The Situation in Dabeiba

Nothing has changed except the ways actions are being carried out. The tactics of destroying human life through psychological terror and actions of control continue in the municipality of Dabeiba through the development of a counter-insurgency military strategy, which although it is said to be against the FARC, is directed more against the civil population. More than 200 known civilians were displaced in 1997 by a military offensive and today find themselves in temporary shelters. They continue to demand the right to return to their land, even as new victims are added to their numbers.

Bogotá, February 15 2002

President of the Republic

Vice-president of the Republic

Minister of the Interior

Minister of Justice and Rights

Attorney General of the Nation

Procurador General of the Nation

National Defender of the People

High Commissioner of Peace

Re: The Situation in Dabeiba – Antioquia –

We send a respectful greeting to you.

Nothing has changed except the ways actions are being carried out. The tactics of destroying human life through psychological terror and actions of control continue in the municipality of Dabeiba through the development of a counter-insurgency military strategy, which although it is said to be against the FARC, is directed more against the civil population. More than 200 known civilians were displaced in 1997 by a military offensive and today find themselves in temporary shelters. They continue to demand the right to return to their land, even as new victims are added to their numbers.

We declare our moral outrage and vigilance against the new signs of erosion in the powers of the state. Some humanitarian organizations believe that the tolerance, complicity, collusion and connections have resulted in the growth of “Operation Denmark,” which unfolded almost fours day after the December 25 covert military operation.

• Monday, December 31, at about 11 AM, a group of about 100 paramilitary soldiers, armed and dressed in camouflage, invaded the Caracolón farm – La España, property of La Balsita Community of Life and Work (located on the road between La Estrella and Antadó, twenty minutes from Dabeiba by car). The paramilitaries came from Dabeiba by the road through Antadó. They went through the fence that identifies the approximately 100 hectares as the home of civilians, lists the principles of the community in relation to the civil war, and describes the humanitarian character of the space.

The armed men arrived at the main house (known as “La Mayoria”) at about 11:30 AM. They identified themselves as the “Autodefensas Unidas de Córdoba y Urabá” [United Self-defense forces of Córdoba and Urabá or the AUUC], interrogated some women from the Community of Life and Work, asking them about the meaning of the Community’s flag and some temporary shelters and documents found on the farm, all of which they considered insurgent material. They demanded an explanation, “What can you tell us about the guerrilla shelter and the guerrilla propaganda we found on this farm?” They were referring in particular to articles in the magazine “Cambio (Change)” and the newspaper “La Jornada de México (Journey from Mexico)” with interviews with sub-commandant Marocs and an analysis of campesinos in the state of Chiapas in Mexico and a document called la “Pastoral Indígena” from the San Cristobal de las Casas diocese, also from Chiapas.

After entering the farm, the paramilitaries forced neighboring campesinos who were on their way to Dabeiba or Antadó to come onto the land.

While members of the Community and the missionaries accompanying them prayed on their rosaries, one of the armed men identified himself as a commandant adding, “We have come to control the area around Dabeiba because there are many guerrillas here. Don’t be afraid. We are not going to carry out massacres like before. Those were errors that we have corrected. Neither are we going to pardon those that we find guilty. We will kill them publicly, but not throw their bodies into the river, as we did before, because we now prohibit that. We are looking for informants and those who work for the guerrillas. We are good to campesinos who don’t have links to the guerrillas. You need to explain the guerrilla shelters and papers that we found.”

The elders of the Community explained that the documents “are from Justicia y Paz [the International Commission of Justice and Peace] and the missionaries who accompany us.”

“We have already sent those papers to our superiors and if they are from Justicia y Paz it will be left in their hands because there were papers from the Zapitistas,“ he responded.

The elders answered, “We do not consider them to be subversive papers. They are reflections on Plan Colombia, public documents and our Messages of Dignity.

One said, “I made the shelter, which you say is for the guerrillas, to seep in because I was afraid for the young children I am responsible for.”

We have told you the truth,” the elders said, “And it seems to us that you should be able to tell the difference between a guerrilla shelter and the sleeping quarters of a campesino.”

The armed man said, “There are many guerrillas here.”

“But they don’t come here, not even for meetings,” another campesino said.

