Mr. Arenas is a longtime friend, a former social-movement leader known to many in Washington for his articulate critique of the aerial fumigation policy and his repeated calls for increased alternative development investment in his home department, which is one of Colombia’s principal coca-growing areas. (See posts from our April 2008 visit to Guaviare.)
The subject of two previous posts to this blog (2008 video, 2005 post), Mr. Arenas belongs to a locally based center-left political movement and has run afoul of both paramilitaries and guerrillas in the past. But this is by far the FARC’s worst-ever attack on him.
While nobody was killed, the president of San JosÃ© del Guaviare’s town council, Marcos Baquero, is still missing. We condemn, and urge others to join us in condeming, the FARC for a vicious act of barbarism that will only serve to isolate them still further, both internationally and in the department of Guaviare. If the FARC are holding Mr. Baquero, we demand that they release him, immediately and unconditionally.
Yesterday [Sunday] at 11 AM, when I was going from San JosÃ© to La Carpa (a town about 50 kilometers from the county seat), we were the object of an attack with bombs and gunshots. I managed to get out of the area in an armored truck, but a departmental legislator was wounded – we rescued him two hours later – and we lost the president of the municipal council, compaÃ±ero Marcos Baquero, who belongs to the Green Party. Since then, we haven’t heard a thing from Marcos and we want him to reappear unharmed.
Guerrillas of the 7th Front of the FARC committed the attack. Several of them took our secretary of education and a reporter from the community radio for half an hour to the chief of their group, who presented himself with the alias of “JesÃºs.” He told the reporter that his attack was aimed at the mayor, and that it was a message to show that they were very much alive, and that – according to them – “nobody is speaking against the fumigations.” The reporter and the secretary were freed, the departmental legislator is out of danger.
In La Carpa we were carrying out an activity of the mayor’s office with the support of several government agencies, which we call “services fairs [ferias de servicios],” in the framework of a strategy of preventing displacement; we bring health, technical assistance, SENA [vocational training], SISBEN [central government assistance to municipalities], subsidized regime [central government health care], sports and culture among other social services, to help the campesinos in their places of origin. I left La Carpa in an army helicopter, after speaking to about 1,000 campesinos who gathered there. In the same helicopter were also five police who were in the caravan and who were “lost” for nearly 3 hours in the zone.
This time we have saved ourselves from an ambush, but our councilman has disappeared, and I ask you to raise your voice for his return. Marcos is a campesino, leader of an association of producers, student in the ESAP [national public administration school], and a member of our political movement. This is his first time in politics and he represents the very region in which the attack occurred.
It is quite curious that the FARC would carry out this attack against me, accusing us of saying nothing against fumigations, when the truth is that we have a lifetime of commitment with the campesinos and of denouncing the damages that the spraying causes to the local economy and the environment. For the past 15 years, every day we have asked for more commitment and investment in alternative development, in roads and productive projects to help the campesinos. I did it as a councilman, departmental legislator and representative in Congress, and now as mayor I have not lowered my guard on this issue. I am still working constantly to get decisionmakers to change this policy, and instead to carry out a program of integral rural development.
This is a tremendous error on the part of an armed organization that has attacked us, ignoring the fact that, perhaps the only voice that has remained alive and aloud about the damaging effects of the fumigations has been ours. It is absurd that they would try to do away with our political process in Guaviare and to silence our voices.