Monday, 6 February 2012

The first weeks of this year saw me consumed by work, sinking deeper into this world, trying to understand it. And following the armed strike, the most blatant display of paramilitary power in Colombia in recent years, there is much to analyse and understand. Anecdotes and opinions are prevalent in the the following weeks and I hear how the strike was enforced.

In one pharmacy two men arrived on a motorbike. They stepped inside just long enough to whisper to the woman behind the counter “tomorrow, closed”.

The following day the largest supermarket in town ignored the request. Before long, more men on a motorbike arrived and asked the employees if they wanted to see the store turned to ashes. They promptly closed their doors.

And so throughout the vast region of Urabá towns were eerily empty. The Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia clearly stated in their pamphlets that they did not want to see people on the streets.

The security forces went on to blame the civilian population for submitting to the will of the armed group. “It´s not an armed strike, it´s a psychological strike. Not a single arm was raised to make this happen” says a military official in one of the meetings we have subsequently.

Violence wasn´t necessary. This was the result of thirty years of instilling fear in the civilian population. The Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, Urabeños as they are popularly known, grew straight out of the AUC (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia) and have consolidated immense power in this region.

Rather than try to recreate reality and rewrite Colombian history with their discourses, claiming that these are merely BACRIM or criminal gangs and that paramilitaries no longer exist, the state must take a cold, hard look at the current state of affairs in Colombia, the fact that the security forces´ supposed attempts to combat these illegal armed actors have really only seen them grow and consolidate their power; they must begin to take seriously the paramilitary inheritance of these groups.

Following an intense week of meetings which opened up a range of perspectives on the current situation in the region, and at a point in which my mind was coming to be too focused on this specific context, I got out. I took a holiday in Cuba which allowed me to take some distance. Although difficult to get a clear idea of what the country is like, it was interesting to see such a stark contrast to here, where the armed leftist insurgency was a success all those years ago, instead of a failure which nonetheless continues to persist, which cannot be a success and yet refuses to die.

There are revolutionary slogans and propaganda all over Cuba. One which say “From Daily Combat to Secure Victory” makes me think of Colombia, of the combats which have been taking place daily throughout entire decades, of the fact that I don´t even know what a “secure victory” would look like in this context.

Travelling back through Colombia, I´m struck once again by just how many soldiers there are everywhere. Arriving home I discover things here have been tense and I have to leave on an accompaniment almost immediately. There have been assasinations and armed robberies; the paramilitaries have been moving in, threatening civilians and causing families to displace.