Will people power have a chance in Colombia?

Yesterday (April 22), as the attacks on their communities continue to intensify, the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca, specifically Toribio and now Jambalo, convoked an assembly in the main city of the region, Santander de Quilichao. Supporters of the movement came, on very short notice, from different parts of the country, to affirm the indigenous position of autonomy. The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, in their own communique, summarized the military situation: the FARC have exerted a major effort since April 14, taking over the municipality of Toribio. They took over other nearby towns as well, including Tacueyo (April 19), and Jambalo (April 22). Over the past week, FARC and the Colombian military/police battled in Toribio and elsewhere. The FARC are in the mountains; the Colombian army controls various roads leading up to the communities. The FARC has set blockades of their own. The civilian population, having suffered various deaths (including children) has largely been displaced to centers around Toribio and elsewhere in the region where they have families. Dozens of homes have been destroyed in the fighting. The FARC use their gas pipe bombs, the Colombian military uses aerial bombardment. The hospital was damaged, disrupting health services, and the health organization is overstretched. All agricultural activity has been interrupted.

Colombia’s indigenous peoples have long been invisible in the mainstream media, but these combats have seen reports on Toribio appear all over AP wires and on BBC world. Even the best reports, however, present the story as a battle between the FARC and the government, with the indigenous communities being either the background or the battlefield itself. And while many of the messages of solidarity and support that have come from organizations and individuals of conscience in Colombia and throughout the world describe the urgent humanitarian situation, with over 1800 people displaced, dozens of houses destroyed, dozens injured and several killed, it is very important that the words and message of the communities themselves not be lost.

These are no passive victims. The people of Northern Cauca have a long memory of resistance going back to the warrior La Gaitana who led her people against the Spanish colonizers, to Manuel Quintin Lame who helped them win back their land in the 19th century, to ‘La Violencia’ in which their gains were reversed after 1948, to the land struggles of the 1970s in which they won their land back. There are many who carried arms to fight for autonomy in the 1970s and 1980s, fighting all those who would deny it to them. But in recent years they have become the moral and political guide of the movements in Colombia. In February 2004, they enacted a political judgement against the military for murdering one of their youths. In September of that year they organized a massive march against Uribe’s ‘Democratic Security’ counterinsurgency policy and against the Free Trade Agreement with the US. In March 2005 they organized a popular consultation against the FTA in which participation was unprecedentedly massive at 70% and rejection of FTA was virtually unanimous. Beyond all these actions, and most important, they are administering their own affairs, from the economy to justice, according to their laws and their practices, and using participatory democracy and assemblies to do so. Their ‘guardia indigena’ walk unarmed, with their moral authority symbolized in batons they carry, and resolve conflicts, protect people, and in August 2004, rescued the mayor of Toribio, who had been kidnapped by FARC.

Returning to last week’s attacks, the Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe Velez, arrived the day after the first FARC offensive for just long enough to pour some fuel on the fire. Along with his supporter, the governor of Cauca, Juan Jose Chaux Mosquera, Uribe walked the streets of Toribio under heavy guard. Uribe taunted the guerrillas and accused them of cowardice and terrorism. He promised humanitarian aid. He said ‘the population of Toribio has to decide which side they are on’. Then he took his heavy guard and left. Raul Reyes, the FARC’s spokesperson, replied in an interview to ANNCOL that ‘the government is in a very weak position to give assurances that it has the capacity to force the FARC into retreat.’

The FARC counterattack followed a day after Uribe’s provocation. Uribe was long gone. The humanitarian aid never arrived. But the Defense Minister (also named Uribe) announced the government’s determination: “Government forces will not withdraw from this zone,” he told the AP.

FARC has obviously decided these towns are of great symbolic importance. An AP story quoted a FARC platoon leader saying “We have no plans to leave here,” and that 500 FARC members were involved in the siege. But it is hard to imagine how they could hold the region if the government throws all its weight against it. Ultimately, they will withdraw, after more lives are lost, and the corrosive military presence in this stronghold of indigenous autonomy will be all the greater.

Meanwhile, the population have activated their contingency plans: permanent assembly, to keep the communities together and protected as much as possible, while political pressure is built to get the armed actors out of the region. They will have to contend, in their plans, not only with the utter lack of respect for them on the part of the FARC and the Colombian army’s brutality, but also for all the legal repression by the government, based on phony pretexts. Last year, before the September 2004 march, the government arrested indigenous leader Alcibiades Escue. Like Toribio’s mayor Arquimedes Vitonas, Alcibiades Escue was essentially kidnapped, though several phony legal pretexts were provided by his kidnappers (the Colombian government in this case). Also like Arquimedes Vitonas, Alcibiades was freed by popular mobilization. Today the movement is warning that the National government has already threatened legal actions and prosecutions against the very people who are being attacked and displaced.

Their project is not neutrality or passivity, but autonomy. The military actions and military bluster over their territories drowns out the fact that they have their own ideas and plans for how to live – including how to resolve Colombia’s armed conflict. It starts with respect for civilian populations, with respect, in the words they would use, for life. That means, as a starting point, demilitarization of their region.

Days ago, indigenous movements led the way in Colombia’s neighbour, Ecuador, not very far from Cauca at all, to overthrow a President who was abusive and corrupt. Their struggle is far from over, and they have hard days ahead. But they showed, as Bolivians showed just over a year ago, that popular power is real. The indigenous of Cauca are Colombia’s seeds of that kind of power. Their process is too important to be allowed to be destroyed by those who fear it or hold it in contempt because they can’t understand it.

Justin Podur visited Northern Cauca in February 2004. His photo essay, with much background and interviews on the indigenous movement there, can be found at:

Ecuador and Toribio: it won’t be easy, but…

Someone whose presence is missed on this blog noted that the Fertl article from Green Left Weekly is some good context on Ecuador. The latest on Ecuador from IPS: the new boss, Alfredo Palacio, says he’s planning to complete the term of Lucio Gutierrez, even though the protesters demand that he hold elections in 4 months. He plans to build a government of national unity that will govern until January 2007. Palacios is also going to keep the FTA negotiations with the US on track. And keep Ecuador a military base for the US. Meet the new boss, etc.

On Toribio. I am still working on the many reports coming in. Colombia Indymedia is a good source and ACIN’s own website, if you can read Spanish (ACIN is linked on the right). But what is important to know, most important, is that the people of Toribio have demands: In the short term, they want all the armed actors out and the demilitarization of their region. In the long term, they want a negotiated solution to the conflict. To that end they are holding a forum tomorrow (Friday April 22) in the main city of Northern Cauca, Santander de Quilichao. Right in the middle of it all. It’s just another example of their humbling resolve and resilience. Years ago, my friend Arquimedes Vitonas (who is currently the mayor of Toribio but wasn’t at the time) told me that “To us, the idea of accompaniment is sacred — being with someone or being there for someone on a personal level but also on a community or political level.”

Well, I’d want them to know that they are accompanied now. If there’s a lot of accompaniment it could make a difference at this crucial time. More soon.

