Last May 29 and 30 in Aguachica, Cesar, the Second Regional Meeting of the Southern Bolívar Victims Chapter—South of Cesar and Catatumbo—was held. Six years after first meeting, around 250 people gathered on a new date to achieve a better balance between what have become the laws of victims, victim-peace relations and the recovery of memory.
In the year 2009, around 400 victims gathered from all throughout the region, creating the Victims’ Chapter. From this point on, the Agromineral Federation of the Southern Bolívar Department—Fedeagromisbol— began to develop as an accumulation of complaints, a desire to increase visibility, and a desire for mobilization in search of truth, justice, and total reparation.
For this second meeting, the Victims’ Chapter is integrating itself into different organizations throughout the country. Organizations such as Fedeagromisbol, the Committee for Social Inclusion of Catatumbo-Cisca, Workers for Human Rights of Barrancabermeja and the Movement of Victims of War Crimes of the State-Movice, supported by the Sembrar Corporation, Peace with Dignity, and Eusko Jaurlariza Gobierno Vasco, were all involved with the second meeting of the Victims’ Chapter last week.
Jorge Reales, a lawyer for the Sembrar Corporation, described Southern Bolívar as one of the hardest hit regions: “They were tough years. We were constantly faced with the hostility of the government, which on one hand talks of peace but in reality, we still see human rights leaders and defenders being executed illegally, disappearing, and becoming dispossessed and systematically displaced”.
During the event, each region presented a general context. Cisca member Ismael López Téllez narrated the different stages of the conflict: “A first stage in the conflict occurred before the arrival of the militias, the second through the arrival of the brutality—from May 1999 until December 2005– and a third stage with the militarization of the region. As of 2005, with the false demobilization of the Catatumbo block of self-defense, a new phase of militarization of the region began. In the final phase, partially because the military forces of the Vulcano task force have been increasing and strengthening existing battalions in the region, there was the creation of 8 municipalities and five batallions. In each municipality there is a military base and 13,000 public force troops. Despite this landscape, we have a political proposal for the region, the construction of a case of rights, the strengthening the Victims’ Chapter, and the support of the bilateral ceasefire.
Narciso Veleño, president of Fedeagromisbol, greeted the meeting and added to the context: “The South of Bolívar has suffered a closure of over six years: economic, social and cultural. Our leaders cannot run for the municipal head positions because they were assassinated, we have a list of 500 colleagues that have disappeared or been assassinated in this zone. We stigmatize the whole legal process. The government would say that the South of Bolívar consists of an extension of 1,800,000 hectares of forest and for them each tree had a guerrilla. But we gave ourselves the task to inform the country of the situation that we were living in and finally were recognized as political actors. Today the only thing that has changed is that there are no more collective massacres. But, the selective massacres do exist, the stigmatization continues, the militias return under the government’s consent.”
“The memory is recorded on our skin”
Ciro Quirós, director of the Movement of the Southern Cesar Victims Chapter, reflected: “We believe that the presence of militias was a strategy put in place to impose an economic model. The community was and will be an obstacle in the implementation this development model. Today, after the extermination of the peasantry that opposed it, we see the implementation of economic development projects that are put in place for the benefit of the capital: the palm oil project and the Sun Route are the clear examples. Here what we need to do now is get stronger”.
Ana Teresa, from the Workers for Human Rights space in Barrancabermeja, closed the context complementing the situations reflected in the other regions: “Not only does the river join us, but the problems of the region unite us as well. Now the Vice President of the Republic isn’t the one who works for human rights but rather for the well-being of all the projects related to mining and infrastructure. Today Barrancabermeja has had over 2,000 people laid off from the refinery. This is the response to a whole modernization plan they brought to the city. The matter of the militarization from a legal and an illegal standpoint has been gaining force and operates in the same way”.
Emilio Polo, from Peace with Dignity brought up: “Words, are some of the few things that can help attract victims. We believe that the victims are more survivors than they are victims. We should work so that with the passage of time these rooms don’t continue to be filled with men and women”.
Ramón Raggio, from the Network for Brotherhood and Solidarity with Colombia, greeted the meeting and wished the groups luck “to be able to join together and unite for work, to face the violent situation that doesn’t discriminate by age, sector, gender. Peace can only come about through social justice for a dignified life”.
The victims along with the accompanying organizations carried out the March for Life and Dignity toward the center of Aguachica. With candles and yellow flowers, homage was paid to each one of the relatives, and the men and women who were assassinated or had disappeared. Names such as Alejandro Aribe Chacón, Juan Camacho, Edgar Quiroga, and Orlando Camaño were remembered in this walk.
“Peace should be a construction of the people”
After two days of working at roundtables, the meeting allowed for the creation of initiatives by the victims, a stage on which to incite discussion, where their voices continue to leave them dispossessed.
Among the things that were included at the end of the meeting, some stood out: “Peace should be a construction of the people, it can’t be based on the false promises of whoever is negotiating it”.
Likewise, “Facing justice, truth, and reparation, we don’t want economic reparations, the truth should be real, they should respond to our questions like “Why did you commit the crimes?”, “Who were you?” and “What ends did these crimes have?”.
To guarantee the development of these types of spaces, “We need training, proposals and support so that the battle continues, so that the process can be completed. We have the right not to repetition, but to a guarantee that we can return and access the land”.
* Correspondents team at Colombia Informa in the region of Tolima.
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