Limping Toward Justice

An international accompanier's account of her time in a Colombian community engaged in non-violent resistance to the decades old armed conflict.

"Justice...limps along, but it gets there all the same." -Colombian Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel García Márquez

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

what's next.

"He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves."
-Florentino Ariza in Love in the Time of Cholera

It has been over a month since I walked down the mountain for the final time, leaving the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. In many ways it feels like I am simply on an extended vacation. The rare moments in which I’ve realized that my time in Colombia has ended I feel a catch in my throat combined with, if I’m being perfectly honest, a sense of relief, of release. The constant on-call situation wears one down. But the daily worries in no way overshadowed the unreal privilege of being draw into the community. Faces flash through my mind without warning and the warm and still-fresh memory paralyzes me. This was no meaningful but fleeting immersion trip of my past. This was deep inclusion in a community process that works to create peace amidst undeniable violence, one that leaves me unable to eloquently speak its truth. I seem to totally lack digestible summary preciseness. But most questions are more about Colombian food and other safe topics. I haven’t been forced to think and feel my way through the soul-searching questions of lessons learned, perspectives gained.

Even this blog has been winning the stare down. Maybe it would be most appropriate not to have a last entry as I want this experience to stay with me, to feel without end. A tidy ending to these reflections might feel too sterile. But I’m a closure girl and have wanted to write it a hundred times over even though the words won’t come. I find myself struggling to bring the documentation of my time in the Peace Community to some appropriate conclusion.

Thinking about what to write only conjured up the changes I’ve experienced since arriving home: hot showers feel ridiculously luxurious; I can’t stop throwing used toilet paper in the wastebasket instead of the toilet, I still feel compelled to talk in code about certain ideas when in public, my eyes readily scan the sky for helicopters and my ears remain finely tuned for any threatening sound. I keep saying "chau" when parting ways with people.

I thought I could write about the connection between my departure from Colombia and the near next-day killing of FARC commander “Raul Reyes” in Ecuadorian territory that sparked aggression between Ecuador, Colombia and, predictably, Venezuela. Ambassadors were pulled, troops were sent to the borders and war seemed inevitable until the leaders hugged it out at a summit of Latin American countries hosted by the Dominican Republic. Clearly, my presence was keeping diplomacy intact if upon my departure war nearly broke out. I followed these events as best I could from hostels in Panama and then Costa Rica. I missed being expected to generate a contextual analysis of unfolding events. I missed the instant feedback from our friends and neighbors in La Unión. I missed my teammates – together picking apart the situation to make sense of what we understood and the more that we did not. I attempted discussing it with fellow travelers but mostly found the expected “I love Uncle Hugo and whatever he does must be in the name of Right and Revolution”. I had barely left Colombia, but there she was, calling my attention to all I was missing.

In Costa Rica I went to the cloud forest reserve of Monteverde – a place I had hoped to visit for years. The well-protected green was indeed breathtaking, especially as I sped through on zip lines, but it was rather commonplace after so much time in the true-rain-green of the district of San José de Apartadó. I thought of our mountain after the rain as it dripped greens all over. I pictured it as the sun set over the not-so-distant gulf, painting the sky with its pallet as the mountains bounced the warm glow back and forth down the valleys.

Over the holidays, one of my “moms” back home, Elaine Lahm, was sharing stores about “Thin Places”, a Celtic designation that is given to locations where the boundary between heaven and earth is indistinguishable. The Community, for me, is a Thin Place. But it seems to be a confluence of more than just heaven and earth; there meets life and death, peace and war, cultivation and destruction, tradition and progress, heaven and hell. Mountains give way to ocean – peaceful fallows give way to mined fields – and if the Community continues to expand and flourish, the hope is that war and violence will eventually give way to peace and communal spirit. My pastor father would say that these contradictions all speak of the resurrection and I would have to agree, the Community seeks to build resistance through the memory of those who have been martyred in her founding and growth. Life out of death. I myself felt recreated many times over during my experience with the Community.