Ecuador’s President Lucio Gutierrez falls

I have much more about Northern Cauca to present here, starting with Hector Mondragon’s article which I translated. But in the meantime Ecuador’s President, Lucio Gutierrez, seems to have gone the way of Bolivia’s Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2003.

What happened? I’ve been receiving reports all week but I haven’t read most of them until tonight. I will below present a rush translation of an article by Eduardo Tamayo for ALAI-Amlatina (a news service).

Continue reading “Ecuador’s President Lucio Gutierrez falls”

CRIC on Toribio

Here is the communique from the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca on the situation in Toribio, where there were ‘combats’ between the FARC and the Colombian military, causing the death of a 9-year old child, the wounding of some 20 (six of these seriously, though apparently 4 adults were not killed, which I had reported yesterday), the destruction of a dozen buildings, and the displacement of the population, who are assembled in villages outside the town and waiting to return to their town. These combats act as the perfect pretext for the army to occupy the place, militarize the region, and undermine the indigenous project of building autonomy.

Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC)
April 15, 2005
Communique on the situation in Toribio, Cauca, Colombia

According to the latest information from Toribio, from 5pm on April 14, the guerrillas have abandoned the centre of the town which they had occupied since 6am.

As a product of the attacks and confrontations, one child was killed and some 20 injured, the majority of whom are indigenous, 6 of whom are seriously wounded. These are being cared for in the hospital in Toribio and in a clinic in the indigenous reserve of San Fransisco.

The members of the community report that despite their aerial attacks from planes and helicopters through the morning, soldiers from the Colombian army only arrived after the guerrillas had already abandoned the town.

As a consequence of the combats a number of houses were in large part destroyed and others were severely damaged in a gas explosion produced by the combats.

Recognizing that some members of the community decided to return to their homes to protect their belongings while others are under permanent assembly elsewhere, guarantees for the life of the people of the municipality, help for the wounded, and prevention of the Colombian military acting like an army of occupation, are all urgent.

In consequence the people of Toribio require:

1. Humanitarian aid: state and institutional protections for human rights according to national and international law. Solidarity in the form of supplies – food, medicine, gasoline, water, electrical generation – are also urgently required.
2. Guarantees of protection of the permanent assemblies established at CECIDIC (the indigenous university campus near Toribio), and the villages of Manzano, Potrerito, and Vichigui located outside the town of Toribio.

The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) rejects this violation of international humanitarian law and repudiates the current war, with its lack of respect for peoples and human dignity, as an instrument of solution of conflict.

AFSC Note on Toribio

While I translate the communiques from the community itself, here is a piece from the American Friends Service Committee (which I believe is Quakers) on Toribio.

Friends and relatives,

Attached you will find an urgent action on the Nasa indigenous peace communities in the Cauca region of southwest Colombia. This community isaccompanied by AFSC, one of UDP’s partner organizations. The Nasa and the U’wa have worked and strategized together, and as U’wa supporters, we are asking you to call your representatives and email the Colombian consulate, forward and post this email.

En paz y lucha,

Ana Maria Murillo

Executive Director

U’wa Defense Project

Presidio POB 29457 San Francisco, CA 94129

Office 415 561 4518 Fax 415 561 4521 Cel 415
724 1221

Providing legal, community development, research & advocacy support to the Indigenous U’wa people in Colombia as they work to defend their life, land & cultural autonomy.

American Friends Service Committee Urgent Action on Colombia

Yesterday, Thursday, April 14, 2005, a battle took place between the FARC and the Colombian army and counter-guerrilla police in the indigenous peace communities of Toribio and Jambalo in the north of the Department of Cauca, in Southwest Colombia. The civilian population has had to abandon their homes given the indiscriminate use of gas cylinders as explosives and
the exchange of gunfire between the FARC and the Colombian official armed forces inside the community, besides aerial bombardments by the Colombian Air
Force in the rural areas surrounding the towns. Today, there are reports of
the semi-destruction of the town and damage to the homes, farms, organizational centers as well as the official headquarters of the Nasa indigenous people. Also, 21 civilians were severely wounded and a nine year old child was killed. The community had to evacuate 2,200 people into the school and community center (CECEDIC) where the indigenous peace guard is trying to protect them as well as other smaller towns that have been designated as safe havens.

The violence in Toribi­o and Jambalo is one of the products of the attempt by the Colombian government to engage in a military solution to the civil war. Despite protests by community members, the official armed forces established permanent posts in these towns in 2002, using the civilian population as human shields to respond to attacks by the rebels. In addition, Colombian armed forces have continued to be involved in violating the rights of civilians, as documented in a report this month by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that showed while all armed actors (guerrilla and paramilitary groups) violated human rights, there was a significant increase in the involvement of Colombian security forces in human rights violations.

And in February, members of the peace community of San Jose de Apartado
suffered two massacres that were carried out, according to witnesses, by soldiers who identified themselves as members of the 11th Brigade of
the Colombian armed forces.

It is noteworthy that communities of Toribi­o and Jambalo have received wide recognition for their commitment to sustainable development, peace, social and cultural survival. Last year they were awarded with the Equatorial Prize from the United Nations, and the Indigenous Peace Guard received the Colombian National Peace Prize precisely because of their peaceful work for the protection of life and the rights of the Nasa indigenous communities.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has had a long-standing partnership with the Nasa indigenous communities in Colombia. We are extremely concerned about the use of indigenous territories as battle fields by all of the armed actors-paramilitaries, government forces and the guerrillas. We are also concerned that U.S. financial support of the Colombian military (often complicit with illegal paramilitary groups) compounds the situation and aggravates the violence in these communities.

Between 1999-2005, the United States gave Colombia more than $2 billion, of which 83 percent has gone to Colombia’s military and police. Congress is already beginning to examine President Bush’s proposal to send another almost $731 million to Colombia next year.

The AFSC is calling on all people of conscience to write to their legislative representatives and ask them to take a position against funding for Colombian military forces. We also call on you to write to the Colombian consulate in your area and the Colombian government representatives listed below asking them to investigate the above-mentioned incidents and to have the Colombian government publicly express support for efforts by indigenous peoples to create peace communities free of all armed actors.

In light of the urgent situation we are being called to:

* Encourage your organization to send letters to the Colombian consulates and government asking them to cease all hostilities.

* Call your representatives or write to them and let them know that peace is possible in Colombia, but not through more military aid and fumigation. Also, encourage your representatives and senators to stand up for a new U.S.-Colombia policy that supports human rights and the environment, and strengthens peace and justice.

* Tell your representatives about the peace communities of Toribio, Jambalo and San Jose de Apartadó

* Support AFSC so that we can provide immediate assistance to the peace community.

For more information please visit our website:

For alternatives to current US policy go to:

For a list of your legislative representatives please visit:

Please write to the following government representatives in Colombia:

President of Colombia
Carrera 8 n. 7-26 Palacio de Nariño,
Santa Fe de Bogotá
Fax (571 ) 286 74 34 – 286, 68 42 -284 21 86

Minister of Justice and the Interior
Carrera 8 # 8-09 – Bogotá
Fax: 0057-1-286.80.25

Minister of Defense
Colombia’s Mission to the United Nations.

Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno
Leroy Place, NW,
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: (202) 387 8338
Fax: (202) 232 8643

Dr. Rafael Bustamante
Human Rights Unit – Area of Prevention
Protection Program
Ministry of Interior
Carrera 8 # 13-31 Piso 13
Bogota, Colombia
Fax 011-571-566-3234


Honorable William Wood
US Ambassador in Colombia
(fax) 011-571-315-2163. or 011-571-315- 2197
Email (care of Jerome P. Hohman, Human Rights Officer):

Natalia Cardona
Latin American Caribbean Program
American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA
Tel: 215-241-7162
Fax: 215-241-7177
To President Bush: Don’t fumigate us! We are not flies, we are not mosquitoes. We are human beings. From: Indigenous women in Colombia.

Some English material on the (latest) San Jose de Apartado Massacre

This piece, remarkably, ran in the Colombian daily, El Tiempo, a few weeks ago. I have had the translation for some time, and haven’t republished it here – I should apologize both to the writer and to the translator for the delay. The translator is a friend who I’ve spent time with in Colombia. The piece is a very important document and its source is now, predictably, under threat and in great danger, because of his attempt to get the word out. Sara’s translation first, and the spanish original below that.

El Tiempo, Bogotá daily newspaper. March 25, 2005

(photos that accompanied print version are not available online)

Four Days in Search of the Bodies of those Massacred in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

The renowned photographer Jesús Abad Colorado accompanied the members of this community. This is his story.

I can keep silent no longer. I spent four days with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. I went to the area to photograph the search for the assassinated leaders and their family members, in the villages of the Mulatos River canyon, in the Abibe Mountains. On one side is the province of Antioquia, on the other, Córdoba. It is a region rich in forests and waters, which for the past decade has kept seeing it’s old owners, the campesinos (peasants), again and again give birth, flee and die. Many of them have been from the Peace Community. Thursday, February 24th

At night I received an email with the tragic news of the assassination of seven people from the Peace Community. “We can say no more, the pain overwhelms us so deeply that we can only cry …” The communiqué names the Army as responsible for the deaths, and announces the departure of a commission to the village of La Resbalosa, nine hours away from San José, to look for the bodies.

Since 1997, the year that I met these people in this Urabá region of Antioquia when they formed this Peace Community, I have seen their memorial monument continue to grow. It is made of stones that they bring from the river. They write on each stone the name of the person assassinated. There are now more than 150.

Friday, February 25th

I got to Urabá just after 10:30 am. I went to the township in an open sided bus, with a person from the community. We got there before noon. The heat was intense, and the few townspeople who were there were anxiously awaiting word from the international accompaniers, who had left at dawn with the campesinos and headed for La Resbalosa.

The report came in at 1:30 pm. “The Peace Community commission had arrived before noon, before the judicial authorities” They did not think that all of the bodies would be able to be exhumed that same afternoon.” They would return the next day. I asked the two people who had waited for me to leave with me.

With a lot of worries, blessings, and some food we left at 2 pm.

The ascent up one arm of the Abibe Mountains started out fast. My fear of night falling made me push the mule faster than it could go. The steady voice of Pedro*, one of the campesinos, calmed me down. “These animals know where we’re headed and they’re measuring their pace. If you hurry them, they won’t have energy to get up to the top of Chontalito.”

At around 4 pm Don Alberto*, a man with strong large hands, caught up to us. “The thing is that these dead have a lot of mourners, and they were like our children,” he emphasizes. The path was a little less long and tense with his tough and sweet stories about the love they have for this land. Despite the pain and the fear, they were full of dignity and hope.

“Look at these mountains, so beautiful, so productive, and now so abandoned. My father raised us here. This is my life. I live here with my wife, my kids, and even if it’s just with yucca and cocoa beans we’re going to survive. I don’t plan to flee. We’ve been displaced before and it’s really rough. It’s been 8 or 9 years of persecution and abuses. It’s rage directed at us, even by the State. All because we don’t want to let in anyone who carries weapons, since they all just want to use us.”

The afternoon wore on and the cold fog blurred out the mountainous landscape. Around us, in the dense forest, the monkeys jumped away from us as we passed. We were near the summit of Chontalito, one of the Abibe mountain peaks. The way down was harder than I had imagined, but the fog cleared a bit and it cheered me to be able to see the horizon, and see the Mulatos River canyon. It was 6 pm and as we descended Mount Chontalito we could see our destination, the Resbalosa Mountains. These divide Antioquia from Córdoba, at the municipality of Tierralta.

At 7:15 we heard the sound of two helicopters leaving the mountain. We understood that the exhumation had been finished. Minutes later we ran in to the commission that had left at dawn. They were nearly 80 people who, on foot and horseback, were heading back from the farm of Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia, one of the assassinated leaders of the Peace Community on whose cocoa farm the graves with the mutilated bodies were found. It was an endless line of lights and hearts broken by the pain, descending rapidly from La Resbalosa to the Mulatos River. There was silence. We heard only the sound of crickets and the panting of the horses.

At the river, by the light of the moon, the commission stopped for a moment to wait for another group. Several leaders informed us that five bodies had been found. “There were bullet holes in the kitchen, some words written with the burnt end of a stick and blood stains on the floor and the mark of a bloody hand slipping down the wood” The bodies were in two graves, a few meters from the house and in the middle of the cocoa field. There we found Alfonso Bolívar, his wife Sandra Milena Muñoz and their children Santiago, 20 months old, and Natalia Andrea, 6 years old. We also found the body of Alejandro Pérez, who worked helping Alfonso with the cocoa harvest. There were other workers who fled. The adults were dismembered, down to their torsos. The 6 year old girl’s arm was cut off and they cut open her stomach, as they did to the 20 month old boy. Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family were not in the graves, but a commission left before nightfall to check some sites near the river, where they had been stopped.”

Minutes later that other commission arrived with the news that they had found the other bodies. Luis Eduardo, Deiner and Beyanira. “They’re downriver in the open air, beyond the school and next to the path that goes in to where the Mulatos health clinic used to be. We saw the little boy’s head next to the river banks, near the cadavers. We have to stay up all night and keep watch because the vultures are eating them”. We walked back along the river for nearly half an hour. No one wanted to talk. Only the sound of the water coming down from the Abibe Mountains was in our eyes and our ears.

It’s nearly 10 pm and we’re next to a small house, with wood walls and a thatched roof. It just has one room and several families.

One of the women of the community, who tells us that she was born here, tells us “a decade ago there were 200 some families that lived here with us in Mulatos canyon. There were community stores, a school, a health clinic and all of that is in ruins now. There have been so many armed invasions and so many campesinos killed that they’ve been pulling us out of our lands. A year ago there were nearly 90 families here, but after an invasion by the army and paramilitaries there were only 16 left. Well see how many stay after this.”

Other campesinos point to the Mulatos canyon and talk of the town of Nueva Antioquia in Turbo. “The paramilitaries have organized a lot of their invasions from there, and they coordinate them with the army. Since the demobilization of the Bananeros Block (of paramilitaries) and the arrival of the police to the township of Nueva Antioquia they’ve set up other groups and camps further in, towards this zone right next to Mulatos, in a place called Rodoxali.”

