It is difficult to maintain that they don’t know and didn’t know. Cacarica is part of the Pacific forest reserve zone. It is inhabited in the form of Indigenous reserves by the Emberas and in the collective properties of the Afro-descendents. The titled lands border the Los Katios National Park, part of the biosphere considered to be under special protection by UNESCO.
Neither the Transportation Ministry nor the company is ignorant of the fact that the war is active there. The war has been visible since 1996 and has gotten worse since 2008. National and international media have reported on guerrilla presence and movements along the border with Panama. For three years, there has been bombing and deaths of military soldiers and guerrillas from the 57th Front of the FARC EP.
Despite the demobilization, paramilitary operations continue in cooperation with regular soldiers of the 17th Brigade, as witnesses confirm, “Paramilitarism has not ended.”
The inhabitants of Cacarica have endured 3 forced displacements and more than 80 murders that are still unpunished. They continue to suffer the dismissal and ignoring of their rights by extractive companies and infrastructure projects, such as the project initiated by Andres Uriel Gallego, the executor of the Transversal de las Américas Highway. The project has been contracted to another company of William Vélez Sierra.
Velez Sierra has been named by extradited paramilitaries as one of their beneficiaries. He has become wealthy in that perverse dynamic about which “Pitirri” and Mancuso spoke. “We destroyed, others purchased, and others legalized.” In a debate in congress about the land problem, the name of Vélez Sierra stood out as a beneficiary of the lands depopulated by the paramilitaries. Also, some of the paramilitary commanders in the United States have referred to him as one of the beneficiaries of the plundering in the Urabá part of Antioquia bordering Chocó.
During the years of the Uribe government, Vélez was one of the major beneficiaries, with several concessions to construct roads and airports. One of those was the highway called “The Route of the Sun.” Among the revelations in the press is the fact that Vélez surreptitiously intervened before the IDU [Urban Development Institute] to define several aspects in favor of the companies along with the Nules for concessions on 26th Street in Bogotá. His companies did the work on the new El Dorado Airport, through ODINSA .
In the 8 years of the [Uribe] government, he consolidated the businesses of trash recycling in the north of Colombia and there’s an ongoing investigation regarding the relationship in this with Carlos Mario Jiménez, “Macaco,” who was extradited to the United States.
It’s the territory of the paramilitaries of the old coinage.
In December of 1996, the paramilitaries invaded the municipality of Ríosucio in northern Chocó, alongside the police and soldiers of the 17th Brigade. Some Afro-Colombians were forced to clean the streets. And the paramilitaries announced verbally and with graffiti in various places, that “progress had arrived”. Meanwhile they disappeared four people, whom they buried in a grave in Santa Maria del Darién.
Weeks later, between February 24 and 27, 1997, in Cacarica and Salaquí, Operation “Genesis” was carried out, directed by the so-called “pacifier,” General Rito Alejo del Rio Rojas. The undertone of that operation was announced with the same words of warning of “the time of progress.”
They carried out aerial bombings, looting of villages, and the assassination of Marino Lopez, a simple Afro-Colombian, a family man, not a collective leader. He was cut in pieces and his head was used as a soccer ball. This is what they called progress; what they called development was “blood and fire.”
While the majority of the 23 uprooted communities were in Turbo, Bocas de Atrato, and Panama, the company Maderas del Darién/Pizano S.A. entered the collective territory of Cacarica in the community of La Balsa, exploiting the forest resources. The company was protected and supported by paramilitaries. Some of the media reported this at the time, as also did environmental and human rights organizations, whom nobody believed for three years.
Today the depositions of the former paramilitaries and narcotraffickers confirm that this was the true situation. What is lacking is that they clarify the crimes committed there, since the paramilitaries converted La Balsa into a center of military and business-protection operations. There they disappeared, they tortured, and they assassinated several inhabitants such as Edwin Salazar in 2001. From there they took a contingent to Bojayá in May of 2002 when there was a prolonged armed operation against the FARC-EP that ended with the deaths of more than a hundred people. Witnesses claim that famous people came to La Balsa, such as vallenato musicians and politicians, who are now involved in legal processes that the Supreme Court, local authorities, and the 17th Brigade are advancing.
Afterwards, the “Elmer Cardenas” Block, under the command of Jhon Fredy Rendón presented the agribusiness proposal PASO, in lands occupied and seized from Afro-descendents or where they exercised military territorial control. In June of 2001, the paramilitaries talked about progress during an incursion into the settlements to which the displaced from Cacarica were returning. They told them that they should return to their farms to plant palm and coca. They said it was time for progress.
In the stolen properties, the armed men effectively mounted an agro-industrial proposal through Comercializadora Internacional Multifruits Ltda. [Multifruits International Trading Ltd.]. in La Balsa. The agro-industrial model was started on the same properties that the logging company had deforested. Through the trading company of German Monsalve, a relative of Rendón Herrera, a contract was signed with the Del Monte company of the United States. Today Monsalve is in the United States, indicted for drug trafficking. Another member of the company’s board vanished on finding out about the NGO’s public denunciations. That was Juan Manuel Campo Eljah, nephew of the former director of INCODER during the government of Uribe Velez.
