The ACVC Works to Defend the Land and Rights of Small Farmers: Defend the ACVC!
Organización campesina del Magdalena Medio que construye la Zona de Reserva Campesina del Valle del Río Cimitarra. Premio Nacional de Paz en 2010.
On September 29, 2007, campesino organizers Andrés Gil, Óscar Duque, Mario Martínez and Evaristo Mena, leaders of the Peasant Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC in its Spanish initials) were jailed and accused of the crime of “rebellion.” At the same time, the Barrancabermeja prosecutor’s office took the unprecedented step of issuing 18 arrest warrants, one for each of the remaining leaders of the ACVC. The top commander of the Colombian Army, General Mario Montoya Uribe, blatantly assuming civilian legal/investigative functions, publicly stated that “we are investigating the behavior and conduct of many people. It is possible that we might issue more [warrants] like these.” And in fact, ACVC members Ramiro Ortega and Miguel González Huepa were imprisoned the following January 19.
Days earlier, the demobilized paramilitary chief, Julían Bolívar, in his “voluntary deposition” to prosecutors investigating him for crimes against humanity, took on the role of informant and claimed: “I can back up my arguments and denounce... the criminal acts of various leaders such as: the Union of Organized Workers (USO), the Popular Womens’ Organization (OFP), the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), the Peace and Development Program for Middle Magdalena (PDPMM) and the Peasant Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC), for their links to armed Marxism in Barrancabermeja.” These statements place responsibility squarely on the Army and prosecutor’s office, as their actions lend credibility to Juian Bolivar’s claims, thus presenting the victims as victimizers themselves.
Persecution of the ACVC is nothing new. For the eleven years that it has existed, the organization’s members have been the victims of assassination, arbitrary arrest, forced displacement and torture, as well as blockades of food and medicine going into the region. The ACVC has denounced and demanded justice for the human rights violations that state agents and paramilitaries have committed in the Middle Magdalena region. The ACVC’s police file makes it seem like an organization that groundlessly slanders and defames the military. But the majority of its complaints have been verified by human rights organizations, international observers and even Colombian government institutions.
The charges of rebellion against the ACVC, as in previous occasions, are based on a judicial set-up, fed by the claims of guerrilla deserters, reinsertados (former illegal fighters "reinserted" into civilian life) and paid informants. The prosecutor’s file suggests that, by opposing the Colombian and U.S. governments’ noxious policy of indiscriminate crop fumigation, the ACVC supports drug trafficking and the guerrillas — as if the primary victims weren’t the campesinos who have been forced to turn to coca growing as their only option for economic stability.
In the same way, the prosecutor’s office, based on intelligence reports from the Colombian army and the DAS security agency, views the ACVC as a political wing of the guerrillas, and accuses the organization of using international aid money to finance the armed insurgency. These allegations are supposed to make European Union development aid appear to be a source of funding for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), channeled through the ACVC and the Middle Magdalena Peace and Development Programme (PDPMM). The goal is to discredit the current European aid model (focused on "Peace Laboratories" throughout the country) and rework it to conform to a new counterinsurgency model based on strategies of the U.S. Defense Department and Southern Command (see the document "Friendship And Cooperation for the Americas: Strategy of the Southern Command"). This strategy proposes a focus on inter-agency security cooperation, which utilizes aid money for the military and social recuperation of territory and the civic-military doctrine of Integrated Action. In the case of the persecution of the ACVC, we can clearly see the participation of the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action - an organ of the President’s office where both civilian and military institutions converge and which receives advisers from the U.S. Southern Command as well as the Agency for International Development (USAID).
The ACVC is a legally constituted organization. On multiple occasions, it has signed accords with public officials from three different administrations - after several social protests - to demand respect for the civil, political, economic and social rights of the peasant farmers who live in the Middle Magdalena region.
In the face of government neglect, the ACVC has pushed forward several initiatives to generate local and regional development, in addition to performing humanitarian work in a zone of armed conflict. Its initiatives have been financed by a number of international aid agencies as well as the European Union itself, through its Peace Laboratory strategy carried out by the PDPMM.
The ACVC has also signed many agreements with institutions, universities, non-governmental organizations and international accompaniment groups, and governments, as part of its search for justice and peace for overcoming the structural causes of the regional political, social and armed conflict.
In its fight to defend the land, the ACVC has decided to press for the construction of the Rural Agricultural Reserve (ZRC) of the Cimitarra River Valley (a legal structure defined in the Agrarian Reform Act), looking to guarantee a territory free from outside pressures, so that a rural economy can be implemented and generate regional development. The ZRC proposed by the ACVC has found strong detractors among paramilitary groups, drug traffickers, big landowners and national and international investors - from both state and private companies - who see this land and its resources as an open space for mineral extraction and agro-business megaprojects.
The ACVC is a legitimate organization in the eyes of its people, despite its modest achievements: bringing medical brigades to the sick, guaranteeing communities’ food security (with sheep, buffalo and cattle), building dignified housing and village water supplies, attending to humanitarian emergencies, building access roads, sending students to Cuba, sending the curably blind for treatment in Venezuela, and above all, demanding justice and a piece of land for the peasantry. All this has angered powerful interests.
We understand the legal harassment of the ACVC as a convergence of strategies from outside the peasantry, which seeks to destroy its organizational structure and make it disappear as a political force.
For all the reasons listed above, we demand the immediate and unconditional release of the jailed peasant farmers and the dismantling of the fraudulent legal process that hopes to destroy the ACVC.
We invite you all to take part in a national and international campaign to support the ACVC and its political work, as well as its labour in defense of human rights.