The night is illuminated with moonlight. The group gets ready to sleep, side by side, under the sky.

Saturday, February 26th

The day starts at 5 am. The commission divides up tasks. One group heads back to San José de Apartadó to prepare the burial. Another will head down to watch over the bodies and wait for the legal investigation and recovery of the bodies. They are accompanied by members of Peace Brigades International (PBI) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). A small group sets out to look for yucca and prepare food.

The group I’m in has nearly 40 people and heads out at 6 am. After walking along the riverbanks for 40 minutes the vultures let us know we’ve arrived. On the side of the Mulatos River, which runs fairly dry this time of year, is what is left of the head of Luis Eduardo’s son, Deiner Andrés, who was 11 years old: his skull and a few vertebrae. 15 meters up ahead is the rest of they boy’s body, next to that of his father. The body of Luis Eduardo’s 17 year old partner Beyanira Areiza is also there. Their bodies are intertwined.

There’s not a lot left of them. There are no signs of bullet holes in their heads. The bodies of the boy and his dad still have their boots on. Beyanira doesn’t. She’s barefoot and her body is half on top of Deiner’s and the rest bent over Luis Eduardo’s body. Beyanira’s green sweats are pulled down to her knees. Near the boy’s skull, 5 or 6 meters away, is a machete that’s been thrown in to the weeds next to the river. 30 meters further down, in the middle of the river, among the stones, is one of Beyanira’s small black boots, and 15 meters away is the other one, almost cut in half along the seam. Very nearby is another machete.

The members of the Peace Community stop and look at the boy’s skull. Then they walk up to the bodies. There are no tears. Their eyes look and empty out. There are no words. One of the leaders and the attorney break the silence: “No one touch anything around here. The evidence can’t be touched. It’s important that it be the prosecutors that pick them up and investigate”.

The group withdraws to the other bank. All we hear now are the sobs of Luis Eduardo’s sister, who stays by his side. They echo and ring deep in this silence. Now tears are running down many cheeks. The minutes pass, then the hours, and there are no signs of helicopters or commissions or prosecutors. The peace brigaders use their satellite phone to call and tell again and again where the site is, requesting removal of the bodies.

At 11 am breakfast is ready. The sky is clear and we’re told that the family we stayed next to last night has decided to flee and join the ranks of the displaced. Several young men use slingshots to throw rocks at the vultures that circle around and fill the treetops, and to keep away the pigs that surround us.

It’s 2:30 pm. The peace brigaders, seeing that the prosecutors aren’t arriving and not having been able to communicate with their main office, decide to head back to San José. They offer to come back the next day or send a new team of peace brigaders in case the investigation is dragged out. The group from the community decides to stay and keep watching over the bodies.

At 4 pm the sound of two helicopters announces the arrival of the prosecutors. At least that’s what we all think. The group heads towards the old health clinic site where there’s enough open space for landing and waves white flags. They try to get the attention of the pilots. But the helicopters head to La Resbalosa. One lands and the other hovers in the air, then they head to El Barro, again the same helicopter lands and lets out the troops that they picked up in La Resbalosa. They do this same operation four or five times. These back and forth trips don’t take long, the mountains are right in front of each other, and the Mulatos River runs between them. On foot it is an hours walk. The campesinos wave their shirts in the air, start a fire, and shout, but the helicopters are lost again in the clouds.

At 5:15 a commission of soldiers and police arrive. They don’t come close, they ask for representatives of the Community to come speak to them alone. One of the leaders goes with the attorney. Later a police captain calls me over and introduces himself to me politely. His name is Captain Castro. He asks me who I work for and could I do a series of photographs of the bodies, for the legal investigation, in case the prosecutors don’t arrive.

When I come back to the group the campesinos tell me that a soldier who was not wearing a name badge took the machete that was near Beyanira’s boots. The soldier cleans it and sharpens it against the stones. When he sees that I’m watching him he turns his back. When the attorney and the community’s representative walk back to the group they are told about this and they head back to speak to the Captain. They ask that this be reported to army higher-ups because it is “tampering with evidence”. When they come back to the group of campesinos there is even more anguish. “The soldier picked up the machete, walked by us, and without any shame or pity for what we’re going through, made gestures and told us that that machete had been the throat slitter”.

The police officer says that the bodies cannot be removed until the next day, that he will spend the night nearby and make sure that the animals don’t keep destroying the bodies. The community’s representative and the attorney inform this officer and the army that the next day “the community will form two commissions, one will come back to this same site to wait for the bodies to be removed, the other will head to the village of El Barro, because we have heard nothing from the families there, even though they live very close to here.” The army officer responds that they are in that village and that there are no families there. The community insists. At 7 pm we go back to our sleeping site.

Sunday, February 27th

Before 5 am three people take on the sacrificing of a pig. The long loud squeals of the animal wake us. Their echoes hang over the forest for several minutes. Later, like on all of these days, the silence comes flooding back.

It’s 6 am. The first commission heads out with the attorney to the site where we found the bodies of Luis Eduardo, Deiner and Beyanira. The 14 people who are heading to the village of El Barro ask me to accompany them. We head down the river. We turn in for 20 minutes and then head up. The line stops for a moment. There is a checkpoint with three uniformed men. They ask the campesinos what they are doing here. They explain. One soldier has insignias on his arm, from the 33rd Battalion Cacique Lutaime. The others have no identification. They ask me who I am and why I am with the group. I explain my documentary work and that we are searching for several families in this region that have not been heard from since the events of Monday the 21 or Tuesday the 22nd. The soldier speaks to the other two and then heads up to where there are more uniformed men. He comes down a few minutes later and lets us pass. He lets us know that a few meters ahead there’s a pool where several soldiers are bathing. We walk by and they’re washing their clothes.

Just two blocks later there are three wooden houses, with metal roofs. In the first there is a sign written with a burnt stick end. “Out guerillas, it’s your worst nightmare telling you so – El Cacique”; above that it says: “The Scorpion BCG 33”. There is no one in that house. The people who live there are in the other two homes, very close to each other. Two girls are throwing corn to the chickens and a pig with four piglets. When they see the commission coming carrying the community’s flag they come out and greet us. An older man, sitting on a bench, closes his bible and smiles. He calls to two women who are in the kitchen. Behind the commission come the three uniformed men and they stand between the houses, watching us. Another man, without a shirt and wearing a hat, comes out of a room and greets us very timidly. It’s Rigo*, the campesinos say.

