Humanitarian and Social Crisis for Eviction of Farming Families of the El Guayabo Community

Humanitarian and Social Crisis for Eviction of Farming Families of the El Guayabo Community

Photo: Caldwell Manners

The undersigned organizations denounce before  judicial authorities and national and international public opinion the imminent situation of humanitarian crisis of the Él Guayabo community facing a an eviction ordered by the Puerto Wilches, Santander municipal court judge.

The peasant community of El Guayabo is made up of about 60 families, who for more than 25 years have exercised the right of possession over the Altamira and San Felipe properties. They are farmers who depend on the land for their subsistence and that of their families, as well as producing food for the region. However, for about 15 years and more intensively the last five years, Rodrigo López Henao has been carrying out various actions, some judicial and some violent and illegal, to displace them and strip them of their territory.

The situation of this community is alarming in the face of the lack of guarantees and impartiality with which the local authorities have acted. Authorities of the department of Santander, particularly in the municipality of Puerto Wilches, have flagrantly violated fundamental rights and equal access to justice, since in this case there has been evident favoritism to Mr. Rodrigo López Henao, who claims ownership of the land that he has never possessed or worked.

For this reason, the judicial order to evict the farming families of El Guayabo, would violate all their rights associated with land, including the right to food, health, work and an adequate standard of living. It is surprising that a measure of this nature is taken, at a time when the national government advances a series of institutional reforms to guarantee access to land for vulnerable populations and victims, conditions that this community fulfills.

This eviction is a systematic action of forced displacement which re-victimizes farming families, who have historically been affected by violence, armed conflict and state abandonment. Watch video here.

Background

Since the mid 1980´s, around 60 landless farming families settled on the banks of the Magdalena River near the town of El Guayabo. Motivated by the need for daily sustenance and the state of abandonment of  the land,, the peasants began to work on these lands for their own sustenance.

In 2002, Mr. Rodrigo López Henao, who claims to be the owner of these lands, initiated judicial and other violent and illegal actions, to force the community to move from the land. López Henao claims to be  a victim of displacement by the guerrillas, a fact that the National Victims Unit does not recognize,  excluding him from the Register of Victims in 2016.

After more than 25 years of working the land, the community began in 2009 a process of gaining legal ownership on the estates of San Felipe and Altamira. Since then, the community has withstood attacks, intimidation and evictions. “We have the moral and spiritual value that gives us the ability to resist” reflects Dimas Ospina, leader of the community.

Members of the community also face a clear criminalization of their organizational process and their leaders are subject to criminal prosecution through false accusations. Four leaders are facing unfair criminal proceedings and one of them, Álvaro García, has been imprisoned for more than 14 months as the process continues.

The farmers of El Guayabo are recognized as victims of the conflict and are protected by the Victims’ Law. The following facts are contrary to the nature of the Victims’ Law, since restitution of land will be for the benefit of those who were first dispossessed of it, victims of the armed conflict and the landless farming families.

Read more: En El Guayabo, 120 Familias le Temen a Desalojos y a Amenazas

Incidents

  1. Since 2002, the community has been continuously subjected to acts of pressure, intimidation and aggression by Mr. López Henao and armed actors at his service, creating an environment of fear, anguish and deep concern.

  2. In the face of tension, threats and violence, the community has filed numerous criminal denouncements against Mr. López Henao, who has even been denounced for violence against women. However, these denouncements have not progressed, nor have the authorities opened investigations or pressed criminal charges.

  3. With procedural irregularities, the judicial process regarding the ownership of the land, has culminated in a ruling by the  judge of Puerto Wilches, which orders the eviction of the farming families from the San Felipe estate.

  4. The former Police Inspector of the Vijagual township, Leonel Gutiérrez Lagares, who initiated the process of eviction of the community, is detained for the crime of aggravated conspiracy and links with paramilitarism. This official attempted an eviction in 2013 overstepping his jurisdiction.

  5. In recent months  tension and fear in the community has increased due to several violent acts such as gunshots and the presence of unknown people at night. The community has suffered the theft of horses, threats and direct physical attacks.  Jhon Fredy Ortega and Emilse Pontón, were attacked by five men who identified themselves in the service of Mr. Rodrigo López Henao.

    Read more: New attacks against the peasant community of El Guayabo

Demands

In view of the background and facts presented, the signatories of this release demand:

  • To the attorney general for environmental and agrarian matters review all irregularities in the civil claim process ruled on by the municipal judge of Puerto Wilches and make an official statement prior to the July 5th 2017 date of the court ordered eviction.
  • Suspend the eviction order taking into consideration the counter suits filed and precautionary measures presented.
  • To the local and regional authorities, take all measures to guarantee the life and integrity of this farming community and its leaders, who are subjects of special protections because of their status as victims and defenders of Human Rights.
  • Mr. López Henao to be held accountable by authorities for the events described, insofar as those directly responsible said they acted under his orders.
  • To the judicial authorities, investigate and punish those responsible for the acts of aggression against Emilse Pontón, aggravated by the fact that these acts were committed against a woman and on two occasions,, implementing the protection measures decreed by the Judge of Puerto Wilches.

Organizations

AGROPEGU – Asociación Agropecuaria y Pesquera de El Guayabo
Christian Peacemaker Teams
Pensamiento y Acción Social
Programa de Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio
Justapaz
Asociación Regional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado en el Magdalena Medio
PeaceWatch Switzerland
Protection International