Community of Pitalito, Colombia, ordered to leave weeks after returning to their lands
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Several members of the farming community of Pitalito, along with attorney Rommel Durán Castellanos, a member of the voluntary legal support team of the FCSPP; the press team of MOVICE, the Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes; an independent journalist; and international members of Colectivo Sur Cacarica, affiliated with the Coordinación Valenciana de Solidaridad con Colombia coalition (Spain), went yesterday, December 4, to Vereda Pitalito in order to check on the status of the community's subsistence crops and to produce a photographic and audiovisual record of the situation at the site.
The MOVICE press team and the independent journalist were on a specific mission to document the vulnerable status of the Pitalito community as well as cases of human rights violations against these people, who have been displaced from their land.
The delegates left Curumaní at around 1:45 in the afternoon, giving prior notice of their destination to the regional office of the ombudsman (defensoría del pueblo). At the site, the delegation divided into two groups. One went out to the field where the corn and squash crops were planted while three people – attorney Durán, a member of Colectivo Sur Cacarica, and a community member – stayed near the site where the homes are built.
At about 3:40 in the afternoon, an employee of Juan Manuel Fernández de Castro who identified himself as Juan, accompanied by his son, approached the attorney and, in a threatening tone, accused him of having killed a goat belonging to him, which is untrue.
At 4:05 in the afternoon, at the same site, two men armed with machetes arrived. They approached the party aggressively, asking why they were there and on whose orders. In response to questions from the delegation, one of them identified himself as Jorge (although the community knows him as Rogelio, one of the guajiros who were present in 2010) and said he worked for Juan Manuel Fernández de Castro. This person tried to intimidate the members of the delegation, threatening to confiscate the cell phone being used by attorney Durán to take pictures of the site.
At that point, the man identified as Jorge went towards the van owned by the community, took out a revolver, and fired at the ground, very close to the vehicle's front tire. Attorney Durán approached the individual, observing that he kept a revolver tucked into his belt. The man named Jorge threateningly told the human rights defender to leave.
The two individuals then went out towards the other subgroup of delegates, followed by the attorney. Minutes later, two shots were heard, followed almost immediately by two more (four shots in total). The shots were aimed at the place where the community members, the MOVICE press team, and independent journalist were standing. At that moment, they were filming and recording so as to leave a record of what these individuals had done. The individuals proceeded to run away into the brush.
Later, around 4:20 in the afternoon, when the two subgroups of the delegation reunited, one more shot was heard.
The delegation observed that the crops had been destroyed. Some had been chopped down with machetes, while the rest had been eaten by livestock. The fencing, however, remained intact, indicating that the animals had been let in on purpose. All of the community's crops were gone.
We fear for the lives and safety of the members of the Pitalito farming community and the people accompanying them. We call urgently on the Government of Colombia to put an end to these acts of aggression, to investigate and dismantle the paramilitary structures operating in the central region of the Department of Cesar, and to punish exemplarily the local officials who, on October 25, effected the displacement of the community following an illegal expulsion order.
Bogotá, 4 December 2013
Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)
Equipo Jurídico Pueblos (EJP)
Movimiento de Trabajadores Campesinos y Comunidades del Cesar (MTCC)
Juan Manuel Fernández de Castro's workers