By Marino Córdoba
Translation from the original Spanish by Gimena Sanchez
With the deep pain of a father and with the sadness of an infinite void that leaves one in the death of a son, I write about the death of my son Wilmar Cordoba Forero, who passed on October 19.
I would like to begin by thanking all the people who send messages of condolences, solidarity and support. I express my most sincere thanks for all the many voices that offer help. I ask that all of you help me by urging the correspondent authorities that they investigate and identify those responsible for this crime. My silence these days corresponds to the deep pain I feel as a Father. Also a feeling of impotence when I think of the persons that continue in that area without any guarantees of protection.
Wilmar was killed while he was tending to his mother in law’s store. He had fled to Belén de Bajirá due to paramilitary death threats after the killing of his younger brother on his mother’s side in Riosucio Choco. He was staying at his girlfriend’s mother’s house. There he lived with his girlfriend and their 5 month old girl. Wilmar was finishing his bachillerato and in his free time worked with his mother in law selling plantains. He was 21 years old. A calm youth that avoided problems who was very dedicated to this work, study and family. With his daughter he felt his responsibility as a father. On that day while he was working in order to meet his obligations to his daughter his assassins were plotting his death. There were four men who ended his life. One of them came from Riosucio. The other three from Turbo. I was informed that the formed part of a criminal band of paramilitaries who are known for the delinquent actions in Riosucio and Turbo. The day of the incident they waiting for Wilmar to be alone at this job in order to attack him with a machete. This is a new way of killing someone that has become common practice in this region in order to hide responsibility and not cause anxiety within the residents. Wilmar knew his aggressor because they had a fight earlier in the day. However, he never thought that this aggressor would have the intention of killing him. Also because he had done nothing wrong.
With Wilmar’s death that makes a total of three persons murdered in his family on his mother’s side in recent years. His mother’s husband was killed 7 years ago. Only three months ago his younger brother who was 17 was killed. Both were murdered in Riosucio and Wilmar killed in Belén de Bajira, all at the hands of paramilitaries. Belén de Bajirá is a municipality in the Choco that Antioquia claims as its own and where paramilitaries exert control.
His family has not wanted to criminally denounce the incident because these groups because of these illegal armed groups have with some of the civilian authorities and the police in this part of the country. They are afraid of continued persecution but at the same time feel impotent because they see how the war is eliminating their relatives. They have information that the authorities, despite knowing the incidents and material authors, have not acted to identify and punish those responsible.
Wilmar was buried in Turbo, Antioquia on Saturday, October 22. At dawn on that day I traveled from Bogota with the purpose of getting to his funeral. The first leg of the flight stopped in Medellin and the second leg went to Carepa airport. From there I took a taxi to get to Turbo by road. On that road I passed Apartado, a city that I had not visited since 1994. How could I not remember this region where I lived and worked during the most difficult time for Uraba. I was a trade unionist and here my first two children were born. This is where I was miraculously saved from assassination due to the simple fact that I was a trade unionist. For this reason my relatives could not believe that I was back in Uraba. My parents warned me that for security reasons I should not travel. I decided to go to his funeral despite the security situation. I told my parents only once I was in Turbo.
Prior to the funeral I met with some relatives who became displaced due to the war that live in that city. With them we remembered the cruelty of war and the family members that we’ve lost. Wilmar had told one of them a few days prior that he knew that men had reached Bajira from Riosucio looking for him. For this reason he felt fear. He remained locked inside his mother in law’s house. But on the 19th he left to cover the basic necessities his small daughter needed due to health problems. At the moment his mother in law left is when the four men came to the store and wounded hi with a machete. Some neighbors informed his mother in law but by the time she got there Wilmar was unconscious on the floor. She and the neighbors immediately lifted him into a car with the purpose of taking him to Apartado hospital. He died on the way to the hospital due to the severity of his wounds.
Wilmar was born in Riosucio in 1995. A year later due to military and paramilitary operation, Operation Genesis, that took place in that municipality I had to flee the area to save my life. Operation Genesis marked my life forever. It distanced me from Wilmar, mi parents, brothers and other relatives. It led me to live in the United States for the past 14 years. Despite this I am back in my country with constant death threats and risks due to my job. The lives of riosuceños also changed. According to reports more than 20,000 were forced to flee that municipality to different parts of the country in 1996 and 1997 in order to save their lives. They remain dispersed and under their own destiny while they dream of returning someday. Those that live in Turbo say that there are no security conditions and guarantees from the State to guarantee their returns. As displaced they do not receive any economic assistance and live off of whatever they can find.
