Friday, February 1, 2008

Colombia: paras linked to agbiz

In an interview published in [Bogota's] El Tiempo on December 22, [j]ournalist Yamid Amat asked: "What was it that the Attorney General's office discovered and is investigating in the Chocó?" and [Colombian] Attorney General Mario Iguarán replied: “The tragedy of the communities in the Jiguamiandó, Curvaradó [and] Domingodó river basins. In the '80s they suffered through the presence of the FARC and in the '90s that of the self-defense groups and the Castaño family. There are accusations that the self-defense groups threw people off their lands to eradicate the guerrilla groups. But there are indicators that these expulsions were not exactly to get rid of the guerrilla, but to take control of land that was owned by the community. After receiving hundreds of testimonies, carrying out judicial investigations at the palm oil companies, in banks, notaries and in the Registry public offices, the Attorney General's office just opened a formal investigation into the representatives of these companies." Read the full interview in Spanish here.

As part of the legal proceedings in case 3856, the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Special Invesitagions Unit of the Attorney General's office opened a formal investigation against 23 businessmen and land buyers from Antioquia whose companies occupy the collective territories of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó in the lower Atrato river region of Chocó. Among the crimes committed are forced displacement, land usurpation, falsifying public documents and crimes against the environment.

According to the information published in the newspaper, the actions of these businessmen are associated with the presence of paramilitaries in the region since 1996. Demobilized paramilitary boss Fredy Rendon Herrera alias "El Alemán," made declarations stating that the military control of the region happened as part of an operation carried out by the brothers Castaño Gil, and that it wasn’t until the year 2001, when african palm started being planted, that the area was given over to the control of the Elmer Cardenas block. Mario Iguaran affirmed in the interview "the paramilitaries weren't looking for anyone, but rather, people looked for them" (meaning it wasn't the companies which started their businesses and then found the paramilitaries to protect them, but the companies who sent the paramilitaries in to clear and take control of the land).

While this investigation is a positive step forward, the organization Justicia y Paz warns that the displaced communities still face risks as they affirm their rights to Life and Territory. Read the full communiqué of La Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz.

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