The Lack of Guarantees for Victims of Crimes of State: Persecution of the Sucre
Chapter of MOVICE
(Translated by Stacey Schlau, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
“We continue to demand that the State protect our lives; it is our right, even more in our situation and we also make the State responsible ahead of time for anything that may happen to any of us.”
Family Members of Eudaldo Díaz February 17, 2010
At the end of February 2010, the former Congressional representative Álvaro García Romero became the first lawmaker in history found guilty for his involvement in forming self-defense groups in Sucre, diverting public funds to finance them, being one of the participants in the bloody incursion into Macayepo, and for the assassination of a ballot supervisor in San Onofre (Sucre). During the trial, the court brought to light the perverse triunvirate made up of the rancher Joaquín García, the former governor Salvador Arana, and “Fatty” García, who used to meet in the Los Ángeles, La 70, and El Palmar ranches. In El Palmar, the Justice Department has found more than 500 mass graves, because it was the torture center of the paramilitary chief Rodrigo Mercado Peluffo, alias “Cadena.” A few months earlier, on December 3, 2009, the former governor of the Department of Sucre, Salvador Arana Sus, was sentenced to 40 years of prison for the crimes of conspiracy to commit crimes, forced aggravated disappearance, and aggravated homicide of the former mayor of the township of El Roble, Eudaldo Díaz Salgado. President Uribe named the former governor of Sucre, Salvador Arana, as ambassador to Chile just after the homicide.
In the Department of Sucre, paramilitarism deeply entrenched itself into political, economic, and social life. Since 2006, 35 politicians (2 governors, 4 congressional representatives, 3 senators, and 7 deputies, among others) have been investigated by the Supreme Court of the Justice and Attorney General’s Department, for their connections to paramilitary groups. Between 1994 and 2008, when these people had public appointments, the Department saw massacres like the one in Ovejas (January 16, 2000, 42 dead) and the one in Chengue (January 17, 2001, 31 dead). The Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations in Colombia declared at that time: “In these massacres there are strong indications of direct responsibility of public officials in the region, both civilian and military.” Nevertheless, in spite of the arrests and the supposed process of paramilitary demobilization, the paramilitary structures remain in place in the region.
The Sucre chapter of MOVICE emerged as a challenge to the impunity and entrenchment of paramilitarism in the political, economic, and social life of the Department. It is based on the experiences of human rights, social, and political opposition organizations, which have been working in the Department for decades. In August of 2006, members of the Sucre chapter of MOVICE marched in Sincelejo to denounce the resurgence of paramilitarism in the region. As a result of this civilian demonstration, serious threats proliferated against defenders and victims of the Chapter, and a list of people to be eliminated was said to exist, apparently made up by the politicians in the region. Therefore on November 8, 2006, the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (DDHH) offered precautionary measures to 17 social leaders, among them Carmelo Agámez, Juan David Díaz, and Ingrid Vergara.
On November 27, 2006, the Sucre chapter of MOVICE, as part of its strategy of fighting against impunity and for the right to truth, together with the DDHH Commission of the Senate, held a Civilians’ Hearing for the Truth in the township of San Onofre. 1500 people attended and almost 300 accusations of violations of the DDHH and acts of corruption were reported. As a result of the accusations offered in the Hearing, several paramilitary members, politicians, and the former mayor of San Onofre, Jorge Blanco Fuentes, were arrested. After the Hearing, harrassment of members of MOVICE increased, which caused the forced displacement of about fifteen members of the Sucre chapter to other parts of the country and, in one case, exile.
As a result of their work accusing and making visible the paramilitary infiltration of local and regional politics, aggression and threats against members of the Sucre chapter of MOVICE have been constant. MOVICE has been able to compile a list of more than 50 aggressive acts against its members in Sucre since its formation in 2006, among which include: attacks, assassinations of protected persons, illegal home invasions, direct threats, threats to family members, judicial assemblies, arrests, designations, and intimidation. Those who have done outstanding work in the chapter find themselves in a situation in which their lives and physical wellbeing are at grave risk; currently, they are: Ingrid Vergara, Juan David Díaz, and Carmelo Agámez Berrio, and their families.