The day I walked down the mountain, my face was bathed in tears and I promised to return. Repeating to myself that I would continue to work in whatever way possible to support this and other processes of non-violent resistance in Colombia and elsewhere. I also left completely convinced that I would turn my main focus back to the States: The domestic challenges of drug addiction and drug violence, disproportional imprisonment, our government’s obsession with global hegemonic control, and the population’s acquiescence to the domination of the military industrial complex and its dependence on waging war. All of which absolutely feed the conflict in Colombia and places the world over. I feel a responsibility to tackle these problems from the source – especially as a privileged, white, educated US citizen. I am slowly developing a more complete understanding of every activist’s favorite buzzword – solidarity.

Solidarity is absolutely going and experiencing and learning from a culture, a people, a movement outside of your normal comfort zone. But I think what truly brings us into solidarity are the ways in which we use that experience upon our return. How deeply do we allow ourselves to be affected? Are we called to lasting action? How integrated do we allow our experience of the other to become in our daily lives? How do we balance a serious commitment to change with the levity needed for our everyday lives? How do we encourage action in others without copping a holier-than-thou stance?
Gabo once wrote: “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

What I do know is that I am desperate to see a change in this country’s leadership and then to see that change reverberate through the nation. If Barack Obama’s speech on race in America is a good measure of the man, then I look forward to moving President Obama to a more nuanced stance on US aid to Colombia. I, perhaps naively, hope that with pressure we could push his administration to oppose Free Trade Agreements, stop the absurd "drug war", appropriately fund public education, shift focus away from incarceration and to rehabilitation and jobs programs, and to end aggression as the default US response to uncertainty abroad.

After some time filled with constant news of violence and repression, I am grateful to delight in the giddy indulgence of hope.

I am also so very grateful to all of you who have read along as I have been changed and shaped by this experience. Your support has meant a great deal to me. I hope you will continue to be informed about the Colombian organizations and communities engaged in active, non-violent resistance to the war. Links on this page will help you to do so. For those of you who know me, I ask that you help me to keep my time in Colombia at the forefront of my life. Already I am more viscerally concerned with the NCAA tournament than the latest happenings in Colombia and the Community. Distance does funny things to urgency and while perhaps some time is now needed to readjust, I’ve made too many flowery and assured promises in this blog alone to allow myself to so easily forget.

I’ll close with one of my favorite moments of my time in the Community. About a year ago I was responsible for some US reporters visiting the Peace Community. This meant that I was present for interviews and most times acting as an interpreter. During one interview, one of the Community leaders was being pressed on the communal response to the 2005 massacre. This leader’s young sister was murdered with a machete by members of the Colombian army. The reporter was trying to understand why this leader wouldn’t break with the Community’s decision to protect the witness from government interrogation as doing so would surely ensure that his sister’s killers be met with justice. The Community believes, based on precedence, that the government would torture and likely eliminate a witness to the crimes of the Colombian army against the civilian population. And, if the other over 180 extra-judicial killings have gone without prosecution why would this case be any different?

My friend, the leader, said that giving up the witness would gravely endanger both the witness and the community. And while he has a great desire to see his sister’s killer brought to justice, he has a greater commitment to the brothers and sisters of the Peace Community. He has a greater desire to see that no more civilians are massacred, assassinated, disappeared or displaced. His family runs wider and deeper than his blood. Perhaps another testament to the “thinness” of the Community – the boundary between neighbor and family does not exist. They are all bound up together in death and new life, in planting and reeping, in resistance and struggle. They live together with the memory of those who have given their lives and with the hope that their peaceful and powerful resistance will one day break down the machinations of war giving way to a peace that is lasting and boundless in its scope.

Thanks so much for reading.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Thursday, February 14, 2008


My replacement, Chris, and I hopped an evening bus to Medellín in order to take the first morning bus up to Apartadó. I am a convincing sleeper on bus rides, though long and winding they may be here in Colombia. I unfurled the blanket I had brought, proving my seasoned status as a rider on the frigidly air conditioned busses between Bogotá and Medellín, popped my earphones in and settled down for the 10 hour ride.

