Here is the translated text of a very disturbing letter that made its way into my e-mail two weeks ago, thanks to the Fundación Nuevo Arco Iris in Bogotá. Addressed to President Uribe, it discusses rapidly deteriorating conditions in San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá.
You may recall that San Vicente was the largest town in the "demilitarized zone" that was ceded to the FARC during 1998-2002 peace talks. Since 2004, it has been at the heart of the zone where the Colombian government’s U.S.-supported "Plan Patriota" military offensive has been taking place.
The letter makes clear that "Plan Patriota" has not made San Vicente any safer. It indicates that the FARC are heavily present throughout San Vicente, and that as of early March a guerrilla "armed stoppage" had confined this large town’s population to the city limits. The signers are concerned that the guerrillas may soon launch a bloody attack in the town center.
The letter, which denounces both FARC hostilities and government human-rights abuses within the "Plan Patriota" framework, is also remarkable because of the range of signers: business, church and political leaders appear alongside indigenous, union and leftist party leaders.
San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n, March 2, 2006
ALVARO URIBE VELEZ
Republic of Colombia
Respected Doctor Uribe;
We, the active forces [fuerzas vivas] of the Municipality of San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n CaquetÃ¡, write to inform you of the difficult situation that our population is currently suffering.
Since February 14 of this year, the FARC EP declared an â€œarmed stoppageâ€ [a ban on all road travel] in this zone of the country, which has gradually generated multiple problems that gravely affect our FREEDOM, SECURITY and economic, political and social STABILITY, putting the people who inhabit this region at high risk.
Our concern extends to the inhabitants of the municipalityâ€™s rural zone, since possibilities of communication with nearby hamlets [veredas] do not exist. This leads us to believe that due to the duration of armed stoppage, there is a basic shortage of badly needed supplies, medicines and items needed for health emergencies.
The following is our view of the human rights situation for the population of San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n:
Situation of Human rights:
1. Constant and numerous presence of guerrilla units near the town center, which threaten to take over our population. This is a worrisome situation, since it is public knowledge that in other regions of the country (BojayÃ¡, MitÃº, recently Rivera etc.), the FARC announced violent takeovers of populations ahead of time yet opportune and pertinent measures were not taken. Hundreds were killed, wounded and kidnapped as a result of these "Chronicles of a death foretold."
2. Intimidation and insecurity of public servants [local elected leaders], becoming more frequent every day, to such a degree that the security forces advise these state representatives not to frequent places outside the security perimeter, which itself is reduced to an area smaller than a manzana [about 1.7 acres].
3. Optimal security conditions do not exist for the caravans [armed vehicle escorts] organized by the security forces. Proof of that is the lamentable event of February 25, when a public transportation van was attacked on the route that leads from Puerto Rico to Doncello, and 9 people were killed. As of today, these caravans continue to be harassed constantly.
Right to free movement:
1. We feel that our right to travel (enshrined in the 1991 Constitution) is harmed, as no Colombian citizen who is a resident of San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n may move freely within the department [of CaquetÃ¡], not even to obtain basic supplies needed for survival. when not allowing to it to no resident Colombian citizen in San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n to move freely by the department, not even to supply itself of basic products for its survival. Living in this reality are more than 280 hamlets whose population is around 28,000 inhabitants. The same happens in the municipalityâ€™s urban sector, whose population of around 22,000 inhabitants can neither travel nor carry foodstuffs.
Right to work:
1. Due to the immobilization of our main products, 400 daily head of cattle, 120,000 liters of milk per day for NESTLÃ‰, 160 weekly tons of cheese and 300 pigs among others, which represent 90% of the economy of the municipality; the remaining 10% are agricultural products represented in fruits and vegetables for local consumption and to supply other departments.
2. The municipalityâ€™s critical situation has had an especially damaging effect on informal-sector employment, which involves a significant amount of the population, which has seen its ability to gain needed resources badly affected.
3. The productive sector of the municipality has trimmed its personnel considerably since it lacks the economic guarantees sufficient to ensure payment for its employeesâ€™ services.
4. Transportation between hamlets is paralyzed 100 percent, while transit between municipalities has been considerably limited, so this source of employment is also functioning abnormally.
Right to health:
1. The shortage of essential medicines and supplies for the protection of rural and urban health.
2. The impossibility of quickly transporting sick and injured people from the rural zone to the local urban hospital.
3. The difficulty of transferring to the countryâ€™s central cities, due to the lack of local specialists, any gravely ill people or women with high-risk pregnancies.
