'The chaos of the war': the actions of the FARC and the links of the Convivir with the paramilitaries

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Between 1991 and 2002 there was a series of circumstances and armed actors that made the Truth Commission call that decade with a distinctive name in the face of the increase of victims of the conflict


Lizeth J. Piza

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‘The chaos of war’: the actions of the FARC and the links of the Convivir with paramilitarism

The Cooperatives Surveillance and Security (Convivir) played an essential role in the escalation of the war between 1991 and 2002 in Antioquia, south of Córdoba and the Bajo Atrato in Choco. (Infobae, Jesús Avilés)

“The blood storm raged on for so long that we turned a deaf ear to the war.” Thus began the story of Parmenides, one of the victims of the armed conflict in the Urabá subregion who gave her testimony to the Truth Commission. After 1988 she moved to the Apartadó municipality, Antioquia , and “although we knew that danger was still on the horizon, we had nowhere else to go.”

The threat between life and death was even clearer in the early morning of January 23, 1994. The La Chinita neighborhood—now known as Obrero— went from dressing up for a party to remembering that date as the one on which one of the worst massacres committed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). “We feel like mice in a laboratory of death,” said Parmenides.

According to the Verdad Abierta portal, The massacre began at 1:30 in the morning and one of the witnesses assured that “within seconds the bursts could be heard, because they were not shots, they were like shots after shots.” For his part, the person interviewed by the Truth Commission indicated that the guerrillas belonged to the Fifth Front of that guerrilla: “there were about 20 of them and they were hell-bent on looking for demobilized members of the EPL, alleged traitors of the revolution”, although the bullets ended up affecting civilians.

“Out of nowhere they started shooting at all of us,” recalled the victim, who was working at the time on banana plantations. “35 people were assassinated without any explanation that day”, highlighted Parmenides and, as the Commission acknowledged, these actions were related to the demobilization of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) in 1991.

In the territorial volume Colombia Adentro, the entity explained that with the agreement signed with said group the political party Hope, Peace and Freedom; however, “the festival of hope did not last long,” since the disarmament process had several setbacks with the reincorporation into civilian life. Some began to form dissident groups that later ended up in guerrillas or paramilitary groups, while the demobilized and civilians suffered harassment.

“The FARC had declared a military objective to anything that seems to be counterrevolutionary, paramilitary or infiltrated by the State,” commented Parmenides regarding the La Chinita massacre—. This is how many innocent people were unjustly killed.” The armed group set its sights on the neighborhood due to the support given by Esperanza, Paz y Libertad to the homeless workers who occupied the area and who worked on the banana farms.

That massacre was the first in a series of attacks on banana farms in the early 1990s; On the other hand, the Farc was not the only guerrilla group involved. The Commission also mentioned the Bolivarian militias of the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Coordinator (CGSB) and the caraballista dissidents of the EPL.

These actions added to those of the paramilitary groups and the Surveillance Cooperatives and Security (Living Together) led the entity to describe the decade from 1991 to 2002 as the chaos of war.

The Data from the Single Registry of Victims (RUV) demonstrate the magnitude of the tragedy in Antioquia, south of Córdoba and the Bajo Atrato Chocoano: There were 1,103,385 victims, which represents an increase of more than 600% compared to the 183,280 people affected between 1977 and 1991.

‘The chaos of war’: the actions of the FARC and the links of the Convivir with paramilitarism

Victims of selective murders in the region of Antioquia, south of Córdoba and Bajo Atrato (1991−2002). (Truth Commission) actions of the Farc, and formed the Popular Commands. According to the entity that was born with the Final Peace Agreement, they not only faced the guerrillas, but also consolidated themselves as one of the “bases of the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU) , created in 1995.”

That transition occurred thanks to the Convivir. A couple of years later they would do the same so that these paramilitaries would group together in the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), under the command of Carlos Castaño, Salvatore Mancuso and other local leaders.

“It is known that in Urabá and in the south of Córdoba, various military commanders walked hand in hand with the paramilitaries,” Parmenides said, indicating that the objective was “to exterminate those of us who fought for land, the trade unionists, the leaders left”. They told hacienda workers that “the paramilitaries had come to put things in order” and they did.

“They imposed a new order on the region. A new order of terror, dispossession and pain, ”he added.

The Commission specified that the Convivir began by Decree Law 256 of 1994, signed by former President César Gaviria. During the mandate of Ernesto Samper they were regulated, while receiving the support of the then governor of Antioquia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Between 1994 and 1997 there were at least 414 Living together in Colombiaand, with the endorsement of the Government of Antioquia (1995-1997), they were even granted legal status. “Everything must be said,” said Parmenides, “it was the governments that created those policies that allowed the paramilitaries to run around their house like dogs.”

These security groups had weapons, money, clothing and support in intelligence operations. They had the backing of businessmen, regional politicians and the armed forces. So much so that they focused on attacking social expressions considering them as insurgent actions and, as a consequence, a wave of violence arose that affected the banana industry and alternative political sectors such as the Patriotic Union (UP).

One ​​of the top commanders of the ACCU described to the Commission its way of operating as “part of a gear”. If the Army or the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) did not achieve something, “we can do it as Convivir, and if we cannot, we look for the Self-Defense Forces.” They began to win the territorial dispute with this increase in the use of violence.

“That discourse of the heavy hand, of democratic security gave them impetus”, stated Parmenides.

Despite state and guerrilla coercion, the civilian population tried to resist. According to the Commission, they created movements for peace, for nonviolent resistance, and developed peace programs and human rights and women's movements to denounce impunity and forced displacement; however, as one of the victims said, “fear was combined with sadness and pain.”