The youngest woman is breastfeeding a baby and the grandmother speaks in a low voice. She wants to know how long we’ve been in the area and if we’ve come for them. She thanks God that this nightmare is going to be over. “It started on Monday when they got here and they haven’t let us leave. They have Rigo, the neighbor, detained too. They don’t even let him go to his home, which is nearby, on the other mountainside. His wife and kids are home alone there. They interrogate and threaten me, because they say I’m a nurse for the guerilla. Melazo is with them, he’s a paramilitary. It’s the third time that he’s come to my house with the army. He said that he was going to finish off everyone from the Peace Community because they were a bunch of S.O.B. guerrillas and that if he has to he’ll get the foreigners too. That we’re in a zone that’s theirs and belongs to them. He’s threatened to cut off my daughters’ heads when they go to the well for water. They’ve dug several holes looking for weapons …”

One of the members of the community tells that they’ve been in the zone since Friday. First in La Resbalosa and then near Cantarrana, 30 minutes away. He says that there are still several bodies that have to be removed. They’re the bodies of Luis Eduardo, Deiner and Beyanira. The woman’s eyes fill with tears. She takes our hands in hers and speaks even more softly: “so, it’s true that they’ve killed them? Why did they do that? I told Luis Eduardo not to go that morning to the cocoa field to pick those beans. We knew that they were doing a military operation. I did all but plead with him to head back to San José … He didn’t pay attention to me because he wasn’t afraid, besides he needed the money from the harvest to take his son in to the doctor. He left in the morning and said he’d be back, but he never came. These people came after midday on Monday (February 21st) and we haven’t but suffered since. We’ve spent all our time praying until you got here. They barely let us go out and pick a little corn. Around Wednesday they told us that they had killed some guerillas in the river, that one was with his wife and child. I said to them, could it be that you’ve killed Luis Eduardo and his son? They’re my relatives. Beyanira is his partner. They changed their tune then and said oh, those were killed by the paramilitaries”.

I walk up to one of the soldiers and share some thoughts about the pain suffered by campesinos in Colombia and I tell him that this trip has me overwhelmed with all of these events. Visibly disturbed he tells me, “it’s always the campesinos that lose everything. Just look, this family is going to leave even their pigs”. I ask him how long he’s been in the area. “Since Monday” he says. Here in El Barro?” I ask. “No, we came in through Las Nieves on Saturday and we got here on Monday”.

At 10:30 the families are ready to leave their homes, to join the displaced. There is a lot of sadness, but also joy. The graffiti on the first house has been erased by the uniformed men. We go back to the site where we spent the night. We meet up with the other commission, and they greet the new families.

The sound of the helicopters leaving the Mulatos River canyon announces the end of the investigation and removal of the bodies of Luis Eduardo, Deiner and Beyanira.

After midday a long string of campesinos, with a few possessions and animals, begins the climb to the top of Mount Chontalito. We’re headed back to San José de Apartadó.

At 7 pm, wiped out from the journey, we enter the township of San José. Lots of people come out to meet us. “Where are my colleagues from the press?” I ask the townspeople. There is no answer. No one has come.

The population gathers around the community hall. Lying there are the bodies of Alejandro Pérez, Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia and Sandra Muñoz, and their children Santiago y Natalia. The residents of the Peace Community and their council decided to wait until all of the bodies were together to do a joint burial. Before midnight the other bodies arrive in a van. They’re accompanied by the Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo and by Gloria Cuartas. She, as mayor of Apartadó, saw the birth of this community.

Monday, February 28th

It’s 7:30 am. The bishop of Apartadó appears briefly. He’s gone before 8 am.

The mass begins at 8:30 am, when campesinos from nearby villages arrive. It’s a mass that asks for truth, calls for justice and respect for the dignity of this Peace Community.

As we walk to the burial site I look at the eyes of the teenagers, men and women who were on the search for their leader and their families, at those newly orphaned and at the ever-present widows It’s too much pain. The people who I saw courageously walking over mountains and through valleys are now bowed down in this graveyard in San José de Apartadó.

* Names changed.

Jesús Abad Colorado
Guest column for EL TIEMPO

March 16th, 2005
Postscript: The Risk of Premature Accusations

The tragedy of San José de Apartadó shows that even though President Álvaro Uribe insists on denying the existence of an armed conflict in Colombia, a good part of the people of this country live, or rather try to survive, under the crossfire between guerilla groups, paramilitaries and the state security forces.

The situation is, and has been for more than 20 years, dramatic for many campesinos who are sometimes named as guerilla accomplices and other times as collaborators with the army and the paramilitaries.

This position has made Colombian campesinos the most easy and vulnerable target of the armed actors in the conflict. The massacres, the selective assassinations, the disappearances and the forced displacement show this.

It is beyond understanding then, that in this context, the president would declare, as he did on March 20th, that several leaders of this peace community had been named by some residents as FARC collaborators, without any competent authorities having made such a pronouncement.

This statement, rather than hastening the investigations in to the truth of this case, runs the risk of being interpreted as a justification for what happened in Urabá.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Colombia clearly stated in their communiqué of March 22nd: “Until a legal decision declares specific persons responsible for these crimes, it is advisable to not make any statements which could put at risk the lives or physical safety of the members of the peace community, or which could lead to their forced displacement.”

What is more, the Constitutional Court had already told president Uribe this is a decision issued in a constitutional protection case last January: “Should abstain from issuing any statement which injures or puts at risk fundamental rights” and what’s more “these are subjects with special constitutional protections given to human rights defenders, demobilized combatants, those displaced by violence and member of peace communities (…)”.

Justice is what is sorely lacking in Colombia. And this lack has ripened the field, so that many are now taking justice in to their own hands. This is why it is essential that those to whom we authorize the legitimate use of force and who represent the state of law be the first to respect legal procedures and not jump ahead of investigations with pronouncements that could put at risk the lives of innocent civilians.

Carlos Fernando Galán

Translation donated by Sara Koopman (

Marzo 25 de 2005
Cuatro días en busca de los cadáveres de la masacre en comunidad de paz de San José de Apartadó

El reconocido fotógrafo Jesús Abad Colorado acompañó a los habitantes de la localidad, y esta es su historia.

No puedo guardar más silencio. Estuve cuatro días con la Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó. Quise viajar a la zona para documentar fotográficamente la búsqueda de sus líderes y familiares asesinados, en las veredas del cañón del Río Mulatos, en la Serranía de Abibe. A un lado Antioquia, al otro Córdoba. Una región rica en bosques y aguas, que desde hace una década no cesa de ver parir, huir y morir a sus antiguos dueños, los campesinos. Muchos de ellos de la Comunidad de Paz. Jueves 24 de febrero

En la noche recibí un correo con la trágica noticia del asesinato de siete personas de la Comunidad de Paz. “No podemos decir más, el dolor nos embarga tan profundamente que solo podemos llorar…”. El comunicado responsabilizaba a miembros del Ejército por las muertes y anunciaba la salida de una comisión hacia la vereda La Resbalosa, a nueve horas de San José, para buscar los cuerpos.

Desde 1997, año en que conocí la población en el Urabá antioqueño, después de la declaratoria de Comunidad de Paz, he visto crecer el Monumento a la Memoria. Está hecho en piedras que traen del río y en cada una escriben el nombre de las personas asesinadas. Ya suman más de 150. Viernes 25 de febrero

Llegué a Urabá pasadas las 10 y 30 am. Con una persona de la Comunidad, viajamos en un “chivero” hasta el corregimiento. Llegamos antes del mediodía. El calor era intenso y los pocos pobladores que había esperaban con ansiedad el reporte de los acompañantes internacionales, quienes habían partido con los campesinos en la madrugada hasta La Resbalosa.