The Díaz Family
Juan David Díaz, son of the former mayor of El Roble, assassinated on April 10, 2003, on the day that his father was killed, was threatened by persons who told him that he should leave Sucre within 24 hours. “They have tried to kill me on the streets. They have threatened and persecuted me, and they have told me to abandon the area or the same thing will happen to me as happened to my father, because I continue to accuse paramilitary groups and to work for justice. But I will not leave Sucre, because I must raise the flag that my father tried to raise, and that was destroyed.”1 In October 2009, in an e-mail, they told him that if Salvador Arana’s sentence was carried out, “for us too there would be one.” The Díaz family has seen an increase in threats since the sentencing of Arana.
1 “Inheritors of the Paramilitary Groups,” Human Rights Watch, February 2010.
In November 2008 the technical secretary of the Sucre chapter of MOVICE, Carmelo Agámez Berrio, was arrested because of drummed-up charges in which he was accused of belonging to the paramilitary structures. The criminal case against Carmelo Agámez has been subject to many violations of due process and judicial guarantees to the defense, because of which Carmelo filed a lawsuit, resolved in his favor on May 13 in a judgment in which the Criminal Section of the Superior Court of Sincelejo recognized the violation of fundamental rights of due process. In July 2009, the federal Attorney General promulgated a resolution in which a criminal disciplinary investigation was ordered against the prosecutor who opened the case against Agámez, for presumed acts of corruption in connection with his case against the defender of human rights. In spite of all the irregularities in the case, on November 6, 2009, it was decided that the defender of human rights would be indicted and brought to trial for the crime of which he was originally accused.
On December 14, a motion to appeal the order against Carmelo Agámez was filed with the federal Assistant Attorney General. With this motion, we request the revocation of the indictment, as well as his immediate release.
On December 31, 2009, at 7:30 am, Ingrid Vergara got a call on her cell phone from a restricted number in which a man with a coastal accent said, “where are you going, bitch?” and then hung up. At that time, Ingrid Vergara was outside of Sincelejo because of the harrassment that her 14 year-old daughter had experienced in October of 2009.
During the evening hours of February 5, 2010, the spokesperson for the Sucre chapter of MOVICE, Ingrid Vergara, was at a meeting with a friend who looks a lot like her. That day they were dressed very similarly. The friend left the meeting and took a motorcycle taxi home. The driver noticed that two men on a motorcycle were following her. They sped up and one of the men took out a gun and pointed it at Ingrid’s friend. When he saw her face, he lowered the gun, and the motorcycle disappeared. That same day Ingrid Vergara and her friend had been working on various projects for MOVICE, among which was the establishment of the right to petition of Iván Cepeda, spokesperson of MOVICE, asking the governor to resign, because of his presumed connections with paramilitary groups and the removal of the pictures of parapoliticians from the State Capitol.
Although Ingrid Vergara, Carmelo Agámez Berrio, and Juan Davíd Díaz have in place the precautionary measures of the Interamerican Commission of DDHH, they have complained about their lack of adequate protection to the government since 2006, and at no time have the facts and those responsible for the threats and aggressive acts been clarified. This level of impunity severely affects the work of defenders of human rights in MOVICE in Sucre.
We demand that:
- The Colombian government offer the necessary measures to protect the lives and physical wellbeing of Ingrid Vergara, Carmelo Agámez Berrio, Juan David Díaz, and their families.
- The Colombian judicial system guarantee transparent and just actions and to withdraw the charges against Carmelo Agámez and that it proceed to free him immediately.
- The Attorney General’s office immediately and effectively investigate the facts that involve the members of the Sucre chapter of MOVICE so that those responsible may be sanctioned.