On the 20th Anniversary of the Patriotic Union
Álvaro Manzano: A survivor of the UP (Patriotic Union) persecuted by the Colombian State

The story of the life of Álvaro Manzano should be a contribution to memory, truth and justice which sooner or later will have to come to all the victims of the UP.

by César Jerez
Agencia Prensa Rural
*Translation by the International Peace Observatory
May 27th, 2005

Álvaro was born in Rio de Oro (Cesar). He was an orphan from the age of 9, and has been working in the fields ever since, collecting rice, sowing and harvesting corn, lending out his strength for work. He came to San Pablo (Bolívar) at the age of 15 and fell in love with the Magdalena Medio. "One could live off of rice and corn."

He lives in the Cimitarra River Valley for the past 27 years. In the settlement of Jabonal, he started to do day-labor until he was able to buy a parcel of land in the settlement of Notepases, where he currently lives with his family.

Eighteen years ago, he came to know the Colombian Communist Party. With them, he learned about politics and how to interpret the news, one of the passions of campesinos. Always a leader in the Communal Action Juntas, he was part of the Popular Coordination of the Cimitarra River, the Association of Communal Juntas of the Municipality of Yondó, and became the president of the Campesino Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC).

In 1999, in an act of bravery and upon request of the participants of the Campesino Exodus of the Magdalena Medio, he ran for the position of councilman of Yondó, representing the exterminated UP. He was elected, but renounced before it was too late (the Colombian state and its paramilitaries since 1985 have enacted a policy of political genocide against the UP).

He never went to school. "It (the school) was very far away and I didn’t have anyone who would take care of me." He learned to read and write on his own. From a small age, he understood that it is necessary to be associated and organized to be able to resist.

Everything that Álvaro has done in his life for the community in which he lives has translated into judicial processes, arrest warrants, detentions, and permanent persecution.

Last April 24th, the Army detained him (as noted in previous communiqués from the ACVC). Since that moment, he has been one more displaced person, taken away from his family and his land, from his reason for life.

The story of the life of Álvaro Manzano should be a contribution to memory, truth and justice which sooner or later will have to come to all the victims of the UP.

- What was the detention like?
- I was fishing in the Cimitarra River. Upon arriving at home around 6pm, there was a group of soldiers from the Battalion Nueva Granada (14th Brigade). They were interrogating my wife in the kitchen. A man with his face covered said: "That’s Álvaro Manzano." Another professional soldier recognized me. They announced my detention, they took me some 100 meters from the house, they told me that I bought drugs for the guerrilla, between 100 and 200 kilos, that I handled between 300 and 400 million pesos and that I had a cache of guns and documents, and that I should work with them or if not, I would rot in a jail cell.

A corporal proposed to me that I give them everything I supposedly had and that we would share the money. They took me to the "Y de Matecaña" (an area in the center of Notepases), where the telephone is. They made me listen through a radio to a commander who threatened me to turn in all the requested things. I repeatedly told them that I had none of that stuff.

At 11:30, I arrived at the place known as the "Y de los Abuelos." A commander told me to sleep in a family’s small house. Before sleeping, a soldier punched me in the face and threw me against the fence.

In the morning, they questioned me about my family and my properties. They reiterated that I work with them, that I turn in everything. They held me there until 4:30pm on Tuesday the 26th. All the while, I insisted that this was a set-up and a false accusation. An official of the Army asked me if anyone had called me from outside. I told him that Arturo, a resident of San Luís Beltrán, of Yondó, who I have known for many years working in the field, had called me. He (Arturo) told me that he could help me to resolve the judicial problem – the arrest warrant – and the problem with the "paras" as I have been threatened with death by them, due to my work with the ACVC.

At 5pm, they took me in ECOPETROL (the state oil company) helicopter to the Battalion Nueva Granada. A corporal questioned me again, showed me a document with the denunciation of the informant. Later, Coronel Castillo came and told me that a lot of people were asking about me, and that I should work with them and everything would be resolved quickly. I responded the same, that this was the work of an informant, and that they tell me who it was. The very same Coronel admitted that the informant was Arturo, who had called me by telephone.

