Uribe’s opponents’ security problem “He Knows Too Much”
Apr 212006

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 Caguán, March 2, 2006

Doctor
ALVARO URIBE VELEZ
President
Republic of Colombia 

Respected Doctor Uribe;

We, the active forces [fuerzas vivas] of the Municipality of San Vicente del Caguán Caquetá, 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 “armed stoppage” [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 municipality’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 Caguán: 

Situation of Human rights:

Security:

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 (Bojayá, Mitú, 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 Caguán may move freely within the department [of Caquetá], not even to obtain basic supplies needed for survival. when not allowing to it to no resident Colombian citizen in San Vicente del Caguán 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 municipality’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 NESTLÉ, 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 municipality’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 employees’ 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 country’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 citizens’ 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. 

Others:

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.
РHot lunches for the elderly under the "Juan Londo̱o 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 Caguán, with the possibility of extending it to the entire department. 

Sincerely,

Civil populace of San Vicente del Caguán.

Annexed: Listing of signers 

LISTING OF SIGNERS 

JOSE EDUARDO MANJARES
President, Municipal Council

LUIS BALLEN
First Vice President, Municipal Council  

EDUARDO CEDEÑO
Second Vice President, Municipal Council

ORDUBEY TEJADA
Councilman

VIRIGINIA LLANOS
Councilman

LUIS FERNANDO OSORIO G.
President, Municipal Committee of Cattle Dealers of San Vicente of Caguán – COMGASANVI

SANTIAGO BORDA
LUIS EDUARDO LOPEZ
Cooperativa Multiactiva e Industrial de San Vicente del Caguán

JUAN DIEGO GARCIA 
Liberal Party President, San Vicente del Caguán                                  

FREDY ARMING RODRIGUEZ P.
Movimiento Popular Unido

OLIVIA TOVAR
Coordinadora Unidad Democrática

DAVID MOTATO
Secretario Ejecutivo
Polo Alternativo Democrático

P. LUIS ALFONSO MOLINA DUQUE 
Párroco
Parroquia Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes
Representing Catholic Church 

HNO JOSE GREGORIO HERNANDEZ
Rector 
Colegio Nacional Dante Alighieri  

MARCO TULIO PORTELA 
Representative of Educators 

CLARA LIGIA MEJIA
Manager, Banco Agrario 

YESID OLAYA
Asociación Vida Digna y Solidaria, Manos Unidas 

HERIBERTO RAMIREZ 
Iglesia Alianza Cristiana Colombiana 

CONSUELO CARDONA TOBON
Representante Gremio Comerciantes 

CARLOS MORENO
Representante Gremio Comerciantes 

MANUEL QUIMBAY
Manager, Cooperative COOTRANSCAGUAN 

HUGO NARVAEZ
Transportes Yarí  

RAMON PULGARIN
Spokesman, Public Services

GUSTAVO TOLEDO 
Cheesemakers’ Association representative  

OFFIR CARDONA
President, Good Samaritan Association 

HENRY VALENCIA LEON
ASOTIP Representative  

VICENTE CAMAYO 
Governor of Indigenous Reserve

CARLOS BURBANO
President, San RafaelHospital Workers’ Union

RUSBEL CHAVARRO
Representative, Mechanics’ Association

URSULINA CUELLAR
Representative, Timber Association

OMAIRA VALENCIA
Asociación Mujeres 2000

MARIA MERCEDES PADILLA
Providers of Food for the Elderly 

GLORIA RODRÍGUEZ
Leader, Barrio La Pradera

IVAN DARIO TOWERS
ASODESCA Displaced Population

JAMED VALDERRAMA
Representante Ornamentadores

2 Responses to “A deteriorating situation in the heart of “Plan Patriota””

  1. jcg Says:

    You said it: it’s a very disturbing letter.

    It clearly shows that, in the San Vicente del Caguán area and likely in the former demilitarized zone in general, Plan Patriota and Democratic Security have done little more than push the guerrillas into relative clandestinity, but have not achieved anything close to giving a real and lasting sense of security for the rural population of these remote areas of the country. Instead, they are now being threatened by both the abuses of the guerrillas and the abuses of the government’s security forces.

    Most of their demands are very reasonable, but I fear that the first, the call for a “negotiation with the insurgency”, may technically be the most important but is by far the least likely to have any result, especially in the current political environment (though it would still be a very difficult affair even in a better political climate, as the failed Caguán talks clearly evidenced).

    I can only hope that the FARC fails to launch a “bloody attack in the town center”, because that would definitely worsen the situation for everybody involved. And it wouldn’t really affect Uribe’s chances to win the election either, because the sad reality is that almost nobody in the larger cities will really care about the problems of San Vicente del Caguán and its surrounding areas.

  2. Javier Moreno Says:

    Adam, could you put a link to the original letter in spanish? I’d like to distribute it around the colombian blogging community.

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