In spite of recognition of collective land ownership, deforestation, expansion of cattle ranching and palm planting and fruit extraction continue
Vice President of the Republic
CARLOS HOLGUN SARDI
Minister of the Interior
Minister of Foreign Relations
Minister of the Environment
MARIO IGUARAN ARANA
EDGARDO MAYA VILLAZON
Nacional People’s Ombudsman
JULIO CESAR TURBAY QUINTERO
Re: Plan of an attack against Maria Ligia Chaverra and Manuel Denis Blandon. Continued occupation of lands in Curvaradó, activities in violation of environmental rights, abuses of authority.
“Cursed is the one who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person”
Deuteronomy 27: 25
We bring to your offices our Historic Report and Ethical Condemnation, in light of our knowledge of a plan to take the lives of leaders and defenders of the rights of African Colombians, the legal representative of the Community Counsel of Curvaradó, Ligia Maria Chaverra and the former legal representative of the Community Counsel of Jiguamiandó, Manuel Denis Blandon, due to the lack of government action to confront the generalized paramilitary criminality in the region.
Our Condemnation is of abuses of authority committed by military units and agents linked to local governments in actions undertaken in Caño Manso, Andalucía, Las Menas and Caño Claro, and of the development of new techniques and mechanisms of deceit to assure the extraction of the fruit of the (African) palm, the expansion of cattle raising, deforestation, use of the “needs of the people” and mechanisms of participation as part of a new dynamic to legitimize and legalize criminal activity.
Our Report and Condemnation are aimed at the contempt for the rights of the African Colombianos and mestizos, at the rottenness that becomes apparent upon reading each of the actions described in this Report.
- * Thursday January 17. At 9:12 a.m., approximately 10 palm plantation workers attempted to enter land belonging to Enrique Petro, a member of the Curvaradó Community Counsel. The legal and legitimate inhabitant impeded their action.
Minutes later, the resident of the “Andalucia Caño Claro” Humanitarian Zone, together with the human rights defender of our Commission of Justice and Peace who was with him, were approached by Luis Florez of the “Palmura” company, who declared that his boss’s order was to go in with the tractor, and that he was going to comply with that decision.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., a second lieutenant of the 15th Brigade whose last name is Ortiz, accompanied by several military units, rebuked Mr. Petro, telling him, “Don’t make things difficult. Why do you always do things that way?” The peasant responded, “Am I in the wrong for defending my rights peacefully?”
Luis Florez reported that he would seek the administrator of the “Maria Eugenia” company in order to enter the place.
- * Monday, January 21. At about 2:00 p.m. in the municipality of Murindó, peasants of the “New Hope” Humanitarian Zone, in the Jiguamiandó River valley, were questioned by police personnel. Emilse Gonzalez, Edelso Sierra, Juan Alvarado, Erasmus Cuadrado and Benjamin Sierra, in spite of being inhabitants of the region known by the regular troops, were interrogated and made to give their names and surnames, tell where they live, their activities, their parents’ names and studies they have pursued.
- * Wednesday, January 23. Our Commission of Justice and Peace received word that the municipal Representative (Personero) of Riosucio, Dario Blandon Caicedo – in the presence of troops of the National Army’s 15th Brigade (stationed next to the “Village Alejandra I” Estate), of Carlos Eloy Eljach, Police Inspector of Belén de Bajirá for Chocó department, and the occupying administrators in bad faith, Luis Felipe Molano, a.k.a. “El Tío” and Armando Garzon, a.k.a. “El Secretario” – authorized the continuation of lumber harvesting in this jurisdiction. Stating, “I am the law,” the Representative lifted the measure that had prohibited the cutting and transport of lumber.
The decision made by the “local authority” is in contravention to public morals as well as a determination of the national government.
In the meeting Luis Felipe Molano spoke about the ownership of the lands of Caño Manso. “Those lands belong firstly to the black communities; secondly, to us cattle ranchers, and thirdly, to the community of Caño Manso,” he said, adding that, “People who own land in the zone, they [meaning the cattle ranchers] will be given 4 hectares and 4 cows to work.” The occupier of bad faith indicated that he would help out by sharing milk and food and resources to initiate productive projects, and that he would organize Caño Manso township (caserío) infrastructure. Finally, he called for a meeting on February 15 with the presence of the Representative of Riosucio and troops of the 15th Brigade to define the agreements.