Forehead to the window, I watched the dark shadows of mountains and eventually the river valley pass by. Sleep would not come. I was too focused on the fact that this was the start of a long journey north back home. I would not pass this way again until I begged, borrowed, or stole enough money to get me back to this country that has come to mean so much to me. And the winding road was bringing me closer and closer to the place that will always have a hold on me, the Peace Community and La Unión in particular. It is full of the friends and neighbors who have been my family since I half fell off/half purposefully dismounted a horse back in November of 2006. As I scoured the darkened scene outside the quickly fogging window, I was awash in the warm sentiment true to homecomings. Faces flashed through my mind and that all-too-obvious lump in my throat threatened to choke me with tears. I was only going back for five days. It was essentially a delivery trip: get new volunteer Chris to the community, give him some training and head north to Panama to begin my amble across Central America and eventually home.

My wakeful thoughts turned to rearranging my admittedly loose travel plans. I would stay for a bit longer. Afterall, I was leaving only days before one of the most important anniversaries in the Community, that of the 2005 massacre in Mulatos. And this year the remembrance would be observed alongside a celebration of return to the outlying community – as a handful of resilient families would mark the macabre date by moving back to the vereda to restake their claim to the fertile land that has been emptied out over and over by paramilitary and military threats, massacres and forced displacements. How could I leave a couple days before this? I had been to Mulatos many times; accompanying the process of planting that readied the area for this very return and this was seeing the process to fruition, I had to go. Having decided this I quickly allowed to not-so-gently rocking bus to lull me to sleep.

We managed to arrive in plenty of time to buy tickets for the 5am bus to Apartadó and boarded the next installment of land travel. We arrived around 2pm, met Danny who has been in the Community the past month, got some lunch, some groceries and headed up on the chiva to San Josecito. I was smiling like a fool at just about anyone. In Apartadó, I had managed to hug the chiva drivers, the juice ladies, a waiter, the vegetable ladies and even tried to see if the bathroom attendant in the terminal would remember me. (she most definitely did not) So, when I hopped off the chiva in San Josecito I was running into much more deserved and expectant hugs. These hugs were the ones I had been waiting for. It felt so right to be back. We didn’t stay long down below as the darkening sky hastened us towards La Unión.

The hike up was seen through a lover’s eye. When I first arrived I remember Paul and Mireille gushing about just how gorgeous this place is, how special, sacred even. And I found reason to agree. But, having been unexpectedly sent away back in the very start of December and then living in Bogotá for the past two plus months, I was gushing. It felt unreal that we were invited to live here, that the green could be so green, that the setting sun could be so warm and purple. Walking into La Unión, the greetings of some of my favorite kids rung out in the darkness before we even made it through the door. I sped up my pace. I grabbed the first available child and squeezed. It was so right to be back. The less-than-luxury homes seemed without flaw to me. Dilapidation looked sensational. We slowly inched our way towards our house. Everyone declaring that I looked fatter and healthier. Chris introduced himself in my wake of joyful hugs and how´vyabeens and I smiled as I heard the first struggles to correctly say his name as he in turn made his first attempts at some of the more creative and tongue-numbing monikers of this small community.

We eventually made it to the FOR house and I felt that twinge of sigh-filled home. The next morning I slept in a bit and as I lay awake listening to the sounds of morning - chickens, rancheros and vallenatos, folks leaving for work in the fields, kids running down to the school – I realized that my original plan would hold. I would indeed leave at the end of my precious five days. And it would not be the best timing I’ve ever had. But, I’m at a loss to really understand exactly when would be a good time to leave an at-risk community. I’m unsure exactly how you leave people you have grown to truly care about, how you leave the excitement and danger of living in a Colombian war zone. It seems to me that you just leave when the time for leaving has come. So that is what I am doing. The time has come. I am leaving.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

marching towards ... more polarization?