The pain of the riosuceño is deep because of the historic poverty, abandonment of the state and for the armed actors’ control of the civilian population. War was utilized to impose an extractive economic model that was not consulted with them. This model has altered the traditional economy and culture of the ethnic groups adn rural farmers. It has destroyed its comunal leadership and created a dynamic of subjegation, fear, death and terror. Riosucio is the cradel of Maderas del Atrato, Pizano S.A, Maderas del Darién and other companies. The later remains in the region dedicated to extracting forest species like the Cativa, which is at risk of extinction. They benefit from forestry concessions and are protected by armed groups. Paramilitaries arrived in Riosucio in 1996 pushed by the 17th Brigade of the Army under the command of General Rito Alejo del Rio and under the approval of Alvaro Uribe Velez, the then Governor of Antioquia. Their purpose was to protect that company from threats that according to them were present after the ajudication of collective titles to the black and indigenous communities. These rights are recognized under the Political Constitution of Colombia, law 70 and 1993 and indigenous legislation.
The paramilitaries in association with the companies took over the territories of the communities in the region. During the Uribe government the companies received financial credits to cultivate oil palm (African palm). Today the communities report that during past years there is a significant increase of public forces in the region. Yet the paramilitaries transit freely without any control by the military who could stop their criminal actions. At the beginning of this year, it was denounced that at least 1,000 armed men who form part of the paramilitary structure of the gaitanistas. Under this reality there are few civilian deaths denounced. When they are it’s done by persons who are not inhabitants of the zones. Under this world of impunity Wilmar’s family lives which is why they do not want to legally denounce the situation. This repeats itself in many other families.
“The war has been and will continue to be painful for fathers and mothers, for poor families that have no other option but to live in the middle of it. Their children are either victims or victimizers. In the meantime millions of Colombians work tirelessly for it to end. Others persist in their intentions to maintain alive as a way to protect their political and economic interests without this pain affecing their lives in any way.”
We live in times when the country seeks peace to get out of the nightmare of war and pain. Millions of us dream with a better country capable of overcoming fear to get to the truth. Truth and justice are more powerful than terror and impunity. The peace dialogue between the government and the insurgents should take us to that country of tranquility and respect. But most of all a country where victims find justice to find out the truth. I am resistant of losing hope, I will always follow that path despite its adversities.
What do I ask for? Justice is clarifying the truth about the crime committed against Wilmar. Security measures are needed to guarantee that his mother and relatives, my relatives do not remain at risk. For this it is necessary that the authorities including police and army cut their criminal relationships with the paramilitaries and that justice authorities guarantee that justice for victims is guaranteed. This would facilitate victims of human rights violations from coming forward and facilitate their clarification of the facts.
To everyone that asks how they can help, they can do so by helping to solicit the authorities for results in efficient and swift investigations. I call on the competent authorities so they take investigative actions to clarify the facts that led to Wilmar’s death and the other deaths. Relatives informed me that Wilmar’s principal aggressor was wounded. Wilmar wounded him when he was defending himself. This information has not been totally corroborated by the Inspector General. The act of confirming this would be a step towards finding the full truth.
Last week with a prominent group of afro, indigenous and rural farmers’ leaders, I met with President Juan Manuel Santos. There he stated: “victims should always be assured that I am not going to fail tem with the peace accord.” Those words remain in my heart and mind. I add that we the victims are not going to defraud the President and the guerillas in their commitment for peace in Colombia. Wilmar will give me strength to continue to dream in this path.
From Afrodes we work convinced that we the victims deserve a country without war in order to have a more just society. We teach young victims to not respond with the same pain but to give their love to art and culture, to learn about their rights and appropriate them. Those who only live in war in order to maintain their power, maintain innocent youths who exert terror and death. They should think that they are also fathers and that the same as their children those who assassinate have fathers and children.
Bogotá, Octubre 27 de 2016
Marino Córdoba B.
Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados-AFRODES firstname.lastname@example.org