The armed man answered, “Any group could come here because you can’t make them leave. We are going to stay for a long time, controlling this area.”

The armed men setup tents around the house where most of the people were living. Without permission, they used the Community’s cooking and cleaning facilities. They insisted that the Community take merchandise from them, but the Community refused. They insisted that the women of the Community wash their clothes, offering to pay them for their work, but the women refused to do it. In both cases the Community acted in accord with its decision not to become involved with any side of the armed conflict.

*Tuesday, January 1 in the morning, armed civilian paramilitaries led a group of Community members and other inhabitants of the area to the laundry of a house and interrogated and searched them. One woman from the Community that they thought had links to the guerrillas was forced to take off her shirt, lift her shirt and show a picture of her husband to prove she was not married to a subversive. One of the armed men said to another campesino, “You have an evil face.”

*Thursday, January 3, military actions to control the perimeter of Dabeiba were carried out all day. People there reported that access to the bridges from Mutatá and the rural areas of the municipality were overwhelmed by units of the military and Dabeiba police merging with paramilitary forces.
About 9 AM, a group of approximately 50 paramilitaries, armed and dressed in camouflage reentered the “Caracolón” farm, one day after leaving it.

Two nuns from the Catholic church who are accompanying the Community asked the armed men to leave without bothering the people.

The paramilitary answered, “We are going to stay because we came to recover this territory. We have come against the guerrillas, not the people.”

One of the nuns said, “Then look somewhere else. They are not here.”

The paramilitary answered, “We’re doing that, but we have not found them.” Afterwards they offered merchandise and soccer balls and the community who in accordance with their organizing principles as a civil population again refused them.

• During the day, the paramilitaries met with merchants of Dabeiba to reaffirm their presence in the area and to ask to buy their merchandise for no more than 30,000 pesos (U.S. $12). “Those bags of rice are for the guerrillas. (…) “Those who don’t sell to us will have to leave,” said the armed men. They called the wood workers “assistants of the guerrillas” and said, “That has to stop.”

• Friday, January 4, at 8:30 AM, a group of paramilitaries had established themselves in the dwellings of the Community of Life and Work and were washing their clothes and cleaning their rifles, when a Catholic priest asked them to leave. He said that it was the property of a civil population and that their presence put the community at risk. One of the paramilitaries answered his humanitarian request, saying, “There is no territory that is off-limits to us.”

That same day at 2:30 PM, a group of approximately 30 armed paramilitaries entered the main house of the Territory of Life. Among them was the comandante who approached the nuns and priests at the Catholic Church and demanded, “How are you?” To the response of “fine,” the paramilitary chief became angry and asserted, “Perhaps we are mistreating you.” Members of the Community of Life told him about their Principles of Life and their position as a civil population in the war. The paramilitary responded, “We don’t trust the Communities of Peace. They are nests of guerrillas.. If there are some guerrillas here, I’m not afraid to take them out.” He again mentioned the “guerrilla documents,” threatening to use the media to make a public scandal. They responded simply, “Those are public documents, cut from periodicals that anyone can read.”

Later he asked how many children the Community had and offered balloons and a box of notebooks. The Community responded “There is no way that we would take them.” Again they explained their decision not to become involved in the armed conflict. The paramilitary said, “I came for a good reason. I am very worried about this community.” He asked the members of the community, “Who displaced you?”

“The paramilitaries,” they answered.

The paramilitary said, “We are not paramilitaries. We are self-defense forces. In the name of the self-defense forces, you can return to your land without worry.” Implicit in his statement was the threat that the community would again be displaced.

In the center of the municipality, directors of public services were called to a meeting with armed civilians, dressed in camouflage, some with military garments. The armed men repeated that they were not going to leave the area, that they had come to stay, to free and protect the city.

The paramilitaries have joined the regular units of the army and the police within the city. They travel throughout it with weapons of all sizes, taking control of the commerce and transportation.

At dusk, some campesinos, who left their homes because they feared armed incursions into their communities or armed confrontations near their communities, arrived from Antazales, La Balsita and Camporrusia. At the same time some families continued the silent exodus toward Medellín or the banana plantations.

