Foundation of El Pentagono, between Río de Oro and Ocaña.RR. HH
The year has only just begun and Colombia is already recording its first massacre, another in a spiral of violence that never ends: four people were murdered on the night of January 1st in the north-east of the country. The police have announced that they do not know the motive for the multiple murders, but have started an investigation. President Gustavo Petro ended 2022 by announcing a bilateral ceasefire involving five armed groups, but the bliss lasted only hours.
At around 8 a.m., two killers on a motorcycle arrived at the El Pentagono facility, located between the municipalities of Río de Oro (Cesar) and Ocaña (Norte de Santander). The men entered the bar, ordered beer and sat down at one of the tables like two other guests of the inn. Minutes later they got up and shot Rodrigo Meza and Edward Vacca. According to police, the only witnesses were two children, who hid under the tables when they heard the shots. As soon as they fell flat to the dirt floor, the killers turned on the pairs of victims. They drew bladed weapons and wounded her in the abdomen. Marlen Villamizar Rozo and Mildred Ortiz Pérez died in hospital. The location where the events took place is on the highway and is built with a zinc roof, wooden walls and pillars, and bamboo fences. The nearest house is 200 m away. The place remains cordoned off with yellow security tape.
Although the identity of the killers is unknown, Colonel Luis León, commander of the César Police, told EL PAÍS that they raised general crime for criminal income or for narcotics as the hypothesis of the murder. Based on his characteristics, he believes that it was an action by a hitman and not organized armed groups. The ELN (National Liberation Army), FARC dissidents and common criminal groups operate in the area where the massacre took place. Located near Río de Oro and Ocaña, the Catatumbo region is coveted by criminal mafias and cartels thirsty for cocaine production.
Violence in Colombia is so common that it’s been called the “first massacre” of the year because of the implicit assumption that it will continue. At the end of 2022, Indepaz (Research Institute 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 tracks the number of murders of social leaders and peace signers on a daily basis.
In Colombia there is not only a phenomenon of 60 years of armed conflict, but also an eternal cycle of collective and criminal violence. Massacres have historically been a method of intimidation and retaliation. The majority of victims are almost always poor people from rural areas where the state has no presence, perpetuating impunity.
The state’s National Center for Historical Memory (responsible for preserving the memory of the internal conflict) registered 4,237 massacres between 1958 and 2019. Most of these occurred between 1998 and 2002, with 1,620 massacres. The massacres took place in 62% of the country’s communities and claimed the lives of 24,600 people.
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Camilo González Posso, director of Indepaz, affirms that the massacres have the connotation of being articulated with regional dynamics of violence. “It’s not a random event, but there are circumstances of a violent environment in the area where it’s happening,” he explains. González warns that currently more than half of the massacres are committed by common criminal actors and reprisals, and that around 40% can be attributed to organized armed groups, such as some of those who have now entered negotiations on the government’s total peace policy by Gustavo Petro.
The first step in achieving total peace was the announcement of a six-month bilateral ceasefire involving 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 armed groups are political in nature, the government will engage in dialogue with them in order to fully and quickly implement the longed-for peace, the Axis and the project of many presidents such as Juan Manuel Santos, who reached the peace agreement with the FARC.
Congressman Alirio Uribe is a member of the Chamber’s Peace Commission. He believes that the government must define the scope of the cessation of hostilities: whether it includes kidnappings and extortions or whether it is limited to armed conflicts only. “Usually the groups don’t agree to stop everything until there is a strong advance because what do the armed groups live on to keep troops and mobility going? All of this is worth money.” Because now the government, the review of the biliteral ceasefire is the responsibility of the UN, the OAS, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Bishops’ Conference. Every time there is an act of violence or massacre, they have to review, whether the armed groups have violated the agreement.
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