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COLOMBIA
“An eternal battle against oblivion”
Jenny Manrique
8/31/2009
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Project seeks to preserve memories of paramilitary’s victims.

This time, it was not trucks filled with paramilitaries that rolled through Mapiripán in the central Meta department. Twelve years after 49 residents were killed and some 100 others were disappeared after a massacre by paramilitaries in this little town, a caravan of close to 400 civilians arrived through the waters of the Guaviare River to ensure the memory of the victims is preserved.

These people didn´t come either from Urabá, in the north, where in July 1997, two planes of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC paramilitary group, took off to destroy what they and military intelligence said was an enclave of guerrilla collaborators.

This past July 20, while the country celebrated the anniversary of its independence from Spain, an umbrella group of social organizations launched the Caravan of Memory for Life and Peace, where they headed to this town in southern Colombia. After the eight-hour journey from Bogota to San José del Guaviare and another 12 hours by boat to Mapiripán, the group, an initiative of the Victims of Crimes by the State Movement, completed on its own one of the numerous reparations ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to the Colombian government four years ago: a monument to the victims.

“This monument is raising a hand in protest to this horrendous massacre and it is a symbol of the future,” said Luis Alberto Castañeda, its sculptor, when the monument was unveiled where the paramilitaries threw their victims in the Guaviare River.

Unfulfilled resolutions
In September 2005, the Inter-American Court ordered Colombia´s government to give reparations for the victims´ family members, because the massacre had been carried out with the army´s approval.

In a ruling on July 8, the court said Colombia had failed to fulfill the original ruling and condemned it for extraditing paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso in 2008 to the United States, despite the fact that he faced serious human rights charges back home.

“This mobilization should have been called by the state itself, which should also repair the fundamental rights of this town,” said Rosa Giraldo, of the Manos Limpias Foundation. “But today, there is no safe drinking water, no electricity in this town. The health post has good doctors but no equipment.”

Her protest echoes what the residents do not dare to say. Fear and silence still reign in this village. While some residents joined the Caravan, recreating scenes of pain and death from 12 years ago, others refuse to talk about what happened.

“When [the paramilitaries] arrived to the town ready to take the campesinos out to hack them with machetes, we had to cover their faces so they wouldn´t see. Many were witnesses [however], and are traumatized,” said a Guayaberos indigenous woman who asked to be identified only as Nely.

Military presence
Since five years ago, members of the Joaquín París army battalion monitor from two posts this town of some 13,000 people.

“The army´s arrival has brought panic to this town so that no one would comment about what is happening even now. Yesterday, a pamphlet from the Águilas Negras paramilitary group was handed out because they knew about the Caravan,” said Claudio Bestiques.

“We continue to be under threat from paramilitarism. The state of war has not dissipated since the 1990s when this town had a lot more political power with the now-defunct leftist group Unión Patriótica,” said Pedro Antonio Quinche, member of the Displaced Population Association of Guaviare. “They have always painted us as guerrillas or drug-traffickers.”

Members of the Peace Observatory, an international group that often works with non-violent resistance groups, turned into police a suspicious man who identified himself as a military intelligence agent who was taking photographs at the San José del Guaviare colisseum, where the caravan passed to hold a vigil for the massacre victims and cultural activities for children who have been exposed to violence over the years.

Nely, a member of the Town Council on the Displaced Population, says that in mid-July, 57 families, mostly indigenous, arrived in Mapiripán, alarmed by anti-personnel mines in areas such as Puerto Alvira, Vista Hermosa and Uribe. According to the United Nations, 23 towns in Meta are littered with those devices, largely placed by Colombia´s largest guerrilla group: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

“We don´t have adequate highways to send products, and our lands are being held by the land-holders,” she said. “It´s not only a massacre that happened here. It´s an eternal battle against oblivion and all violent groups.” —Latinamerica Press.


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Family members of the Mapiripán continue to wait for justice 12 years later. (Photo: Jenny Manrique)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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