El Guayabo Eviction Suspended

El Guayabo Eviction Suspended

El Guayabo residents dissect the suspended eviction with a brewing celebratory pot of sancocho, a local soup. (Caldwell Manners)

Yesterday, 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.”

“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.