The year has just begun and Colombia has already registered its first massacre, one more in the spiral of violence that never ends: four people were murdered in the northeast of the country on the night of January 1. The Police have reported that they do not know the motives for the multiple murder, but that they have begun to investigate. President Gustavo Petro closed 2022 announcing a bilateral ceasefire with five armed groups, but the bliss only lasted hours.
Around eight o’clock at night, two hit men arrived on a motorcycle at the establishment known as El Pentágono, located between the municipalities of Río de Oro (Cesar) and Ocaña (Norte de Santander). The men entered the place, ordered beers and sat at one of the tables like two more customers of the tavern. Minutes later they got up and shot Rodrigo Meza and Edward Vacca to death. According to the Police, the only witnesses were two girls who hid under the tables when they heard the burst of shots. Once they fell flat on the dirt floor, the hitmen turned against the couples of the victims. They took out bladed weapons and wounded them in the abdomen. Marlen Villamizar Rozo and Mildred Ortiz Pérez died in the hospital. Located on the highway, the place where the events occurred is built with a zinc roof, wooden walls and columns, and bamboo fences. The closest house is 200 meters away. The place remains cordoned off with yellow security tape.
Although the identity of the murderers is unknown, Colonel Luis León, commander of the Cesar Police, told EL PAÍS that as a hypothesis of the murder they have raised common crime for criminal income or for narcotics. Due to its characteristics, he believes that it was an action of a hitman and not of organized armed groups. The ELN (National Liberation Army), FARC dissidents and common criminal groups operate in the area where the massacre occurred. Close to Río de Oro and Ocaña is the Catatumbo region, coveted by criminal mafias and cartels thirsty for cocaine production.
Violence in Colombia is so naturalized that there is talk of the “first massacre” that occurred in the year because it is implicit that they will continue. At the end of 2022, Indepaz (Institute of Studies for Development and Peace) recorded 94 massacres (the first of which occurred on January 3); in 2021, there were 95. Indepaz is an NGO that keeps track of the number of murders of social leaders and peace signatories on a daily basis.
In Colombia there is not only a phenomenon of 60 years of armed conflict, but also an eternal cycle of common and criminal violence. Massacres have historically been a method of intimidation and retaliation. The majority of victims are almost always poor, from rural areas where the State is not present, which perpetuates impunity.
The state National Center for Historical Memory (in charge of preserving the memory of the internal conflict) has registered 4,237 massacres between 1958 and 2019. Most of them occurred between 1998 and 2002, with 1,620 massacres. The massacres have occurred in 62% of the country’s municipalities and have claimed the lives of 24,600 people.
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Camilo González Posso, director of Indepaz, assures that the massacres have the connotation of being articulated with regional dynamics of violence. “It is not a casual event, but there are circumstances of a violent environment in the territory where it occurs,” he explains. González warns that currently more than half of the massacres occur by common criminal actors and retaliation and that around 40% can be attributed to organized armed groups, such as some of those that have now entered into negotiations in the government’s total peace policy. by Gustavo Petro.
The first step towards achieving total peace has been the announcement of a six-month bilateral ceasefire with five armed groups: the ELN, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC or Clan del Golfo), the Sierra Nevada Self-Defense Forces, and the Segunda Marquetalia and the Central General Staff (FARC dissidents). Although not all the armed groups are political in nature, the Government will dialogue with them to fully and quickly apply the longed for peace, axis and project of many presidents such as Juan Manuel Santos, who achieved the peace agreement with the FARC.
Congressional representative Alirio Uribe is part of the Chamber’s peace commission. He believes that the Government should define the scope of the cessation of hostilities: if it includes kidnapping and extortion or if it is only limited to armed confrontations. “Normally the groups do not agree to cease everything until there is a strong advance, because what do the armed groups live on to sustain the troops and mobility? All of that is worth money.” For now, the government, the verification of the biliteral ceasefire is in charge of the UN, the OAS, the Ombudsman’s Office and the Episcopal Conference. Every time a violent act or massacre occurs, they will have to verify whether the armed groups violated the agreement.
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