Yesterday saw the "biggest mobilization in the history of Colombia" as here in Bogotá and around the world, people took to the streets in protest against the FARC and in favor of freeing the hostages held by the FARC. These world-wide coordinated marches were initially called for by one Colombian man through everyone's favorite way to wile away time in front of the internet, Facebook. And it took off. All around the world. News of the marches in Sydney, Australia and Tokyo were hitting the internet on Sunday afternoon. Marches happened all over the US, in the mid-east, Europe, Asia. We're talking Tel Aviv, in Moscow,and there was even a group of three people in IRAQ holding up anti-FARC and peace for Colombia signs.

Here in Bogotá, large billboards appeared a couple of weeks ago declaring "No Mas" written over the colors of the Colombian flag. And the polarization began. The march which began as a cry for peace and for the end to the terrorism of the FARC, quickly became a cry out in support of President Uribe, a cry out against President Chavez of Venezuela and mainstream media outlets began to suggest that anyone who wasn't in the streets marching against the FARC was obviously in support of the FARC. Chants from the crowd included: "Uribe, Amigo. El Pueblo esta contigo" (Uribe, Friend, The People are with You) and "No Mas Chavez, No Mas FARC" (No more Chavez, No more FARC). You can see and hear some of the sights from the march here.

Many of the people and groups that FOR and like-minded groups accompany and work with here in Colombia organized a counter-march that strove to focus on a less black-and-white approach. The FARC must stop their war on civilians, yes. But the FARC are not the only armed actor in this conflict. Paramilitarism must be truly eradicated and state-sponsored terrorism must be brought to light and to justice. The countless victims of this violence must be acknowledged and given their due. The groups organizing against the march believe a humanitarian accord is the best way to ensure that the hundreds of FARC hostages are freed safely and expediently. The overarching discourse should not be so narrow. In a conflict as tied up and rooted in historical violence as this, supporting the Colombian President and vilifying the Venezuelan President should not be the chant, can not be the answer - no matter how neatly it ties loose ends up. Too many people's lives hang in the balance of that Bushist "with us or against us" mentality. To see more on the Anti-February 4th March, check out the coverage on Indymedia Colombia.

At the same time it is quite a thing to see millions of people take to the streets. The rivers of people flooding the major arteries of Bogotá are obviously ready to exert whatever kind of pressure they possibly can in order to end the cyclical violence they continue to live through. It is just too bad that the large majority only addressed one aspect of that violence. I'm with the tagger who sprayed the wall of a downtown church (wwjd anyway?) with this question - "And when are we going to march against paramilitarism?"

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Back in Bogotá

After a wonderful three weeks back home with my family and in various cities with dear friends, I flew back to Bogotá last Monday. I had really unplugged while I was home, skimming news from Colombia, talking to my teammates in La Unión once and a while, but mostly I simply enjoyed being back amongst family and friends and broadcasts of the Steelers. (Thanks to everyone who hosted me, fed me, flew me places and helped me realize how much there is waiting for me back home). My plane landed in Bogotá mid day and as no one was currently in our Bogotá office, no one was waiting for me. And it all felt so very normal. None of the excitement and anticipation I felt while waiting in the immigration line back when I first arrived in November ’06. I wasn’t nervously rehearsing what I would say to the immigration agent in Spanish, I wasn’t catching my breath on the thought of living in a rural community for a year. I was calmly going through the motions and soon found myself back in our apartment/office. It was comforting to feel so normal about arriving back here in Colombia but I almost missed the excitement of the unknown.

I was back at the airport two days later, waiting for Danny, an ex-FORista who is coming back to help us out for a couple months so we can have a full strength team. His flight was late arriving and the long immigration lines meant that I was waiting for over an hour. I loved watching the constant stream of people coming from the international gate as their friends and family waited for that first glimpse. Ever the sentimentalist, I had teary eyes watching the joyous reunions. It was obvious that some of the visitors had been gone for years and watching the touching embraces was incredibly heartwarming.

The next day I was tearing up over another, more dramatic reunion. While I was waiting to pay our water bill the release of Clara Rojas and Consuelo González de Perdomo, former Vice-Presidential Candidate and Former Congresswoman was being broadcast on the television in the waiting area. Both women have been in FARC captivity for years, Rojas was kidnapped alongside Ingrid Betancourt in 2002 and González in 2001. The past couple of weeks have been full of starts and stops in the process to release them, brokered by President Chavez of Venezuela. And finally, on Thursday, the long-awaited reunion.

I was just watching the footage again online. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, watching this clip of the women getting off the plane in Venezuela and being embraced by their families is incredibly moving. The reporter herself had difficulty controlling the catch in her voice. Of course, the release of two FARC hostages still pales in comparison to the estimated 750 hostages still in captivity in the jungles of Colombia. But the images of the reunion and the hope this release brings for continued negotiation and release is the most encouraging turn of events in this wrenching human drama.

Up in the community things remain tense and worrisome. The presence of paramilitaries continues and seems to continually grow. A woman from the zone, Margarita Giraldo Usuga, was killed by Colombian soldiers on December 23rd as she gathered yucca from the fields near her house. She is, of course, being referred to as a member of the FARC by the military – a common practice of killing civilians and then claiming a victory against the insurgency by claiming to have killed an insurgent. My teammates have been incredibly busy in these last weeks and I am anxious to get caught up to speed on all that has happened. Being here in Bogotá I feel very removed from the daily happenings of the place I came to feel so at home in. But it does give me the chance to have a better sense of what is happening in the rest of Colombia and the world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

melancholy and the infinite sadness

As usual, I have promised more news and reflections and have not delivered. It has been a strange almost two weeks here in Bogotá. As happened in my October convalescent stint in the capital city, after so much time in the rural countryside, I find myself overwhelmed by the easy access to news. And what’s more, this complicated country is bursting full of daily revelations that continually add complicated and intricate layers to the intricate and complicated reality of Colombia. This time, I have been alone in the office/apartment so the distractions are minimal and the time alone with the news and my reflections are unavoidable. Trying to wrap my brain around the sudden and (at least to me) unexpected demise of relations between Presidents Uribe and Chavez, around the news relating to the Feb 2005 massacre in the Peace Community, around the proofs of life of kidnap victims that were found on FARC members on their way to Venezuela – is just a lot to contextualize.

Today the news revealed that the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, has informed his country that they should be prepared in case they need to confront the Colombian army over the disputed Caribbean island of San Andres. (Which is, to be quite honest, much closer to Nicaragua). Also, Juanes sang some songs for the Nobel laureates. (I’m still miffed that Al Gore won over the Peace Community, don’t think I’d let that go so soon). The news is flooded with the important and the trivial the world over, but living in this country that is at war with itself makes it all seem a bit more intense. And now having access to the news as it breaks makes me feel that I must soak it all up. It makes me realize just how much I still don’t understand, how much I’ll never understand, about this conflict.

I have also been feeling choked up with emotion as I finally have left the community in which I had come to feel so comfortable, so at home. And, as these things sometimes play out, I left abruptly and without any of the meaningful goodbyes I was expecting. The immune system was apparently not ready to return and lasted about three weeks before throwing in the towel once again. So my departure after a year was more of a yanking than the gentle farewell I had looked forward to experiencing. In the early morning hours of the first of December I took the first flight out of Apartadó to Bogota. I felt like I was sneaking away. Something about the pre-dawn taxi ride to the airport and the fact that I didn’t even get to go back up to the house to pack my things made it feel surreptitious and just added to the fight I had in me against leaving.

I’ve been a combination of angry (at my body for failing me, at my bosses for forcing me to leave, at the sub-par doctors in Apartadó for being sub-par) and weepy. Some of the community members have called to check in on me and I can barely respond to their kind and caring inquiries without sobbing. Those of you who know me know that I am rather in touch with my emotions, so tears are no rarity in my life. I was expecting tears. I was expecting long, melancholic waves as I walked down the mountain one last time. I was imagining loving hugs and meaningful handshakes. I was going to stand still and take stock of the smells, the sights, the reality that I had been so privileged to live out this last year. You know, the type of bittersweet ending with which these out-of-this world experiences must conclude. To not have said goodbye is all the bitter and none of the sweet. When my time with FOR is over I’ll go back for the goodbyes, but for now I am in Bogotá feeling overly emotive and overly informed.

