COLOMBIA: El Guayabo Eviction Suspended

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CPTnet

10 July 2017

COLOMBIA: El Guayabo Eviction Suspended

Last week, the eviction
ordered for July 5 in El Guayabo was suspended after the Inspector General and
Public Advocate offices in Bogotá warned that the human rights of the residents
of El Guayabo would be at high risk of violation.

In January, the local
court in Puerto Wilches, the municipal center for El Guayabo, ruled in favor of
Rodrigo López Henao, in his claim to
ownership
of the San Felipe parcel of land of which 150 families
have been dependent on for the last 30 years. While the residents of El Guayabo
were only notified of the eviction on June 30th they have been living with the
potential threat of eviction since the ruling, a repetition of the violent and
traumatic eviction of the local teacher in June 2014.

Victims of the Colombian
armed conflict are guaranteed certain rights under the constitution to prevent
a violation of their fundamental rights. The letter sent by the Land delegates
of the Inspector General and Public Advocate offices that was addressed to the
judge who made the ruling, and the Police Inspector – the public office that enforces
evictions – argued that the residents of El Guayabo “have not been guaranteed
their right to due process.” If the eviction were to be enforced, the municipal
authorities would have to first comply with a list of eight prerequisites
pertaining to procedures that guarantee the human rights of persons affected by
the armed conflict as required by the Constitutional Court ruling T239/13.

On July 4th, two members
of the community visited the Police Inspector’s office in Puerto Wilches to
acquire a written statement declaring the suspension of the eviction. The first
statement with which they were provided justified the suspension due to the
lack of an adequate riot police personnel. Only upon insistence by the farmers
was the declaration amended to acknowledge the receipt of official
correspondence from Bogotá to suspend the eviction because enforcing it would
violate their human rights by omission for not following through with the
“procedures of eviction.”

Family in El Guayabo

Photo credit: Caldwell Manners

“With the eviction
suspended we can breath a little” says Eric Payares, “but we still need to be
attentive. This is not the end of the process.” The community continues to take
preventive measures to protect itself because of a high risk of retaliation.
The 17 denouncements made by community members against Henao for injury,
destruction of property and threats have not stopped him from inflicting injury
and fear in El Guayabo.

The farming community is
currently embroiled in another three land dispute cases and a criminal case
where four community leaders were falsely
accused
of possession of weapons, personal injury and conspiracy to
commit crime. Three of the leaders returned home, having avoided arrest for six
months, after appearing before the judge who dropped all but the last charge
against them.

Álvaro Garcia, the fourth
leader from the neighbouring village of Bella Union was arrested on April 24,
2016 and is still imprisoned on the same accusations as the other three
leaders. Political and judicial persecution of social and human rights
defenders is a common tactic used by the government to debilitate the ability
of communities to resist and organize themselves.

 The historic struggle for
land rights is at the heart of the Colombian conflict. The farmers of El
Guayabo are among the 5 million small farmers in the country who cultivate 43%
of domestic consumption, but only have access to 3.5% of the arable land. Large
landowners have historically aligned themselves with paramilitary groups to
usurp land for large scale monoculture farming for export, cattle ranching and
territorial control. In the early 2000s, El Guayabo residents report, Henao
came to town with soldiers from one of Colombia’s most lethal paramilitary
groups, the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) extorting community
residents. With the demobilization of the AUC under the Peace and Justice Law
of 2005, the group’s influence infiltrated government organisms from the local
to the national level. In 2015, Leonel Lagares Gutiérrez, the then Police
Inspector who carried out the eviction of the local teacher Henry Rincon a year
earlier, was arrested on charges of “aggravated conspiracy to commit a crime,”
based on the confession of the political chief for the Central Bolivar Block of
the AUC, Orozco González.

The concern for farming
communities like El Guayabo seeking titles to their lands is taking the
necessary risk of wading through a complex regional power play of land and
political control, where they as victims of the armed conflict continue to be
revictimized.

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