Last Updated:5/18/05
Diocese of Quibdó, Chocó: Second open letter to the Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, with regard to the crisis of state legitimacy in the Atrato region, April 27, 2005

(Translated by Catholic Relief Services / Versión en español disponible en el sitio dhcolombia.info)

Second open letter to the Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe Vélez,
with regard to the crisis of state legitimacy in the Atrato region
Quibdó, Chocó
27 April 2005


On 24 April 2004, Monsignor Fidel León Cadavid Marín, bishop of the diocese of Quibdó, personally delivered an open letter relating to the crisis of state legitimacy in the Atrato region of Colombia. The letter was signed by the Diocese of Quibdó, the regional indigenous organisation, OREWA, and the community council of the Afro-Colombian rural organisation, COCOMACIA.

The first letter expressed serious concerns over the security situation suffered by indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in the municipalities of Bojayá, Murindó, Vigía del Fuerte and Medio Atrato, exposed to potential attacks by guerrilla (FARC) and paramilitary groups (AUC), despite considerable deployment of state armed forces. The letter emphasised the undisguised tolerance, collusion and complicity of members of the armed forces with paramilitary groups.

Monsignor Fidel Cadavid also delivered a proposal for a humanitarian agreement, prepared over the course of two years by 47 NGOs from the department of Chocó and members of the Inter-ethnic Organisation "Solidarity for Chocó". The agreement is their contribution to building peace and humanising the conflict.

Today, one year on, the dioceses of Quibdó, Istmina- Tadó and Apartadó as well as the 47 organisations from the Inter-ethnic Organisation, sadly have to state that the situation of these communities, far from improving, has greatly worsened:

  • The police, navy and army have installed so many checkpoints along the River Atrato that it is very difficult, and on occasions, impossible for travellers to arrive at their destination before six o'clock in the evening. After this time, all transport along the river is prohibited by the armed forces. These exaggerated measures are doubly incomprehensible, considering that the rigorous controls are only applied to the civilian population and paramilitaries continue to move about with total freedom.
  • Paramilitaries belonging to the "Elmer Cárdenas" group move large numbers of troops and equipment along the River Atrato and its tributaries (Opogadó, Napipí and Bojayá), passing through many areas which are under control of the armed forces. However, the indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations living in areas with guerrilla presence have been subjected to severe restrictions which amount to a food blockade.
  • Between February and March this year, two thousand Afro-Colombians from the River Bojayá moved to the municipal capital of Bellavista in order to escape the cross fire as a result of the paramilitary advance and the FARC's presence along this river. The river's mouth is less than one kilometre away from Bellavista and Vigía del Fuerte. There is permanent police and army presence in both villages.
  • At Easter, paramilitaries took control of the lower part of the River Bojayá. Later, some members of the displaced communities from the villages of Corazón de Jesús, Caimanero, La Loma and Cuía went back to their land to pick crops and found that their houses had been sacked; doors, windows and several walls had been destroyed; community telephones had been damaged and thrown into the water and cattle and pigs belonging to the Agricultural Institute had been stolen.
  • Large-scale timber exploitation has begun along the Rivers Opogadó and Napipí, an area taken over by paramilitaries last year. This area is a collective territory belonging to the Afro-Colombian communities. No authority is restricting this illegal trade in timber.
  • Last March in Bellavista, paramilitaries confiscated timber being transported along the River Bojayá under the indolent gaze of the armed forces. The timber was being transported by an ex-member of the FARC militia, known as Chombo, who had given himself up to the army in November last year in Bellavista. After going to Riosucio, he came back two months later with a new identity.
  • On 20 March the army arbitrarily detained 16 rural inhabitants for 30 hours, among them three children, on the River Bebará, in the municipality of Medio Atrato. The members of the Afro-Colombian community had gone out that morning to go fishing and pick plantain. This abuse of authority caused panic among the communities living along the river Bebará as well as among their relatives in Quibdó.
  • Another ex-member of the FARC militia, known as Barbachita, gave himself up to the army in Boca de Bebará, in the municipality of Medio Atrato at the beginning of February. He is now free in Bellavista and working as an informant, causing concern among the displaced population.
  • In December last year, the army pulled out of Napipí, on the banks of the River Atrato, and allowed a paramilitary group to install itself in the village. On 3 April, a member of a paramilitary known as Escamoso, physically injured a 75 year old man in the village. The victim had to be taken to hospital in Quibdó.
  • On 18 April, paramilitaries controlling the River Bojayá robbed a generator belonging to the community's sugar mill as a result of the armed forces' negligence. The theft was carried out after the population had been forcibly displaced and had been seeking refuge in Bellavista since 14 February. The same paramilitary group is responsible for further damage and thefts, including cattle rustling and destroying community goods.
  • There has been no Human Rights Ombudsman in Bojayá for four months.
  • In November 2004, the FARC murdered Francisco Montoya, a priest from the diocese of Istmina - Tadó, when he was working with rural communities in the municipality of Nóvita. To date, it has not been possible to recover his body.

Our hope that last year's letter would provide the motivation for an initiative to end so many irregularities has been in vain. We ask ourselves with increasing concern: Who are the armed forces protecting and who are they fighting in the Atrato region? We continue to observe and suffer at first hand these absolutely unacceptable situations within a social state of law. Therefore, we reiterate our request from over a year ago:

1. Give the order to cease all irregularities which we have publicly stated time after time, over the last few years. Order the armed forces to act in accordance with their constitutional and legal mandate.

2. Order an investigation to establish the responsibility of state employees in undermining state legitimacy in the Atrato region through their attitudes of tolerance, collusion and complicity with paramilitaries groups.

3. Order the state institutions to begin investigations into the death of Francisco Montoya, the priest murdered by the FARC in November 2004 in the municipality of Nóvita. Do not let this crime go unpunished.

Mr. President: the indigenous, Afro-Colombian and mestizo communities will not stand any more abuses and aggressions. We want to live in peace within our territories; those that have been forcibly displaced wish to return as soon as possible. Therefore, we are requesting immediate, concrete actions so that our ancestral rights, recognised by the Colombian parliament, are not violated but efficiently defended by the government.

Yours faithfully,

Diocese of Quibdó
Diocese of Apartadó
Diocese of Istmina - Tadó
Inter-ethnic Organisation - Solidarity for Chocó

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