On the day I left Apartadó, my flight was obviously delayed so I spent the morning in the airport. I was listening to my walkman (yeah, so? some of us still rock walkmans, ok?) and wallowing in self-pity when I finally realized that all was quiet outside of my earphone cocoon and all eyes were focused on the lone TV in the waiting area. The morning news channels were reporting on the proof of life that had been confiscated from FARC members caught in Bogotá. Part of the negotiations that Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba and President Hugo Chavez had been working out with the FARC had included an agreement that the FARC would provide proof that the kidnap victims were still alive. Well, only days after Uribe ended the negotiation process, and the ensuing cat fight between Uribe and Chavez, the proof was on its way to Venezuela and presumably, Chavez, when it was intercepted by Colombian public forces. It included videos and pictures of the hostages and a letter from Ingrid Betancourt (kidnapped in 2002 while running for President, holds French and Colombian citizenship and is the most well know of the hostages) written to her mother. The video showed the victims in various states of animation. Some were speaking to the camera, a few just stared it down and Ingrid Betancourt sat, despondently refusing to look at the camera. The three US hostages – contractors who were taken hostage when their plane went down in 2003 – are Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, the longest held US-hostages in captivity. They appeared in front of the jungle background, looking gaunt but standing and speaking. For both Ingrid and the US contractors, this is the first proof of life that has been released since 2003.

These images are hopeful – proof that the hostages are surviving and that the FARC was in the process of making good on its commitment to deliver proof to Chavez and Piedad Cordoba. Proof that the negotiations truly were progressing and finding more success than prior attempts. But at the same time, these images are incredibly heartbreaking. Uribe abruptly ended what had been the most successful attempt at negotiations to free the kidnap victims. The hostages appear to be gaunt and dispirited. And the video and pictures are a horrific reminder that this war continues to claim victims and destroy families.

And then there is the letter from Ingrid Betancourt to her mother.

A long letter full of desperation and love and frustration and gratitude. She speaks about her children and her country and her hopes and fears and at one point offers up her vacant apartment to a friend who might need it. The practical alongside the poetic. She names the public officials who have not given up on negotiations for her release, pointedly not mentioning Uribe, and she talks about the despair of captivity, how her will has been broken. My tears spilled out as I read her incredibly tender and tired words and tried to comprehend this kind of reality. The pain that was pouring off the page felt so familiar, so like the stories I came to know from the community. It is all tied up together. From the iconic hostage to the humble farmer – there is so much pain in this country. And the wounds are open. How do you heal open wounds?

(If you read Spanish I highly recommend reading the letter, found here. If you don’t, the folks over at the CIP Colombia program translated some excerpts found here.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Community was Right

Last week, news came out that an arrest warrant had been issued for a Captain in the Colombian army in relation to the February 2005 massacre of 8 people in one of the humanitarian zones of the Peace Community. Below is a translation of the article that appeared in the national news magazine, Semana. For the original version in Spanish click here.

The Community was Right

Paramilitaries and Soldiers would have acted together in the massacre of San José de Apartadó. So much so, that last week an Army Captain was issued an arrest warrant.

In February of 2005, when the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó said that members of the [Colombian] Army had participated in the massacre in the district of La Resbalosa, where two families were cruelly assassinated; almost no one believed them. It seemed unbelievable that members of the Armed Forces could have participated in a crime against seven rural farmers, among them three children, two of who were slashed in the throat and the other, beheaded.

Few believed them, because the Armed Forces attempted to show that their men were not at the site of the crime, and even better they suggested that the denouncements made by the [community’s] spokespersons, Gloria Cuartas and the Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, were part of the “political war” that supposedly the guerrillas develop against institutions.