Saturday, January 5, the movements of the military units of the Fourth Brigade in the center of the city returned to business as usual as the armed civilians in camouflage or dressed as civilians patrolled the city and mobilized their forces to control the city and the entrances into it.

That day at about 4:30 PM, the paramilitaries left the Caracolón farm, – La España, intimidating the Community and leaving a warning: “You will have to get used to our presence because we have come to stay. We are going to kill those who collaborate with the guerrillas or work with them. We are not going to worry about the past. Now there is a clean slate. We are not going to accuse you now of being collaborators.

• Thursday, January 17 at about 8 AM, the FARC attacked the paramilitary base at the “La Clara” farm in the place known as “La Antena” and in the neighborhood called La Selva. The inhabitants of the area reported between 20 and 30 corpses of paramilitaries dressed in camouflage. They reported the retreat of the paramilitaries towards the center of Dabeiba where at that hour they could count on the presence of the police and military.

Toward noon, according to the National Organization of Human Rights, “before the attack was carried out, the paramilitaries scattered in a retreat, forcing their way though the house where the Laurita nuns stay. From there they observed the guerrillas to see what could be done.

Since that day, the paramilitaries have occupied vacant houses in the municipality and rented others. They are looking for dwelling places for hiding out or barricading themselves in different neighborhoods of Dabeiba. People there say that day and night the paramilitaries are on the street in the presence of the military. In a place known to all the city’s inhabitants, the paramilitary commander meets with all sectors of the center of the municipality.

• Sunday, January 27 at 9 AM, at the high point of Dabeiba, which is called “Puente de Tierra,” Counterinsurgency Battalion No. 26 began stopping vehicles and searching and interrogating the passengers, while other military and paramilitary forces mobilized throughout the municipality.

• Friday, February 1 between midnight and 1 AM, an aircraft flew over the territory of La Balsita Community of Life and Work, firing a machine gun into a field of corn very close to the houses of the Community. Rocks broken by the bullets, empty shells and bullet holes in the soil were found less than 20 meters from the Community’s houses.

The aircraft also fired over neighboring areas including La Estrella and Llano Gordo.

• Sunday February 3 about 11 AM, two campesinos from La Balsita Community of Life and Work who were traveling in a public transportation vehicle from outskirts of Dabeiba to the “La España – Caracolón” farm were detained at an exit from the city about 20 minutes from the settlement. They had been transporting food from UMATA [a municipal governmental organization responsible for providing technical assistance to small farmers] and chickens from the World High Commission for Refugees (ACNUR). The group of armed men, some from Counterinsurgency Battalion No. 26, held the campesinos in a bathhouse for more than 40 minutes before releasing them.

Since December 25, 2001, and more so since December 29, paramilitaries have been seen in the public places of Dabeiba wearing jackets marked “Military Forces” or “Special Forces” with yellow patches with a drawing of an eagle. They are seen wearing black vests with yellow letters that read “AntiGuerrilla” and identification badges with the inscription “ARMY.”

This document expresses our moral outrage at the evidence of collusion between the authorities and the paramilitaries and the lack of differentiation between legal and illegal armed actions. We are outraged at the systematic violation of the rule of law, the acts of psychological intimidation, persecution and terror against the communities who claim their rights, and the denial of free thought and expression. We express our outrage at the political military strategy that treats the poor and excluded as part of the armed insurgency.

We put before you this historical record, a pale reflection of that which happened in Dabeiba. This record is our project of shaping a society, an investment in the consciousness and content of the principles of truth, freedom, and justice, in a climate where dramatic military logic creates the fantasy of human rights as an obstacle.

If people past and present had encouraged and constructed criminal structures to address the hundreds of crimes against the state, the crimes would have been investigated and sanctioned. If the crimes had been repressed, their bitter perpetuation would not exist today.

Today in Dabeiba, as in many regions of the country, it is evident that the concealment of irregular actions by the military in the past has developed into a new social order that imposes the logic and mentality of exclusion and uses terror and the destruction of the earth to take the minds and hearts of the people further from the land.

In your hands is the possibility of avoiding new irreparable damage, of making the policy of Human Rights a reality for openly confronting the criminal structures that today extend throughout this country like a spreading cancer. In your hands is this possibility. In the view of the international community is the memory of these actions, which call for justice and reparation.

With much concern,