Colombia: forgotten war in Putumayo

A letter sent to the Colombia Support Network in Madison, WI, from local campesino activsts in Putumayo, Colombia’s Amazon rainforest department bordering Ecuador:

Mocoa, January 25, 2006

Beginning in December of 2005 the FARC-EP began a series of attacks upon the infrastructure of the Department of Putumayo, choosing different points supposedly to weaken the present government, among them the towers which take high voltage electricity to Putumayo communities, bridges on different roads and oil wells and the trans-Andean pipeline.

In the space of 15 days they dynamited electric towers twelve times, oil wells five times, dynamiting every 800 meters the pipeline which transports crude oil between a site in Orito denominated El Guarumo and the police station of Santana near Puerto Asis. And they dynamited bridges and roads in three places.

The other phenomenon is a so called “forced general strike”, which is called for by the guerrillas and promptly spread throughout all the corners of the department by means of two media; a frightened community on the roads by the burning of vehicles (cars and motorcycles – 17 in one month) and some written messages sent by the said armed organization to the transport businesses.

Confronted by these attacks, the government through the military forces responds with the same warlike mechanism : militarization of strategic places throughout the department. However the situation continues, because at a mere two kilometers from the Army post the guerrillas burnt a tank truck (on the road to Pitalito), since it only takes two or three men to set fire to a vehicle or to dynamite a section of the oil pipeline, which is sufficient to stop any movement of the community which is caught in the crossfire.

…One voice is heard throughout the communities saying that the paramilitaries are about to demobilize and the guerrillas are collecting their debts before the paramilitary [surrender] to the government, and for that reason they have established controls in many places murdering those who have served or are serving the paramilitaries. The same thing is being done by the paramilitaries who are counter-attacking this position murdering peasants who leave the countryside for the city.

The places most affected during the end of last year and at the beginning of 2006 were the following ; Puerto Colon de San Miguel (in the border with Ecuador), Valle del Guamuez, especially the section between the settlement of La Raya and Guarumo on the road to Orito, the town of Orito itself, including the section between Guarumo and the police station of Buenos Aires and Puerto Asis, and also the road from La Carmelita to Teteye which also is a port on the border with Ecuador.

[Through] January 20th, dead persons were frequently found on the road. [O]n January 15 between Guarumo and the unincorporated town of San Andres, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon in an abandoned wooden house that had been a guerrilla checkpoint, five dead persons, three inside (a man, a woman and a young man) and two behind the house, were found. [P]assengers who were searched at the guerilla check-point say that they witnessed the deed. Peasants from the rural areas belonging to the unincorporated town of Carmelita also reported some persons disappeared, mentioning cases from Horizonte and La Manuela.

There are some places in the department which are strategic for the armed groups, as much for the guerillas as for the paramilitaries because they are corridors which connect one region to another. These are centers of concentration of natural resources, or are strategic frontier territories. The peasant community living there has to suffer the capricious treatment, demands and abuses of the armed groups both legal and illegal. There they have initiated combats, skirmishes, kidnappings, extortions and murders.

In all of Putumayo we have felt obligated by the illegal armed group FARC-EP to stop our activities, to be confined to our residences… [T]hey wish to alter our freedom to live in a territory which has always been ours, because it has served us as our home, it is our mother who gave birth to us and who feeds us relying upon our effort and initiative… According to them, the general strike is not ended, that the strongest part is still to come… [T]hey have said to some peasant communities, they will not stop sabotaging the coming elections in March. The warning is that the peasants have only until next Sunday to obtain the food staffs they need… [M]any people are afraid on what may come.

We at Pastoral Social have the great hope that the coming moments will be different. For that reason we need the attention of national and international organizations to intervene on behalf of the communities to establish contingency programs which avoid or at least mitigate the suffering of those who suffer with neither fault nor reason.

At this moment and as a consequence of the forced general strike there are more than 2,000 families located in the lower Putumayo especially along the Putumayo, Guamuez and San Miguel rivers, who are suffering a crisis for lack of food, who live in zones where there is a restriction on river movement. In addition, some bridges have been destroyed and on top of all this, the government has implemented coca crop-spraying with glyphosphate, also affecting the food crops of the peasantry…

We ask national and international institutions to pay attention to the movements which may occur in our department in these days and to be moved by their generosity to help those who lack basic necessities, especially in health, food and housing.


See our last post on Colombia.