Colombia: “The State is absent in the community of San José de Apartadó”

Colombia: "The State is absent in the community of San José de Apartadó"

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A delegation from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó accompanies us at Escala in Paris. The community is located in northwestern Colombia, north of Antioquia, near the border with Panama, and since its creation in 1997 it has been the victim of the murder of 165 of its members and of a long series of human rights violations. We wanted to know what they expect from the new Government of Colombia, the balance they make of their tour and what they ask of the Government of France.

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was created in 1997 and is celebrating a quarter of a century of existence and peaceful resistance. Germán Graciano is its legal representative since 2013, the highest authority of the community, and Yudis Arteaga, who is called Rubí Arteaga, has been a member of the Internal Council of said community from 2013 to 2018.

“The name was chosen by those who founded the community, today many of them are not here. It was like a reflection to live all in solidarity. We conform as a sister and supportive community, not as an association,” says Germán Graciano.

This tour has taken them to Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium after passing through France. The tour aims to publicize “the situation we are experiencing in the region, the concern we have in the community on the issue of land, the growth of paramilitarism in the area.”

The Community of San José de Apartadó works based on a double principle: not to negotiate, not to accept any armed actor on their land, and at the same time refuse to leave their land. This position “was a discovery by the peasantry of that region of San José de Apartadó. Everything that was systematically experienced, such as rapes, massacres and murders, was focused on the peasantry. We seek to distance ourselves from the conflict by seeking a peaceful, neutral solution, not collaborating with any of the armed actors to see if we obtain respect for life and for the land”, replies the representative of the community.

After the signing of the 2016 peace agreements, a concern of Colombian society is the restitution of land to those people and communities affected by the armed conflict. A law exists to specify that commitment. But according to Rubí Arteaga, “the issue of land restitution has not been taken as it was raised and instead of helping the communities, the peasants, what it does is affect them because the issue of land restitution is used more for to give them to companies and landowners. The peasants, the community is not being recognized for the territory it has had during these 25 years of struggle.”

The members of the delegation of the peace community of San José de Apartadó specify that those responsible for these attacks and violations of human rights have names and surnames: “Paramilitarism has been quite terrifying and most of the crimes and violations of our rights They have been committed by the paramilitaries together with the 17th Brigade (of the Army). 80% of these murders were also in his time the guerrilla. So I think these three sectors have caused the greatest damage to the community.”

Germán Graciano and Yudis Arteaga have suffered directly or indirectly the repression and exactions of these armed agents. In the case of Graciano, 13 people from his family were murdered and he himself was the target of an assassination attempt in 2017. As for Arteaga, his uncle, who was the legal representative of the community, was murdered in 2005. The murder of social leaders has been a constant in the political history of Colombia, as well as the impunity of these crimes. Since its creation, 165 people from the community have been murdered

Last June, Colombians elected the leftist candidate and former member of the M19 guerrilla group, Gustavo Petro. Several members of his government were at the time directly linked to social struggles. Have things changed with the new government?

“The communities and inhabitants of San José de Apartadó have high expectations for this change in government. But nothing has changed for us. Recently, an 18-year-old boy was murdered in the urban area of ​​San José de Apartadó, where the police and military are located. There has not really been an act that truly put an end to the violence of the paramilitaries in San José de Apartadó”, answers Germán Graciano.

The Community of San José de Apartadó expects concrete actions from the Petro Government. “I think that the government has always kept all these regions very isolated. I think that something that should be focused on is to be more aware of these aggressions that take place in the regions, in the communities. In Colombia there are many violations of rights and The State is never present, watching the regions closely. One of its jobs should be to focus on reviewing region by region what the situation is in each place. There I do think they could do something, because if not, in the regions the paramilitarism and other types of armed groups that in the end are the ones that end up governing, dominating”.

Regarding the results of the tour, Germán Graciano assures that “after the pandemic, with the confinement that took place worldwide, the community felt alone on the issue of international accompaniment, of international political advocacy lobbies, and with this tour they become to weave these networks of political support for the defense of human rights, especially in the current problems of the territory. We come together again to show the current situation that we are experiencing as a community of peace.”

The Government of Colombia and the European Union have signed a political and trade agreement, and France is part of the European Union. The community of San José de Apartadó asks the French government “to review the issue of human rights and to check if all these projects are being carried out and if they are actually serving the entire town or just a few. that they are very aware that the rights and agreements are fulfilled and that life is really respected not only of the human being but of the land that is like the life of all beings”, points out Yudis Arteaga.

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Written by Editor TLN

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