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Apr 012005

After the February 21-22 massacre in the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, members of the community formed a commission to travel to the massacre zone to find the bodies and determine what happened. Community members believe that the Colombian Army, perhaps jointly with paramilitaries, committed the killing. The Colombian authorities insist that it was the FARC. President Uribe, charming as ever, has gone so far as to accuse the community’s leaders – who refuse entry to all armed groups, including the military and the guerrillas – of helping and protecting the FARC.

Jesús Abad is a respected Colombian photojournalist who accompanied the peace community’s commission to the massacre site. He published a record of his trip last weekend in El Tiempo. His account is highly disturbing, and appears to point both to military involvement in the massacre and a continued pattern of close military-paramilitary collaboration in the region.

Here are some excerpts, translated into English.


Four days in search of the bodies from the San José de Apartadó Peace Community massacre

El Tiempo (Colombia)
March 25, 2005
By Jesus Abad Colorado

I cannot remain silent. I spent four days in the San Jose de Apartadó Peace Community, where I documented, in photographs, the search for the region’s leaders and their murdered relatives.

Thursday, February 24h

On this night I receive an e-mail bearing the tragic news that seven members of the Peace Community had been murdered. The statement blames members of the Army for the deaths and announces the departure of a commission for the hamlet of La Resbalosa, nine hours from San José, to search for the bodies.

Since 1997, the year I got to know this town in the Antioquia part of Urabá, after the declaration of the Peace Community, I have seen the growth of the Monument to Memory, a memorial built of stones with the names of murdered residents etched into them. These have surpassed 150.

Friday, February 25

At 7:15 PM, we hear the noise of two helicopters leaving the mountain. We figure that they have finished an exhumation. Minutes later, we come across the commission that had departed at daybreak. They were about 80 people who, on foot and by horse, had stopped at the farm of Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia, one of the leaders of the peace community who was killed, and in whose cacao fields were found graves with mutilated corpses.

Several community leaders inform us that five bodies have been found. “There were bullet holes in the kitchen, some words written in firewood ash and bloodstains on the floor. The bodies were in two graves, a few meters from the house in the midst of the cacao grove. There we found Alfonso Bolívar, his wife Sandra Milena Muñoz, and their children, Santiago (20 months) and Natalia Andrea (6 years). We also found the body of Alejandro Perez, who had worked picking cacao with Alfonso.”

Minutes later, another commission appears with news that they have found the site with the rest of the bodies. Luis Eduardo, Deiner, and Beyanira.

One of the women from the community, who says she was born in the zone, tells us that “until a decade ago, we were living, some 200 families, in all of the Mulatos Canyon. There were community stores, a school, and a health center, [but now] there is nothing but ruins. So many armed incursions and farmers’ deaths have emptied out our land. One year ago, there were close to 90 families [but] after an army-paramilitary incursion there were only 16 left. Now, who knows how many will stay.”

Other farmers point to the Mulatos Canyon and speak of Nueva Antioquia in Turbo municipality. “From there, the paramilitaries have organized many incursions and they coordinate them with the army. With the demobilization of the Bananero Bloc [of the AUC, in November 2004] and the arrival of the police in Nueva Antioquia nearby, other groups and encampments have been set up further into the rural zone, toward the zone that borders Mulatos, in a place known as Rodoxali.”

Saturday, February 26 – at the massacre site in Mulatos

At 5:15 PM, a commission of soldiers and police arrive.

The campesinos tell me that a soldier wearing no identification took away the machete that had been lying near Beyanira’s boots. The soldier cleans it and sharpens it against the stones. When he realizes that I am watching him, he turns his back. When the lawyer and the community representative return, they are told about it, and they go to speak with the captain. They ask him to tell his superior in the army “because this is a manipulation of evidence.” When we come back to where the campesinos are, they are even more fearful. “The soldier who grabbed the machete passed by us and without shame or pity for what we’ve been through, gestured and told us that this machete was the one they cut their heads off with.”

The representative of the community and the lawyer tell the official in charge, and his army counterpart, that the next day “the community will form two commissions, one will return to this same site to pick up the bodies, and the other will go to the hamlet of El Barro, nothing is known about what happened to the families there, even though they live so nearby.” The army officer responds that the army is in that hamlet and there are no families there. The community insists.

