On July 8th, FORPP accompanied the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó in the commemoration of a massacre that occurred twenty-three years ago. The massacre, perpetrated by paramilitaries in the settlement of La Unión, occurred despite the presence of state military, and resulted in the loss of six young, innocent men. At the time of occurrence, the community had only recently returned from being forcibly displaced just a few months prior.
Days before the occurrence, military presence in the municipality began to grow and, on June 8th, 2000, twenty hooded, armed men entered the settlement of La Unión. They began by destroying local phone connections, leaving the community without a means of communication. Then, they gathered the entire community in the center of the village. They asked the community for its leaders, but the community only responded:
“We are all leaders”
The hooded armed group finally selected six young men and killed them in the city center, while a helicopter repeatedly flew over the settlement.
Recalling the incident, a then-young Peace Community member said: “The day they died could have been my day. I was in the house. I could not flee – because I thought about it – but this day, it was not me. I stayed in the house, locked up. I thought there was combat, because of the amount of gun shots”.
Since its foundation in 1997, commemoration acts have been an essential part of the community. Written on one of the signs at the main entrance is the message: “To commemorate is to engage with the Present. Hence, commemorating the massacre of the 8th of July, as well as the commemoration site itself, sends a constant reminder: Never again.
While Peace Community members remember with anguish how they tried to protect the six bodies in the center of the village – precisely where they installed the commemoration site – they reflect with distress on the present. Recruitments of the AGC (Gaitanista Self-Defense Group) in the region have been directed at an alarming number of youth, which often get killed either in combats, or due to selective assassinations – often seen as social cleansing. Only three weeks ago, a young resident of the region was killed and at least two others had to leave the region due to threats. Peace Community members claim: perhaps the forms of killings have changed, but the violence continues just the same.