A la 1 y 30 pm llegó el reporte. “La comisión de la Comunidad de Paz había llegado antes del mediodía, primero que las autoridades judiciales. No creían que se lograra hacer las exhumaciones de todos los cuerpos esa tarde”. El regreso sería al otro día. Le pedí el favor a las dos personas que me habían esperado que partiéramos. Con muchas dudas, bendiciones y algo de alimentación partimos a las 2 pm.

El ascenso por uno de los brazos de la Serranía de Abibe comenzó rápido. El miedo a la llegada de la oscuridad me empujaba más de lo que podía caminar la mula. La voz tranquila de Pedro*, uno de los campesinos, me volvió la calma. “Estos animales saben para dónde vamos y regulan su paso, si lo apura, no tendrá energía para subir al Alto de Chontalito”.

Casi a las 4 pm, nos alcanzó Don Alberto*, un hombre de manos grandes y fuertes. “Es que esos muertos tienen muchos dolientes y eran como nuestros hijos”, recalca. El camino se hizo menos largo y tenso con sus historias duras y dulces y por el amor que le tienen a esta tierra. A pesar del dolor y el miedo, estaban llenos de dignidad y esperanza.

“Mire estas montañas tan bellas y productivas y ahora tan abandonadas. Mi padre nos levantó en ellas. Esta es mi vida. Aquí vivo con mi mujer y mis hijos y así sea con yuca y cacao vamos a sobrevivir. No pienso desplazarme, ya lo hemos hecho y eso es muy duro. Son 8 o 9 años de persecución y atropellos. Es una rabia que manejan con nosotros, incluso de parte del Estado. Todo por no hacerle el juego a ninguno que maneje armas, todos quieren utilizarnos”.

La tarde fue cayendo, el frío de la neblina nos borró el paisaje montañoso. A los lados, un bosque tupido y los micos tití que saltaban huyendo. Estábamos próximos al alto de Chontalito, en una de las crestas de la Serranía de Abibe. La bajada fue más dura de lo imaginado, pero me alegró el horizonte, un poco más despejado, y ver el cañón del Río Mulatos. Eran las 6 pm y, frente al cerro Chontalito, del cual descendíamos, nuestro destino, las montañas de La Resbalosa. Estas dividen a Antioquia de Córdoba, con el municipio de Tierralta.

A las 7 y 15 pm, escuchamos el ruido de dos helicópteros que salían de la montaña. Entendimos que había terminado la exhumación. Minutos más tarde nos topamos con la comisión que había partido en la madrugada. Eran cerca de 80 personas que, a pie y a caballo, bajaban de la finca de Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia, uno de los líderes de la Comunidad de Paz asesinados y en cuya cacaotera fueron encontrados las fosas con los cuerpos mutilados. Una fila interminable de luces y corazones partidos por el dolor descendió rápidamente desde La Resbalosa hasta el Río Mulatos. Hubo silencio. Sólo escuchábamos las chicharras y los jadeos de las bestias.

En el río, iluminado por la luna, la comisión se detuvo un momento a esperar otro grupo. Varios líderes nos informaron que los cuerpos encontrados fueron cinco. “Había huellas de tiros en la cocina, unas palabras escritas con tizón de leña y manchas de sangre por el piso y de una mano que se resbalaba por la madera. Los cuerpos estaban en dos fosas, a pocos metros de la casa y en medio de la cacaotera. Allí encontramos a Alfonso Bolívar, su esposa Sandra Milena Muñoz y a sus hijos Santiago, de 20 meses, y Natalia Andrea, de 6 años. También encontramos el cuerpo de Alejandro Pérez, que trabajaba en la recolección de cacao con Alfonso. Hubo trabajadores que huyeron. A los adultos los descuartizaron, solo quedaron en tronco. A la niña de 6 años le cortaron un brazo y le abrieron el vientre, igual que al niño de 20 meses. Luis Eduardo Guerra y su familia no estaban en las fosas, pero una comisión salió antes del anochecer para verificar en algunos sitios cercanos al río, donde fueron detenidos”.

Minutos después, aparece la otra comisión con la noticia de que habían hallado el sitio donde estaban los otros cuerpos. Luis Eduardo, Deiner y Beyanira. “Están río abajo y al aire libre, más allá de la escuela y a un lado del camino que lleva al antiguo centro de salud de Mulatos. La cabeza del niño la vimos a orillas del río y cerca de los cadáveres. Hay que madrugar pues los “chulos” (gallinazos) se los están comiendo”. Nos devolvimos por la cabecera del río cerca de media hora; nadie quiso hablar. Sólo el sonido del agua que descendía de la Serranía de Abibe estaba en sus ojos y oídos.

Son casi las 10 pm y estamos junto a una pequeña casa de madera y techo de paja. Hay una sola habitación y varias familias.

Una de las mujeres de la comunidad, que relata es nacida en esta zona, cuenta que “hasta hace una década vivíamos unas 200 familias en todo el Cañón del Mulatos. Había tiendas comunitarias, escuela, centro de salud y de eso no hay sino ruinas. Tanta incursión armada y las muertes de campesinos nos han ido sacando de nuestras tierras. Hace un año había cerca de 90 familias y con una incursión de Ejército y paramilitares sólo quedaron como 16. Ahora, quién sabe cuántas van a quedar”.

Otros campesinos señalan el cañón de Mulatos y hablan de Nueva Antioquia en Turbo. “Desde allí, los paramilitares han organizado muchas incursiones y las coordinan con el Ejército. Con la desmovilización del Bloque Bananeros y la llegada de la policía al corregimiento de Nueva Antioquia, han montado otros grupos y campamentos más adentro, hacia esta zona limítrofe con Mulatos, en un lugar conocido como Rodoxali”.

La noche es clara por la luna. El grupo se prepara para dormir, unos contra otros y bajo el mismo cielo. Sábado 26 de febrero

El día empieza desde las 5 am. La comisión se reparte tareas. Un grupo regresa a San José de Apartadó, para preparar el sepelio. Otro bajará a cuidar los cuerpos y esperará a que hagan el levantamiento. Los acompañan miembros de las Brigadas Internacionales de Paz (BPI) y de Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Uno pequeño, debe buscar yucas y preparar algo de alimento.

El grupo en que voy con cerca de 40 personas, parte a las 6 de la mañana. 40 minutos después de caminar por el lecho del río, los gallinazos advierten la llegada al sitio. A orillas del Mulatos, que por esta época está un poco seco, se encuentra lo que queda de la cabeza del niño de Luis Eduardo, Deiner Andrés, de 11 años: el cráneo y algunas vértebras. 15 metros más arriba, está el resto del cuerpo del niño y el de su padre. También el de Beyanira Areiza, de 17 años y compañera de Luis Eduardo. Sus cuerpos están entrecruzados. De ellos poco queda. No hay señales de tiros en sus cabezas. El cuerpo del niño y su padre aún tienen las botas puestas. Beyanira, no. Está descalza y su cuerpo está una parte sobre el de Deiner y el resto doblado contra el de Luis Eduardo. La sudadera verde de Beyanira está remangada a la altura de la rodilla. Cerca del cráneo del niño, a 5 o 6 metros, está un machete tirado entre la maleza que bordea el río. 30 metros más abajo, en la mitad del Mulatos, entre las piedras, está una bota pequeña y negra de Beyanira y 15 metros más allá está la otra, casi partida de un tajo a la altura de la espinilla. Muy cerca está otro machete.

Los miembros de la Comunidad de Paz, se detienen y observan el cráneo del niño. Luego suben hasta los cuerpos. No hay lágrimas. Sus ojos miran y se ausentan. No hay palabras. El silencio lo rompen uno de los líderes y el abogado: “Que nadie vaya a coger algún elemento en los alrededores. Las pruebas no se pueden tocar. Es importante que la Fiscalía los recoja para la investigación”.

El grupo se retira a la otra orilla. Sólo ahora el llanto de una hermana de Luis Eduardo, que se queda a su lado, hace eco y taladra hondo en este silencio. Las lágrimas ruedan ahora por muchas mejillas. Pasan los minutos y las horas y nada de helicópteros, ni comisiones de fiscales. Los brigadistas desde un satelital se comunican y recuerdan, una y otra vez, el sitio de recogida de los cuerpos.

A las 11 am, llega el desayuno. El día está despejado y se nos informa que hay una nueva familia esperando para desplazarse en la casa donde amanecimos. Varios jóvenes armados de caucheras lanzan piedras a los gallinazos que se arremolinan en las copas de los árboles y a los cerdos que merodean.

Son las 2 y 30 pm. Los acompañantes de BPI, al ver que no llega la Fiscalía y sin posibilidades de comunicación con sus sedes, deciden regresar a San José. Ofrecen regresar al otro día o el envío de un nuevo equipo de brigadistas en caso que se sigan demorando las diligencias. El grupo de la Comunidad decide permanecer cuidando los cuerpos.

A las 4 pm, el ruido de dos helicópteros anuncia la llegada de la Fiscalía. Eso creen todos. El grupo se dirige hasta el micropuesto de salud con las banderas blancas, donde hay un lugar despejado para el aterrizaje. Tratan de llamar la atención de los pilotos. Estos llegan hasta La Resbalosa, baja un helicóptero y otro vigila desde el aire, luego se dirigen a El Barro, baja nuevamente el mismo helicóptero y descargan la tropa que recogen en La Resbalosa. Repiten una y otra vez la operación hasta completar cuatro o cinco viajes. Estas acciones no duran, pues ambas montañas están frente a frente y, por la mitad, baja el Río Mulatos. A pie, el camino es de una hora. Los campesinos volean sus camisas, prenden fuego, hacen malabares, pero los helicópteros se pierden de nuevo entre las nubes.

A las 5 y 15 pm, llega una comisión de soldados y policías. No se acercan, preguntan por los representantes de la Comunidad y les piden hablar a solas. Va uno de los líderes con el abogado. Más tarde, un capitán de la Policía me llama y se presenta de manera muy amable, es el capitán Castro. Me pregunta para quién trabajo y si puedo hacerle una serie de fotografías a los cuerpos, para las diligencias del levantamiento, por si no llega la Fiscalía.

Al devolverme, los campesinos me dicen que un soldado sin identificación se llevó el machete que estaba cerca de las botas de Beyanira. El soldado lo limpia y lo afila contra las piedras. Al ver que lo observo, se voltea de espalda. Al bajar el abogado y el representante de la comunidad les cuentan y estos suben a hablar con el capitán. Le piden informar al superior del Ejército “porque es una manipulación de pruebas”. Al regresar donde se encuentran los campesinos, están en mayor zozobra. “El soldado que cogió el machete, pasó por nuestro lado y, sin vergüenza o pena por lo que vivimos, nos hizo señas y dijo que ese machete era el degollador”.

El oficial plantea que hasta el día siguiente no va a ser posible el levantamiento, que amanecerá en un lugar cercano y va a vigilar que los animales no sigan destrozando los cuerpos. El representante de la Comunidad y el abogado, les informan a este oficial y al del Ejército que al día siguiente “la comunidad hará dos comisiones, una regresará hasta el mismo sitio a esperar que recojan los cuerpos y otra saldrá hasta la vereda El Barro, donde no se sabe nada de algunas familias, a pesar que viven muy cerca”. El oficial del Ejército les responde que en esa vereda están ellos y allá no hay familias. La comunidad insiste. A las 7 pm regresa al sitio de dormida. Domingo 27 de febrero

Antes de las 5 am, tres personas se encargan de sacrificar un cerdo. El chillido intenso y lento del animal nos despierta. Su eco flota durante minutos en el bosque. Luego, como todos estos días, regresa el silencio.

Son las 6 am. La primera comisión parte con el abogado hasta el sitio donde se encuentran los cuerpos de Luis Eduardo, Deiner y Beyanira. Las 14 personas que salen hacia la vereda El Barro me piden que los acompañe. Salimos río abajo. Nos desviamos 20 minutos después y subimos. La fila se detiene un momento. Hay un retén de tres uniformados. Preguntan a los campesinos qué hacen en este sitio. Ellos dan la explicación. Un soldado tiene insignias en el brazo, del Batallón 33 Cacique Lutaima. Los otros dos no tienen nada. Me preguntan quién soy y porqué estoy con el grupo. Les explico de mi trabajo documental y sobre la búsqueda de varias familias de este sector de las que no se sabe nada después de los hechos ocurridos el día lunes 21 o martes 22. El soldado habla con los otros dos y luego sube hasta donde hay más uniformados. Al momento baja y nos deja pasar. Advierte que algunos metros adelante hay un pozo donde se bañan varios soldados. Pasamos y están lavando su ropa.

A escasas dos cuadras, están tres casas de madera y techo de zinc. En la primera hay un letrero hecho con tizón. “Fuera guerrilla, se lo dice tu peor pesadilla El Cacique”; encima se lee: “El alacrán BCG 33”. No hay nadie en ella. Las personas que la habitan están en las otras dos viviendas, muy cerca una de otra. Dos niñas le arrojan maíz a las gallinas y a una marrana con cuatro críos. Cuando ven llegar la comisión con la bandera de la Comunidad, salen y saludan. Un hombre mayor, sentado en una butaca, cierra la biblia y sonríe. Llama a dos mujeres que están en la cocina. Detrás de la comisión llegaron tres uniformados y se quedan pendientes entre las casas. Otro hombre, sin camisa y con sombrero, sale de una habitación y saluda muy tímido. Es Rigo*, dicen los campesinos.

