Impunity Eight Years After the Naya Massacre
Actualidad Étnica/Tejido de Comunicación de la ACIN
A ceremony commemorating the eighth anniversary of the Naya Massacre was held in the indigenous area of Kitek Kiwa, a flourishing land in the township of Timbío, Cauca. The massacre, which occurred on April 11, 2001, and during which more than 100 people were brutally assassinated and their bodies thrown into the Cauca River, was carried out by paramilitary groups in the jurisdiction of the township of Buenos Aires. Eight years later, the task of finding and identifying many of the victims in order to give them a proper burial has still not been completed.
Participating in the event last April 17 were some family members of victims of these crimes against humanity, social and popular organizations from the Cauca, representatives from the Prosecutor’s Office, Internal Affairs Agency and the Department of Defense as well as human rights organizations such as Minga and Justicia y Paz. The community was well represented especially by its women and children, and also by traditional leaders. Jerson Acosta was in charge of coordinating the event.
Voices of the Victims
The families of the victims first called for ending impunity and for all due clarification of the case, in order to judge those directly responsible for the massacre. They asked, as they always have, for truth, justice and guarantees that such actions would not be repeated, as well as for reparations for the victims because, as the majority asserted, “they’ve had lots of paperwork and run-arounds going from office to office, but there have never been any results.”
For this reason, they requested that a larger appropriation be given to the government agencies and non-governmental organizations handling the cases, to carry out justice and so that truth would prevail, in spite of the impunity they have seen during the past years and the magnitude of the reprisals. It is clear that the State does not guarantee that family members of the victims would be permitted to continue the legal proceedings before the appropriate authorities, so that each case would be investigated in a more efficient manner, and that it would be solved.
“The Colombian government has impeded any possibility of administering justice nationally through laws and decrees that go against fundamental principles, and it is a violator of international treaties and conventions, in spite of being a signatory of those documents. It employs mechanisms to prevent the truth from coming to light, such as democratic security and Plan Colombia, in order to control the territory by means of war. It also implements laws that forgive all acts committed by the government as well as legal and illegal armed groups and persons.
For instance, the Law of Justice and Truth that, besides undermining rights, discriminates through inequality of the conditions and opportunities for administering justice. Because it isn’t possible for a perpetrator to have an expert defense attorney to handle his or her case, while a citizen who is a victim of crimes against humanity is not offered this possibility. The government should guarantee a lawyer, so that conditions would be equal. Besides, “for the government these actions make no sense, because its priority is the drug trafficking and when we denounce these acts of violence, they call us–the victims--terrorists and guerrilleros,” stated Alex Quintero, representative of the Asociación del Alto Naya.
Testimony About Complicity
Alex Quintero tells the story of how the authorities protect the criminals: “In 2000, when the paramilitary groups arrived in the town of Timba, they went to the towns of Buenos Aires, Suárez, and Santander de Quilichao, and assassinated ordinary people, throwing them into the Cauca River from the Balsa bridge. These acts were denounced, but since nothing was done, people kept silent, afraid for their lives. During this time, the Cauca River became the largest cemetery in the country. Besides, the paramilitary groups had the freedom to mobilize in towns with no restrictions whatsoever. We would run into them 20 minutes after passing a military installation or a police station.”
“The country continues to live this scene of death and war. Those responsible are not judged or tried; instead, those who denounce these acts are investigated and even prosecuted for speaking out and bringing reality to light. How is it possible to say today that nobody saw that then? Let’s talk about the town of Timba, where the paramilitary groups drove through in 4 and even 6 trucks. There were camps where there were probably 1600 paramilitary personnel only 10 minutes from the Police Inspection Station of Robles, half an hour away from the town of Buenos Aires and 40 minutes away from the town of Santander de Quilichao.”
“They all cover for each other. I remember that they detained a peasant in an army camp because he wore boots. He was there until they dismantled the camp. The paramilitary groups arrived, took the man away, and threw him into the Balsa. I don’t understand why when today victims demand their rights, which we have done in different venues on the national and local levels, things that before seemed to improve have gotten worse. I have heard that they say that we talk too much and denounce things that didn’t happen, that nothing happens here. I have an investigative report done by the Cuerpo Técnico in Santander de Quilichao, in which they have identified a new armed group that travels around Morales, Timba Cauca, Lomitas, Honduras, and Palo Blanco. They have taken the area by force and said that we are liars; and in those same towns, in the procurator’s offices, there are already 50 threats from these groups.”
The Government’s Response
Faced with all this impunity and constant threats, participants in the commemoration, and especially family members of the victims, testified or ratified that the government has the obligation to make reparations and take into account their real need, and not come up with projects worked out in an office by those who do not know the reality of the victims.
“They put us in different towns to do a job and approve the project, and the result was that we gave them ideas but they weren’t taken into account. They approved it as they wished, for their convenience. Therefore, we reject this project of the law of victims, because it doesn’t reflect the community’s feeling. They want to intimidate us, saying that if we don’t fill out the forms we’ll be left with nothing. We are not interested in resources, we are interested in the truth, a worthwhile and collective reparation; that is the interest of the families of the victims,” emphasized Lisinia Collazos, leader of the Naya.
Just as Collazos brought to light all the paperwork they have had to file, without gaining anything, the Governor of Kitek Kiwe town asked that the victims’ voices be heard, that they not be used only to obtain resources. They are doing everything possible to rebuild their way of life, destroyed so barbarically that April 11, in the middle of Holy Week: “The social fabric of the Naya should be reconstructed based on the community’s needs and not coming from government offices. We will continue to push for our demands from the framework of the Social and Communitarian Effort. For that reason, I invite you to participate in collective work in the Naya so that our case is made stronger and all the orphans and widows might have a life of dignity,” said Jerson Acosta.
As family members of victims communicated their great pain to the community and those government agencies present, they committed themselves to supporting and aiding the pending cases until they are properly resolved. Then the government delegates swore to the community that they would continue to actively search for the truth, saying also that it was a long process because they were carrying out in-depth investigations, in order to see that justice and proper reparations are given to the victims: “Of the cases we have, until now 80 people have been tried and we will continue investigating, in order to punish all those who committed the crimes,” declared Carlos Alberto Camargo Hernández, delegate of the DDHH of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
In this context of impunity and displacement, the victims have succeeded in reorganizing themselves and following traditional leadership, in order to continue their communitarian life style, working on an educational level to reinforce their language, usages, and customs. This work was reflected, for instance, notably with children, who at the beginning of the event sang the ational Anthem and the Anthem of the Child of the Cauca in Nasayuwe.
Because of this, they have developed several programs to reinforce their life style, such as: youth, environment, land, nutrition, production, education, identity and culture, social wellbeing and living, and communication, so that they are not silenced. These programs are developed with all those who live in these areas, for the benefit of all, so that their fabric of life, which calls for solidarity, continues to develop.
A delicious sancocho [meat and vegetable stew] was prepared by and for the community members who live on a ranch in the township of Timbío, where 70 families of the 6,000 displaced persons in the region of the Naya live. The meal followed speeches and clear commitments to continue to monitor this community’s situation: “It makes me sad to think about the compañeros and compañeras who could not come because of the distance and lack of resources; they remained in the region of the Naya, but next year we will do everything possible to meet there,” declared again Lisinia Collazos.
After lunch, everyone marched to the park one kilometer away, to pay homage to the victims of the Massacre. There, in a symbolic act, the community placed themselves around some rocks on which were inscribed the names of the assassinated people. They spoke, sang, and shared a spiritual moment in harmony with all. And so ended the commemoration of the massacre of the Alto Naya.