- * Friday January 25. At about 1:00 p.m. peasant Enrique Petro called Lieutenant Ortiz, who stays in the building (casino) built by the palm companies at the high point of the bridge of Caño Claro in Andalucía, and informed him that palm business personnel had placed a chain impeding the free movement of African Colombians, [and] of consumer goods at a distance of less than 50 meters of an Army position. Ortiz answered the peasant by saying that the road was private and he could not do anything to remove the chain.
The peasant Petro reiterated that the road was built by the businesses without his consent on lands that he has inhabited in Curvaradó for 47 years and that are recognized by the State as being part of the Collective title.
Upon receiving this answer, Ortiz said he would speak with the palm business people.
- * Saturday January 26. In the weekly El Espectador, in an article titled, “The Palm Business File [El Dossier de los Palmeros]” Carlos Merlano, a member of the Board of Directors and a Partner of the palm business “Urapalma S.A”, who is named in investigation number [bajo el radicado] 3856, declared that “Having judged these lands as belonging to the black communities, the businesspeople then began to arrange with the legal representatives of these Community Councils when groups with obscure perspectives and intentions, organized in the form of international NGOs [non-governmental organizations], appeared on the scene, about which, in the sight of all, it is known that they speak (interlocutan) with the FARC, who pressed for the choice of Ligia Chaverra as the legal representation of the Curvaradó Valley Community Council, effectively unseating Moya, who was and continues to be the legitimate legal representative of these communities” … “today the NGOs and their gamepiece, Ligia Chaverra, have hounded the palm sector with multiple accusations, including forced displacements that are not the fault of the palm tree businesses, whose only interest has been to move the region to a prosperous place with palm cultivation and its end product, biodiesel, which is gaining currency as the fuel for centuries to come.”
- * Tuesday January 29. Our Commission of Justice and Peace became aware of the refusal of the Secretary of Government (and) of the Carmen del Darién City Council to register the names of the legal representatives of the lesser councils (consejos menores) of Caracolí, Caño Manso, El Guamo, Camelias, Buena Vista and Villa Luz, in the Curvaradó River Valley.
The false arguments used by the Secretary of Government (and) of the Carmen del Darién City Council [are related], according to him, “because this act should be carried out by a person of African descent,” a statement not consistent with Law 70 of 1993 and its [associated] regulations.
- * Wednesday January 30. During the morning in the vicinity of Andalucía Caño Claro, less than 10 meters of the building where the palm workers stay, together with soldiers of the 15th Brigade, a tree nursery was installed with 300 palms ready for transplanting.
The seedlings, property of Gabriel Jaime Sierra, proprietor of the business “Palmas de Curvaradó,” are located on the property of Community Council member Elena Mestre, inhabitant of the Humanitarian Zone of Andalucía Caño Claro.
Likewise in Las Menas township, on the property of the late peasant Alfonso Ibañez, destruction of the forest is advancing for the sowing of palm. Canals are being dug and a toll-type metal door installed by workers linked with the businessman Jaime Sierra.
- * Thursday, January 31. During the afternoon, our Commission of Justice and Peace became aware of a document in which the “community council of black communities of Curvaradó” called an assembly for the restructuring of the Greater Counsel (Consejo Mayor) to be performed February 17, 2008 in the town center of Carmen del Darién, The document included no signatures.
- * Thursday January 31. At about 11:00 a.m. 15-year-old Adriano Alvarado and 13-year-old Jhon Willinton David, left the “Humanitarian Zone Andalucía Caño Claro” in Curvaradó and headed for the Humanitarian Zone of Nueva Esperanza in Jiguamiandó where they live.
While crossing the Caño Claro bridge adjacent to the building (casino), they were detained by a group of soldiers of the 15th Brigade. The military commander ordered his subordinates to separate the children. Once separated, they interrogated them about the presence of guerrillas. When the children said they were lived in the Humanitarian Zones, the soldiers said that the only thing that exists there is guerrillas.
They took from Adriano a cell phone and a piece of paper with family members’ cell phone numbers. The paper was never returned.
They told the younger child, Jhon Willinton, who carried no identification document, that they could keep him detained for 46 hours while they verified his identity. He insisted he was hungry and wanted to get back home. The lieutenant responded, “Go ask permission from the guerrillas Karina or Becerro. You are a guerrilla known as alias ‘El Cachaco.’ ” The boy demanded respect.