Due to the report in the international media, the directors of the business felt they needed to hide, while the groups of “Aleman” demobilized. As the people of Ríosucio remember, demobilization false positives were also presented there. Youth and women were recruited in a few weeks to be presented publicly as demobilized paramilitaries, and the company Multifruits Ltd. changed its façade. Although they left demobilized people there, those people were never accepted by Acción Social, by the Coda, or by the office of the High Commissioner , Luis Carlos Restrepo. They remained there without being from the region as a legacy of the agro-industrial progress. This chapter of the para-economy has still not been thoroughly judicially clarified.
The Pan-American Highway or Transversal de las Américas
This January 15, according to the National Institute of Concessions (INCO), the development period of prior studies was initiated, which over this year will establish the basis for a seven-year project. The project, which will be undertaken by the concessionaire, Vias de las Americas S.A.S., in which William Vélez is the principal architect, will culminate with the construction of the Travesía Bridge. The bridge will cross the Atrato River from Leoncito to Puente America.
On August 6, one day before Uribe left the presidential office, in a controversial decision of the National Institute of Concessions (INCO), Contract 008 was made with the concessionaire, Vías de las Américas S.A.S, for “the construction, rehabilitation, expansion, improvement and conservation, as relates to the Highway Project Transversal de las Américas and the preparation of definitive studies and designs, property management, social management, and environmental management, the obtaining and/or modification of environmental permits, the financing, operation, and maintenance of the projects in the Highway Corridor ’Transversal de las Américas Sector 1,’ designated Corredor Vial del Caribe.” [[Republic of Colombia, Transport Ministry, National Institute of Concessions INCO, Concession Contract No. 008 of 2010 between: Conceding: National Institute of Concessions INCO, Concessionaire: Vias de las Americas S.A.S. Bogotá, August 6, 2010 ]]
The contract specifies that the concessionaire can use for commercial or publicity purposes the assets of the concession, the real estate, “(including the adjoining or access real estate) ”… “and in general can commercially exploit the totality of the Highway Corridor granted by INCO according to the terms and conditions expressly provided for in this contract, in particular in the technical appendix and in applicable law. For these effects, the concessionaire can produce publicity as long as it doesn’t interfere with highway security, as well as tourism, and commercial development, insofar as highway security permits.”[[ Ibid, p. 19.]] The concessionaire possesses the exclusive right to commercial exploitation of the whole highway corridor, which is the area of influence of the project, “included within the departments of Córdoba, Chocó, Antioquia, Sucre, Magdalena and Bolivar”[[ Ibid, pp. 10-11]]
More than highways, a complete business.
One of the complicating points of the contract is the negation of the possibility for Afro-descendent communities to use and enjoy their own territory. In section 1.02 of the contract, INCO hands over to the concessionaire the properties that by law cannot be transferred, since they are collective titles of the Afro-descendent communities. The mercantilization of the territories is part of the business objectives of Velez Sierra. In a private document of the Shareholders’ Assembly of August 5, 2010, filed the same day under the number 01403918 of Book 9, the commercial society named Vías de las Américas S.A.S. was constituted. [[Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, Certificate of the Existence and Legal Representation or Filing of Documents, Vías de las Américas S.A.S, November 24, 2010, p.1 ]]
Thus, in addition to the construction, engineering, studies, designs, infrastructure, and architecture of the Transversal de las Américas, they seek to “exploit all the assets of the concession in this sector, according to what is provided for in the concession contract…” [[Ibid, p. 2]]
Likewise, in one of the subsections, participation in the operation of tolls is excluded “and also the commercial resources collected for commercial exploitation” understood as publicity, commercialization, tourism, and other things. [[ Ibid, pp. 18-19]]
As for Chocó, the project will be developed only in the area of the lower Atrato, the sector of the collective title of Cacarica. The territory, which cannot be seized, prescribed, or transferred, according to Law 70, is transferred in this contract. Unspecified extensions of territory are handed over to the companies that form part of the concession.
For the Afro-Colombians, in practice, the issue is the appropriation of these communities’ territories from which they were forcibly displaced. In this moment, in the midst of the armed conflict, the contract, as it is formulated, signifies a new expropriation of territories of the Afro-descendent communities of Cacarica, as ceded by the state to the businessmen.
The region’s history described above, the continuation of the internal war, the denial of the right to previous consultation, the need to know the environmental impacts before the project is initiated, and the need for the communities to be heard regarding their thoughts and proposals concerning the concession, have forced them to set in motion a series of administrative, constitutional and even penal actions. This is the only hope for the possibility that it be taken into account that human beings and multiple ecosystems inhabit Cacarica, with rights that should be protected and recognized.
For those whose rights have been violated in the recent past ever since “Operation Genesis,” and who will be affected irremediably and irreparably if a sustainable outcome of environmental and social justice is not reached, this is further documentation. Only for that!!!, so that nobody can say that they didn’t know that Afro-Colombians live there and that behind so many actions, there were criminal, corrupt, and privileged operations during the Uribe administration.
Criminal charges have already been filed, and new civil, administrative, and constitutional charges are going to be produced against this chain of corruption.
Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace