Pilgrimage for Peace on 50th Anniversary of Camilo Torres’ Death
And if the local residents there had allowed them to do it, even if they didn’t agree. And if people would stop killing others for thinking differently – which would be a novelty for Colombia.
The good news is that nothing bad happened on Sunday. But the step forward that the diplomat who spoke to IPS hoped for was not achieved either. A major police operation kept the caravan from reaching Patio Cemento.
The ESMAD national anti-riot police blocked the highway. A team of judicial police were ready to “take legal action against anyone on either side who causes a provocation.” And there were members of different police forces, anti-guerrilla army troops with blackened faces, and representatives of the ombudsperson’s office.
But everyone except the members of ESMAD greeted the people in the caravan cordially.
The complications had begun two weeks earlier, when the Patio Cemento family hosting the event began to be “pressured and harassed,” according to Robledo.
“We came as emissaries of peace, and that is the main thing for us. We want the inspirational figure of Camilo Torres to bring the government and the ELN to the negotiating table,” he said.
The peace talks between the government and the country’s main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which took up arms in 1964, are expected to lead to a peace deal in the next few months.
But formal negotiations with the ELN, which launched a 48-hour offensive that coincided with the anniversary of Camilo’s death, do not seem likely to start soon.
In the meantime, near the spot where Camilo was shot down, some 200 local residents were holding signs to protest the commemoration of his death.
But Marta Cárdenas, a local peasant farmer who came to talk to the people on the pilgrimage in the town of Yarima, told IPS with a smile that “They’re not opposed; they’re scared that the peace that we have been experiencing lately will vanish and the conflict will flare up again.
“Since the 1980s, this area has experienced the worst massacres in the country, and we want to keep living in peace.
“It was us, the small farmers, who stayed here and experienced the cruelty. We were the ones who were killed: they murdered our sons, our husbands, our families. We are putting our hopes on peace and reparations because all of us are peasants and in a war the only ones who suffer are the poor,” she added.
The chapter “The Chucureño model of paramilitarism” in the book “Debt to humanity: state paramilitarism” published in 2004 by the Databank of the Centre for Popular Research and Education (CINEP), describes what happened in this part of the country.
In this area under the jurisdiction of the fifth army brigade, the right-wing paramilitaries forced all civilians to align themselves with them from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. They forced local residents to make regular payments to them, and all young men were obligated to undergo military training. That way no one could be neutral, CINEP explains in the book.
The first paramilitary base was established in 1981, across the Cascajales River, in the village of San Juan Bosco de la Verde, in Opón municipality. Later, the group took the name Los Macetos and spread to San Vicente de Chucurí and El Carmen, part of the municipality where Camilo Torres died.
The marriage between the military and the paramilitaries operated openly for 15 years. When a prosecutor ordered the capture of 26 members of the paramilitaries, in 1992, the military staged an uprising to prevent their capture, with the help of journalists who acted as “accomplices” in Bogotá, launching a smear campaign against those who were speaking out against the paramilitaries, according to CINEP.
The 1991 to 1993 reports by the humanitarian Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace provided names, dates and locations in some 300 murders committed by the paramilitaries in the municipalities of El Carmen and San Vicente de Chucurí. In addition, 4,000 people were forcibly displaced from that area.
Meanwhile, the province of Mares, between Barrancabermeja and the centre of Santander, was the chief stronghold of the ELN between 1980 and 1992. Around 1990 the FARC and the ELN were both active in El Carmen de Chucurí.
But after pressure from the army between 1991 and 1995 and a simultaneous paramilitary offensive, the paramilitaries were in power by 1998, says Ariel Ávila, an academic, while the influence of the guerrillas declined in the surrounding rural area, after the severe beating they took.
In 2000 there was a second paramilitary offensive throughout the province, but this time it did not target guerrillas but civilians who thought differently – until they finished them off.
That is why it was strange to see a large banner held up by several local residents of El Carmen in their protest against the visiting caravan, which said the town has been living in peace “for 16 years.”
In any case, the conflict over the homage paid to Camilo Torres leaves many unanswered questions.
“This shows that peace isn’t just an agreement between the leaders; it has to flow down to the regions and the local level,” psychologist Hernando Gómez Serrano, one of the organisers of the pilgrimage, told IPS.
“People can’t just come from outside and say: ‘we’re going to hold a ceremony of reconciliation and meet with you’ when there’s still a lot of pain.Many people have been killed and the wounds are still open,” he said.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes
Pictures for this story
This story includes downloadable print-quality images — Copyright IPS, to be used exclusively with this story.
- Catholic priest Alberto Franco (left) and Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, during a mass celebrated Feb. 14 on the road to Patio Cemento in the northeastern Colombian department of Santander, where Camilo Torres was killed in combat half a century ago on Feb. 15, 1966. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS