New threats have been made against the members of the Aragón and Valenzuela families, only days after the killing of Christian Aragón Valenzuela, a 17-year-old adolescent, who tried to resist forced recruitment by illegal paramilitary groups. His friend Sol Ángel Mina was also killed while trying to help Christian. They were in the neighborhood of La Playita in the city of Buenaventura. The recent threats are aimed against the father and even mention accompaniers:
“These sons of bitches thought we couldn’t, but we already took one out, now we will go for the dad and we will push anybody aside, even if it means the accompaniers, we are doing it, we are going, we are law.”
The Colombian state has responded to Buenaventura’s increased violence in recent years, which has lately caught international attention (read the Human Rights Watch report and a recent New York Times article) with an increase of police and military forces in the city. Despite their presence, violence in the street increased, according to the inhabitants of these vulnerable neighborhoods. One of the affected streets has been Puente Nayero, where a “chop-house” caused residents to live in terror. In chop-houses people were tortured and dismembered to death. In April last year, inhabitants and neighbors of Puente Nayero burnt down one of these chop-houses and transformed, with the help of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission the street with its two adjacent wooden bridges and houses into a humanitarian space, a space free of illegal armed actors in one of the most violent cities of the world.
Several families, including the Aragón and Valenzuela families from the neighboring street, Punta Icaco, have supported Puente Nayero, the first urban humanitarian space inaugurated in 2014. The Aragón and Valenzuela families are also amongst those actively resisting cooptation, forced recruitment and the abuse of young women by illegal armed groups exerting social control. Several people from Punta Icaco have been killed in this struggle. In April 2014, the son of Yuri Marcela Jiménez, was dismembered and killed. One year ago, paramilitaries tried to recruit and finally killed Óscar, son of Maria Nieves Torres, one of the threatened leaders and human rights defenders from Punta Icaco. In April of this year, a salesman of Punta Icaco was killed, most likely because he refused to pay the “vacunas” (extortions that illegal armed groups force traders to pay). Punto Icaco is a trading hub where goods that come from the rivers surrounding the city of Buenaventura are unloaded.
Over the last few years, the families Valenzuela and Aragón have been trying to create alternatives for local youth, a life based on non-violence, and self-determination. Soon afterwards the families started receiving threats from BACRIM groups (the post-demobilization criminal gangs named BACRIM for their acronym in Spanish or neo-paramilitaries), illegal armed groups fighting for control over the neighborhoods.
Buenaventura is Colombia’s largest port city: 60% of all goods entering and exiting via the ocean go through this port). Yet 80.6% of the population lives in poverty with 47.32% in the region do not have their basic needs met. The population of the area (a man-made island that was made by paving over trash) has grown in the last seven years from 30,000 to 110,000 personas with more than 98% being Afrocolombians, forced out of their rural river communities by violence. The island is threatened by the port and tourism project “Bahia de la Cruz,” whose realization will displace the people who live there.
That’s what members of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community in Colombia have had to face just in the past month.
Germán GracianoOn July 30 and July 31, Germán Graciano (right), a peace community leader, received phone calls from men who identified themselves as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary group. The paramilitaries demanded he start collaborating with them or “purchase coffins for himself and his family.”