La mujer más joven le da pecho a un bebé y la abuela habla en voz baja. Quiere saber desde cuándo estamos en la zona y si venimos por ellas. Da gracias a Dios porque va a terminar esta pesadilla. “Empezó el lunes que llegaron y no nos han dejado salir. A Rigo, que es vecino también lo tienen detenido. No le permiten ni ir a su casa que está al frente, en la otra montaña. Tiene a su mujer y sus hijos solos. Me interrogan y amenazan, porque dicen que soy la enfermera de la guerrilla. Con ellos vino Melaza que es un paraco. Es la tercera vez que viene a mi casa con el Ejército, dijo que va a acabar con todos los de la Comunidad de Paz porque son una manada de hp guerrilleros y que si le toca le da a los extranjeros. Que estamos en una zona que es de ellos y les pertenece. A mis hijas las han amenazado con cortarles la cabeza cuando van al pozo por el agua. Han hecho varios huecos buscando armas…”

Uno de los miembros de la Comunidad le cuenta que están desde el viernes en la zona. Primero en La Resbalosa y luego cerca a Cantarrana, a 30 minutos. Le dice que aún faltan por sacar varios cuerpos. Están el de Luis Eduardo, Deiner y Beyanira. Los ojos de la mujer se llenan de lágrimas. Nos toma las manos y habla más bajo: “entonces ¿es verdad que los mataron? ¿Por qué les hicieron eso? Yo le dije a Luis Eduardo que no se fuera esa mañana para la cacaotera a recoger esos granos. Sabíamos que venían haciendo un operativo. No me faltó sino rogarle para que se fuera a San José… Él no hizo caso porque no tenía miedo, además necesitaba el dinero para llevar el niño a revisión. Salió en la mañana y quedó de regresar, pero no lo hizo. Esta gente, llegó después del mediodía el lunes (21 de febrero) y no hemos hecho sino sufrir. Nos la hemos pasado rezando hasta hoy, que llegan ustedes. Escasamente nos dejaron coger un poco de maíz. Como el miércoles, nos dijeron que habían matado unos guerrilleros en el río, que uno iba con la mujer y el hijo. Yo les dije, ¿no será que ustedes mataron a Luis Eduardo y el niño? Ellos son de mi familia. Beyanira es su compañera. Ellos cambiaron y al momento dijeron, eso los mataron los paramilitares”.

Me acerco hasta uno de los soldados y comparto algunas apreciaciones sobre el dolor de los campesinos en Colombia y le cuento que este viaje me tiene sacudido por los hechos que lo rodean. Visiblemente afectado, me dice: “son los campesinos quienes siempre pierden todo. Fíjese que esta familia va a dejar hasta sus marranos”. Le pregunto desde cuando está en la zona. “Desde el lunes” responde . “¿Aquí en El Barro?”, pregunto. “No, entramos por Las Nieves el sábado y aquí llegamos el lunes”.

A las 10 y 30 am, las familias están listas para su desplazamiento. Hay mucha tristeza, pero también alegría. El graffiti de la primera casa ha sido borrado por los uniformados. Regresamos al sitio de amanecida. Las dos comisiones se han encontrado y saludan a las nuevas familias.

El ruido de dos helicópteros que salen del cañón del Río Mulatos, anuncia que culminaron las diligencias del levantamiento de Luis Eduardo, Deiner y Beyanira.

Después del mediodía, una romería de campesinos con algunos enseres y animales inicia el ascenso al Alto de Chontalito. Vamos rumbo a San José de Apartadó.

A las 7 pm, agotados por la jornada entramos al corregimiento de San José. Muchas personas salen al encuentro. “¿Dónde están los colegas de la prensa?”, pregunto a los habitantes. No hay respuesta. No ha llegado nadie.

La población está alrededor del salón comunal. Allí, están los cuerpos de Alejandro Pérez, Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia y Sandra Muñoz, sus hijos Santiago y Natalia. Los habitantes de la Comunidad de Paz y su consejo decidieron esperar que estuvieran todos los cuerpos para hacer un sepelio colectivo. Antes de la medianoche son traídos al pueblo en un campero. Vienen acompañados del sacerdote jesuita Javier Giraldo y de Gloria Cuartas. Ella como alcaldesa de Apartadó, vió nacer esta comunidad. Lunes 28 de febrero

Son las 7 y 30 am. El obispo de Apartadó aparece un momento. Antes de las 8 se ha ido ya.

La misa se inicia a las 8 y 30 am, cuando llegan los campesinos de las veredas cercanas. Es una misa donde se pide la verdad, se clama justicia y respeto a la dignidad de esta Comunidad de Paz.

Mientras camino en este entierro, miro a los ojos de los jóvenes, hombres y mujeres que estuvieron en la búsqueda de su líder y sus familias, a los nuevos huérfanos y a las viudas de siempre. Es demasiado dolor. Las personas que ví caminar valientemente por montañas y quebradas, están doblegadas en este camposanto de San José de Apartadó.

* Nombres cambiados.

Jesús Abad Colorado
Especial para EL TIEMPO

Marzo 26 de 2005
El riesgo de los señalamientos (Atando cabos)

La tragedia de San José de Apartadó demuestra que así el presidente Álvaro Uribe insista en negar la existencia de un conflicto armado en Colombia, una parte importante de la población nacional vive, o más bien trata de sobrevivir, en medio del fuego cruzado entre los grupos guerrilleros, los paramilitares y las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado.

La situación es, y ha sido desde hace más de 20 años, dramática para muchos campesinos que unas veces son señalados como cómplices de la guerrilla y otras como colaboradores del ejército y los paramilitares.

Esa posición ha hecho de la Colombia campesina el blanco más vulnerable y más fácil de alcanzar para los actores del conflicto. Las masacres, los asesinatos selectivos, las desapariciones y el desplazamiento forzado así lo demuestran.

No se entiende entonces en este contexto la declaración del primer mandatario el pasado 20 de marzo en la que afirma que varios líderes de la comunidad de paz en cuestión han sido señalados por algunos residentes como colaboradores de las Farc sin que las autoridades competentes se hayan pronunciado.

Esa declaración, en vez de apurar las investigaciones para que se sepa la verdad del caso, corre el riesgo de ser interpretada con una justificación de lo ocurrido en Urabá.

El Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos en Colombia lo dijo muy claro en un comunicado el pasado 22 de marzo: “Mientras no haya una decisión judicial que declare a determinadas personas como responsables de esos delitos, es aconsejable abstenerse de hacer afirmaciones que puedan poner en peligro la vida o la integridad física de los miembros de la comunidad de paz, o que provoquen su desplazamiento forzado.”

Es más, ya se lo había dicho la Corte Constitucional al presidente Uribe a través de un fallo de tutela en enero pasado: “Debe abstenerse de emitir cualquier declaración o afirmación que lesione o ponga en riesgo tal categoría de derechos (los derechos fundamentales)” y más “tratándose de sujetos de especial protección constitucional tales como los defensores de derechos humanos, los reinsertados, los desplazados por la violencia o los miembros de comunidades de paz (…)”.

La justicia es el gran ausente del caso colombiano. Y esa ausencia ha abonado el terreno para que prolifere la justicia por las vías de hecho. Por esta razón es fundamental que los depositarios del uso legítimo de la fuerza y quienes representan el estado de derecho sean los primeros en tener en cuenta los procesos judiciales y en no adelantarse a las investigaciones con pronunciamientos que pueden poner en riesgo la vida de ciudadanos inocentes.