Castillo started to inquire about the ACVC, about why they handle so much information and denunciations, about where the office was located, about where Miguel Cifuentes was, Miguel Huepa, Mario Martínez. He said that one of his jobs was to "finish off that political wing of the FARC."

- What happened next?
An oficial from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office arrived to verify the habeas corpus. Later, Castillo came and invited me to join the reinsertion plan. I said no, and told him that I wasn’t a guerrilla fighter, that I have a farm and a family. That all of that (the reinsertion plans) were for the guerrilla, paramilitaries and demobilized, that I was a civilian campesino.

The next morning, Castillo insisted on my reinsertion. Once again, I denied. Later, they told me that I was free. I demanded that they return me to the region with guarantees. Castillo promised to organize the return the next morning.

At 10pm, they made me go to Castillo to sign an exit document. The next morning, Thursday morning, Castillo tells me that I can’t go, that two people were coming from Medellín who know me and that the night before I had signed a paper according to which I was to stay with the Army by my own will.

At 9pm, Germán and Sebastián, two men dressed in civilian clothes, the ones from Medellín, arrived and insisted that I join the reinsertion plan in front of my family. Again, I declined. Later, Germán left to received a supposed phone call from the Attorney General’s office, he came back and tells me that the arrest warrant is still active and that I would get 6 years in jail. Then they brought in a recorder, telling me that they had intercepted a guerrilla communication where the guerrilla were giving orders to gather guerrilla members to "wait for Manzano to kill him because he knew too much, to wait for him in España 25." Later, I realized that I had heard from the soldiers who captured me the code "España 25."

Sebastián and Germán, in front of my family, give me three options: 1. Return to the region and be assassinated by the guerrilla; 2. Go to jail for six years; and 3. Reinsertion.

My overwhelmed family asked me to join the reinsertion plan. I accepted going to Bucaramanga to see the possibility of reinsertion. In the 5th Brigade, they proposed putting us in a hotel. They put us in an inadequate room together with my older daughter and three children. Later, they took me to the Brigade. Sebastián and Germán started to interrogate me for 3 days about the ACVC, telling me to say that the ACVC was part of the FARC. As I didn’t confirm their accusations, they repeatedly insulted me. This went on for three days, always asking about Miguel Huepa, Miguel Cifuentes, Mario Martínez, Luis Carlos Ariza and Ramiro Ortega, about where they were and what they did.

The next day, they started to ask me about guerrilla leaders of the region, saying that the ACVC’s projects really were the FARC’s, and that the farms where they carry out projects belonged to the FARC, the buffalo project, the cattle project, the sugar cane mils, the rice threshers, all of this according to them belonged to the FARC.

Later, an informant named Pascual is introduced, and he turns out to be a guerrilla deserter who I had seen (when he was a guerrilla fighter) in the region. He likewise told me to reinsert, that he was going to get vengeance on the guerrilla, that he would denounce to make money, that the denounced of the ACVC would be Andrés Gil, Luis Carlos Ariza, Carlos Martínez, Miguel Huepa and Ramiro Ortega. Furthermore, he accused Nuris Cárcamo, widow of the assassinated Orlano Moncada, and Omaira Guerrero and Rosa Díaz.

They held me three days int he Brigada without further interrogation. Later, they decided to send me to the house of my older daughter, where I stayed for nine days. They took me to the Battalion two more times. During the entire process, they made me sign – under pressure – 5 papers, always insisting on my reinsertion, which I couldn’t read because of the vision problem I have. Finally, they proposed that I go to Bogotá to sign the reinsertion with the Defense Ministry, which I wholly rejected.

During the last days, I got in contact with human rights organizations and with the International Red Cross Comité; I later made the decision to go to Bucaramanga to be free of that illegal house arrest.

- Did the army ever show you an arrest warrant?
- No, not once.

- How do you feel now?
- I think that they are going to keep pressuring me. They tried to make me "reinsert," and that I would return to the region, to displace me and present me as a reinserted guerrilla member. They tried to get me to collaborate in the process that they are lifting against the ACVC. I fear for my life and for my family. I only want them to leave me alone and be able to return to work on my land. That is the reason for my life.