But three year later, it seems that justice is beginning to demonstrate that the Community was right. This past Wednesday, a State prosecutor from the human rights unit announced a warrant was to be issued for Army Captain Guillermo Armando Gordillo Sanchez for being a co-author of the murder, an accomplice in criminal behavior and terrorism. Gordillo was the officer in charge of the Alacrán Company, assigned to the 17th Brigade based in Urabá. He and his men patrol the region in which the massacre occurred. And even though he alleged his innocence before Public Prosecutors, the testimonies and evidence that incriminate him are sufficiently profound.

The confession of a demobilized paramilitary became the key piece to tie together the puzzles of this case; one that has provoked some of the most focused international attention. Adriano José Cano Arteaga patrolled with the group Héroes de Tolová , that belonged to “Don Berna” [a now demobilized paramilitary leader]and operated between Córdoba and Urabá and was not yet demobilized when the massacre occurred. Cano assured that a paramilitary known as “44” directed the massacre and that another known as “Pirulo” cut the children’s throats. The paramilitaries were, according to his story, joined with some 50 soldiers under the command of Captain Gordillo, who would have stayed “holding down the scrubland or while the paramilitaries went ahead to commit the crime.

They first killed Luis Eduardo Guerra, a known leader of the Peace Community, his son Deyner Andrés Guerra (11 years old), and Beyaniera Areiza. After killing them with machetes they left their bodies strewn in the mountainside. Then they killed Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia: his children Natalia (5 years old) and Santiago (2 years old); his wife, Sandra Milena Muñoz, and a worker from the farm named Alejandro Pérez. The four also died by machete. The children, according to the autopsy “by slashing the throat with a knife”.

According to [Cano], Gordillo would have said to another member of the paramilitaries that “44” had “f**ked up” to have killed these people in his jurisdiction.

Extremely Serious

Why did this massacre occur? Was it planned? Was there a cover-up? Apparently, the investigation still has not produced answers to these questions. But there is a hypothesis from investigators that aims to establish that the terrible acts would have been motivated by retaliation for a FARC attack against the Army that two weeks earlier had taken the lives of 17 soldiers in Mutatá. Criminal experts assure that the modus operandi of this massacre was not only marked by hate, but also with the intention to send a message of terror to the other members of the Community.

In spite of the fact that the detainment of Captain Gordillo does not implicate him as guilty, sources from the Public Prosecutor’s office have assured SEMANA that the investigation of his involvement points to soldiers acting as coauthors of the crime. The national and international implications of this crime are enormous.

On one hand, this constitutes one of the most serious violations of human rights committed in recent years. Especially because this community, that has declared itself neutral in the face of the conflict, has been handed down cautionary measures that obligate the Colombian State to protect it in special manner. If it can be shown that those who had the mission to provide protection – the military – were the co-authors of the crime, the sanction for this country on the international scene will undoubtedly be waiting.
But the Public Prosecutor seems to back up not only this Community in regards to this massacre. The testimonies of various paramilitaries, including that of Cano, make clear that which NGOs have warned about, that the Military has participated in joint operations with the paramilitary, especially in the Urabá region. The Ministry of Defense has given complete support to the Public Prosecutors and has insisted on ensuring due process for Captain Gordillo.

Beyond the sanctions that the Colombian state could feel for this act, the Armed Forces require a profound reflection on two crucial aspects: the stigmatization of peace communities and the control mechanisms and tracking of its troops.

In some sectors of the Armed Forces, it is suggested in a low voice that peace communities and many of the NGOs are screens for armed groups. This has set the stage for the term “political war” and its use in referring to most of the public denouncements from the communities that are made through legitimate and legal means. The risk of this stigmatization is that officers end up thinking, mistakenly, that they can resort to criminal methods to combat a supposed enemy.

As far as control of the troops, it is worth the effort to remember that for more than a decade, many sources – including the military – have called attention to the coexistence of members of the 17th Brigade with the paramilitaries. The internal investigations, nevertheless, never bring results.

If Captain Gordillo and others from the Military are eventually found guilty of this crime, the Armed Forces will be forced to confront one of the largest embarrassments in their history.