Sunday, February 27

It is 6:00 AM. The first commission departs with the lawyer for the site where the bodies of Luis Eduardo, Deiner, and Beyanira were found. The fourteen people leaving for El Barro ask me to accompany them. We follow the river downstream for twenty minutes. The procession stops for a moment. There is a roadblock with three men in uniform. They ask the campesinos what they are doing in this area. They explain. One soldier has an insignia on his arm that says “Battalion 33 Cacique Lutaima.” The other two have nothing. They ask who I am and why I am with this group. I tell them about my documentary work and the search for several families in this sector whose whereabouts are unknown after the events of Monday the 21st or Tuesday the 22nd. The soldier speaks with the other two and then goes a short distance away, where there are other uniformed men. He comes back and allows us to pass. He warns that a few meters further is a well where several soldiers are bathing. We pass and see them washing their clothes.

Just two blocks further are three wood houses with zinc roofs. On the first is graffiti written with ash from burned wood. “Guerrillas must go, your worst nightmare, El Cacique, says so”; above that can be read “The scorpion BCG 33.” There is nobody in the house. The people who live there are in the other two dwellings, very close to the first. Two girls throw corn to the hens and a pig. When they see the commission arrive bearing the flag of the community, they come out and greet us. An old man, seated in an armchair, closes a Bible and smiles. He calls two women who are in the kitchen. Behind the commission arrive three uniformed men who keep tabs on us from between the houses. Another man, wearing no shirt and a hat, enters from the bedroom and greets us very timidly. He is Rigo (name changed), say the campesinos.

The youngest woman nurses a baby and the grandmother speaks in a low voice. She wants to know when we arrived in the zone and if we came for them. She thanks God that this nightmare is going to end. “It began on Monday when they arrived and did not let us leave. They had detained Rigo, who lives nearby. They didn’t allow him even to go to his house which is across the way, on the other hill. His wife and children are all alone. They interrogated and threatened me, because they say that I am a nurse for the guerrillas. With them was Melaza, who is a paramilitary. This is the third time he has come to my house with the army. He said he is going to do away with everyone in the peace community because they are a bunch of guerrilla sons of bitches, and that if he has to, he’ll kill the foreigners too [the U.S. and European citizens from Peace Brigades International and Fellowship of Reconciliation who accompany the community]. He said that we are in a zone that belongs to them [the paramilitaries]. They have threatened to cut my daughters’ heads off when they go to the well for water. They have dug several holes looking for arms.”

One of the members of the commission says that they have been in the zone since Friday. First in La Resbalosa and later near Cantarrana, 30 minutes away. They say that several bodies still need to be taken away, those of Luis Eduardo, Deiner and Beyanira. The woman’s eyes fill with tears. She takes our hands and speaks more quietly: “so is it true that they killed them? Why did they do that? I told Luis Eduardo not to go that morning to the cacao fields to pick beans. We knew that they were carrying out a military operation. I did everything but beg him not to go to San José. … He didn’t heed me because he wasn’t afraid, and he needed the money to pay for his son’s schooling. He left that morning and was supposed to come back, but did not. These people [the soldiers] have not let us do anything but suffer since noon on Monday (February 21). We’ve been passing the time praying until today, when you came. They hardly let us pick a bit of corn to eat. On Wednesday, they told us that they had killed some guerrillas by the river, that one was with his woman and his child. And I said to them, “Could it be that you killed Luis Eduardo and his son? They are my family. Beyanira is his compañera. The soldiers changed their attitude and said no, the paramilitaries killed him.”

At 10:30 AM, the families are ready for their displacement. There is much sadness, but also joy. The uniformed men have erased the graffiti from the first house.

One Response to “San José de Apartadó: Jesús Abad’s disturbing account”

  1. jcg Says:

    The whole Apartadó situation continues to be disturbing for those that remain even superficially interested in the matter, that’s for sure. In that sense, one can’t help but look at this chronicle with mixed feelings of anger, doubt and sadness, among others.

    It’s interesting to note, however, that the author sometimes makes a noticeable distinction between what he himself says he witnessed, and what he tells us that some of the peasants told him that they saw. Doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the one that’s right and they’re automatically wrong, though.

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