Right to Free Expression:
1. The population feels intimidated in the current environment, which limits citizensâ€™ guarantees of free expression of opinion.
2. Sufficient state guarantees do not exist for the free denunciation of human rights violations or international humanitarian law infractions.
1. The fuel and food shortage has generated price speculation, which is justified by the risk that transporters face of losing their lives and their vehicles at the hands of the insurgency. This food shortage thus affects the poorest and the informally employed.
2. Levels of hunger among the poorest and most vulnerable are affecting all of us, as it is generating increased vandalism and crime, as well as malnutrition among children and the elderly.
3. The concentration of counterinsurgency war in the region, via the so-called Plan Patriota, has generated forced displacements and serious threats to human life. This situation is lamentable since the community has already denounced the security forces for violations of human rights and the insurgency for international humanitarian law infractions. The excesses committed by the parties to the conflict mainly affect the civilian population.
Due to the arguments enumerated above, we consider that special and urgent attention must be paid to these problems:
1. We demand that the Colombian state generate political space for a negotiation with the insurgency, to seek mechanisms of national reconciliation, thus avoiding to the greatest extent possible further armed confrontation between Colombians.
2. We ask international human rights organizations to maintain a permanent presence in this zone of the country, as guarantors of the respect and protection of life, as well as other rights consecrated in the Constitution, in conditions of dignity.
3. We ask for humanitarian food aid, for the nutrition of children, elderly adults and those who do not have economic resources to buy food.
4. We ask for greater security guarantees for the transport of foods and fuels; if it is not possible for public transportation companies, this should be done by vehicles provided by the state.
5. We request greater controls on the price of products and fuels that do arrive, as well as on public transportation rates, to avoid the speculation that generates greater conditions of inequality.
6. We demand of the ColombianState effective guarantees so that public servants (Council members) may exercise their duties in service of the community under normal conditions.
7. We demand that assistance programs for the vulnerable population, for example,
- Families in action.
– Economic support for the elderly.
– Hot lunches for the elderly under the "Juan LondoÃ±o de la cuesta" program.
– Remittances for the rural elderly.
– Integral attention to the displaced population.
– Economic and food support for the sustainment of "The Good Samaritan" nursing home, which is about to close for lack of resources.
comply with their obligations quickly, to eliminate the conditions of inequality to which the vulnerable population is a victim.
Due to the situation explained above, we request that an early warning alert be submitted for the municipality of San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n, with the possibility of extending it to the entire department.
Civil populace of San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n.
Annexed: Listing of signers
LISTING OF SIGNERS
JOSE EDUARDO MANJARES
President, Municipal Council
First Vice President, Municipal Council
Second Vice President, Municipal Council
LUIS FERNANDO OSORIO G.
President, Municipal Committee of Cattle Dealers of San Vicente of CaguÃ¡n – COMGASANVI
LUIS EDUARDO LOPEZ
Cooperativa Multiactiva e Industrial de San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n
JUAN DIEGO GARCIA
Liberal Party President, San Vicente del CaguÃ¡n
FREDY ARMING RODRIGUEZ P.
Movimiento Popular Unido
Coordinadora Unidad DemocrÃ¡tica
Polo Alternativo DemocrÃ¡tico
P. LUIS ALFONSO MOLINA DUQUE
Parroquia Nuestra SeÃ±ora de las Mercedes
Representing Catholic Church
HNO JOSE GREGORIO HERNANDEZ
Colegio Nacional Dante Alighieri
MARCO TULIO PORTELA
Representative of Educators
CLARA LIGIA MEJIA
Manager, Banco Agrario
AsociaciÃ³n Vida Digna y Solidaria, Manos Unidas
Iglesia Alianza Cristiana Colombiana
CONSUELO CARDONA TOBON
Representante Gremio Comerciantes
Representante Gremio Comerciantes
Manager, Cooperative COOTRANSCAGUAN
Spokesman, Public Services
Cheesemakersâ€™ Association representative
President, Good Samaritan Association
HENRY VALENCIA LEON
Governor of Indigenous Reserve
President, San RafaelHospital Workersâ€™ Union
Representative, Mechanicsâ€™ Association
Representative, Timber Association
AsociaciÃ³n Mujeres 2000
MARIA MERCEDES PADILLA
Providers of Food for the Elderly
Leader, Barrio La Pradera
IVAN DARIO TOWERS
ASODESCA Displaced Population