For 30 minutes the children put up with the soldiers’ abusive attitudes, and claimed their right to either be allowed to go, or, if they were under arrest, to know that so they could call the accompanying organizations; when they requested food they were permitted them continue on their way.
- * Saturday February 2. In the afternoon, in the township of Caucheras on the road to the ocean, a family of the Community Council of Curvaradó was approached by an employee of the business “Urapalma S.A.” who offered an arrangement for using their land for illegal palm cultivation. The worker offered the execution of a lease contract in order “not to lose the investment.”
- * Tuesday February 5. At about 11:15 a.m. our Commission of Justice and Peace was informed by a phone call from a highly reliable source that a palm businessman offered the sum of $5,000,000 pesos ($2,500 U.S.) to take the lives of Ligia Maria Chaverra, legal representative of the Greater Counsel of the Curvaradó River Valley and Manuel Denis Blandon, former legal representative of the Greater Council of Jiguamiandó River Valley.
The businessman in Belén de Bajirá offered several people that amount and in an aggressive tone expressed: “I am not going to allow us to go to jail because of those accusations of the Community Councils.”
It became known that a person not from Belén de Bajirá accepted the proposal to carry out the assassinations and is getting a fix on the location of the two people of the Community Councils that lie within the Humanitarian Zones and Biodiversity Zones.
- * Thursday February 7. According to unofficial information, it was known that in the last week of January of 2008, in Bogota, representatives of the palm plantation businesses – businesses under investigation by the Federal Prosecutors’ Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación) for possible commission of crimes of forced displacement, conspiracy to break the law, environmental crimes, usurpation of lands and falsehoods – met with Luis Mario Gaviria, regional director of Social Action (Acción Social, a government agency) with the purpose of establishing mechanisms to come to an “agreement” to give formal ownership of part of the collective territory that today is illegally sown with African Palm to the workers of the business.
- * Monday February 10. At 4:00 p.m. our Commission of Justice and Peace received a report that in the places known as Playa Roja, San Andrés, Campo Alegre and La Punta about 200 armed men of the paramilitary strategy under the name “Black Eagles” have been deployed, and about 45 armed people under another armed structure, the so-called “Renascientes,” were at the exit to Barranquillita near the township (corregimiento) of Buenos Aires in the farm “El Tigre.”
On El Cuchillo Mountain coca leaf planting supported by paramilitary structures resumed.
- * Tuesday February 12. At 6:50 p.m. our Commission of Justice and Peace became aware that the night before, around 10:30 p.m. in Apartadocito, armed men came onto the property of Mr. Emilio Cabezas, a resident in good faith who had lived peacefully in Curvaradó for over 50 years, and intimidated the inhabitants of the family’s house.
Through mechanisms of the registry Office of Chigorodó, an attempt had been made to fraudulently appropriate the property, which is adjacent to the Collective Territory of Curvaradó.
- * Wednesday February 13. At the 8:00 a.m. our Commission of Justice and Peace was informed in Bogota that a man trying to recover his property was called to the personero of Carmen del Darién, who told him that he called him in order to meet with the “true representatives” [and] to revoke whose who have representation with “arms.” The meeting was to take place in Carmen del Darién on February 17. The man added that he was sharing his concern while seeking orientation for what he might do legally.
Our Ethical Condemnation is directed at the absence of political will to confront the pure criminality that develops new techniques and mechanisms to maintain the illegality of the palm agribusiness, still protected through the impunity enjoyed by structures responsible for forced displacement, land appropriation, palm planting and cattle expansion, and that continues to deny property rights to African Colombians. Inspired by agribusiness-friendly public policy and a model of development based on exclusion, the business sector supports its many mechanisms of iniquity. The susceptibility of local authorities to that criminal logic can be seen in their action against right and rule of law, in defense of business investments, in its bias in favor of agro-industrial projects built on the blood and destruction of human lives and of the biodiversity in the Lower Atrato River Basin. Its rights-denying attitude can be seen with the refusal to recognize Community Councils that object to palm plantations and cattle expansion, or with the actions of supposed Police Inspectors or of Municipal Personeros that officiate as “fixers” in a conflict where the responsibility of armed structures, business and land title fraud, and a whole tangle of criminality could not be clearer, and where what is required is justice.
Recognition of ancestral and legal property in those territories by national authorities expressed in Resolutions becomes a chimera. Military protection of wholesale deforestation and of business abuses is the reality; rights are nothing but a formality. The restriction of free movement and of property rights of the communities is protected by military units. In no case is it a passive attitude, but a proactive one in favor of criminality. Collusion by the Army’s 15th Brigade with businesses implicated in ongoing illegal palm fruit extraction, deforestation and cattle expansion is obvious. The use of fraudulent techniques and operations to make lands appear to belong to businesses breeds corruption, which then becomes the response to the needs of African Colombians. It is an effort to legalize the illegal, to validate environmental crimes and the occupation of lands of the communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó.
Through the media and by unilateral processes of local agencies there is an effort to impose as legal representives people who can be used as part of the strategy of plunder and legitimization of palm cultivation. It’s a matter of not losing any time, not losing investments, maintaining the money laundering and keeping intact the more appropriately named “necrofuels” [bio=life; necro=death] industry.
The systematic persecution of Ligia Maria Chaverra by false accusations in judicial forums, by threatening messages, by the delegitimizing of her appointment, passing her off as servant of the guerrillas and now with the planning of a crime against her, follows her firm decision to protect the rights of African Colombians to their territories, her exercise of demanding the truth and saying it with a clear and forceful voice in courthouses, conferences, international forums, regarding State and para-state responsibility for collective displacement and environmental destruction developed through paramilitary and business strategy. But she is also being persecuted for developing initiatives within the Community Councils of Humanitarian and Biodiversity Zones. The same situation is faced by Manuel Denis Blandon, during whose period as Legal Representative the Community Councils in the Territory formed the Humanitarian and Biodiversity Zones. He now stands accused without basis by witnesses who give testify incoherently and falsely on his responsibility in the commission of crimes, as happens with the majority of leaders whose only crime is to denounce, to organize the population in support of their rights, or to maintain their right to be civilian population, without being part of the actions of the State or of the FARC guerrillas.
Before your offices, we bring again our urgent request to avoid irreparable damage to the life and personal integrity of the African Colombians and Mestizos, now especially of Ligia Maria Chaverra and Manuel Denis Blandon, with effective, direct, structural action on the paramilitary structures that operate in Nuevo Oriente, Mutatá, Pavarandocito, Belén de Bajirá, Playa Roja, Caracolí, Caño Manso, places known by military and police intelligence, places inhabited by those who benefit from paramilitarism, by the occupiers of bad faith in the palm plantations and new cattle ranches.
Immediate and full-throttled intervention of the executive is needed: on the 15th Brigade, with full and exact identification of the units that act in protection of illegality; immediate action against abuses of authority, abuse of functions on the part of the “Inspector” of Police of Belén de Bajirá, the Municipal Personero, and those responsible in the Riosucio City Council; on the palm extracting companies Bajirá and Urapalma for possible money laundering according to publicly known indications, regarding Villa Alejandra I and II; on the actions of Social Action that make possible the legalization of the illegal, the legitimization of unlawful actions against African Colombians, victims of dispossession; intervention of the Controller General’s Office is needed with respect to the resources offered by the Agrarian Bank to palm businesses for setting up criminal agribusinesses; and the Department of Environment urgently needs to attend to the serious consequences the business operations are leaving behind.
Today the development of a whole strategy of armed pressure continues, of administrative and judicial actions for social control that make possible the legalization of the violent usurpation of territories, the illegal implementation of agribusinesses like the African palm, the expansion of cattle raising and the processing of coca for illicit use.
In the face of serious attack, once again, we request, with vain hope, and as a witness before all humanity, we appeal to you, we demand of you, that you guarantee respect for human life, the restoration of the Territory to its legitimate owners.
All that can be seen in the Territory is destruction, pillage and corporate imposition through seduction, force and lies, making a mockery of recognition of land ownership. In spite of that fact that that all this contravenes internal constitutional provisions, international law, the conditionality of the United States with respect to palm and to human rights violations, the African Colombians and mestizos still do not enjoy the ancestral heritage of the Territory. What we see today is a tangle in which the rights of African Colombians only count as a symbolic efficacy behind which hide commercial, economic and business interests that have destroyed and that continue destroying the planet, human beings and human dignity.
With deep worry,
Interchurch Commission of Justice and Peace
Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz
translation by Duane Ediger