This article has been published as part of the partnership between ¡PACIFISTA! and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.
"In Nariño, peace is flying away". This was the phrase that an official from the Governor's Office used to describe what is happening in Tumaco where, according to the FARC, 150 veterans have left the Territorial Training and Reintegration Space (ETCR), known as Veredales zones. Apparently, they decided to leave after some police surveillance flights ended up with the arrest of Tito Aldemar Ruano, aka Don Ti, who was presented by the government as a "drug lord operating in Southern Colombia”.
This arrest caused outrage and fear in the Vereda La Variante in Tumaco, where the members of the Ariel Aldana Front, under the command of Henry Castellanos, aka Edinson Romaña, are concentrated. It was he who told Caracol Radio that the police entered the area at 4:00 p.m. and captured Ruano who, according to Romaña, was a "recognized militiaman, whose militancy of 20 years is acknowledged by Gustavo Gonzáles, one of the senior commanders of the Commander Alfonso Cano Block". Through a statement, the guerrillas said that "this police operation violated the protocols and agreements signed between the national government and the FARC-EP", adding to the anxiety, confusion and discontent in the region.
The police, on the other hand, have not officially specified the exact place where Ruano was captured, but they have emphasized the drug trafficking charges that Don Ti, whose extradition had been requested and was on Red Notice at Interpol, is facing.
After Romaña denounced the police raid, Iván Márquez, one of the FARC leaders, confirmed the events through his Twitter account: "After police airborne assault on Territorial Space in Tumaco, 150 veterans have left the scene". Nariño’s Government Secretary, Edgar Insandara, explained that at least five different sources have said that former combatants have indeed left the ETCR. He also confirmed that a UN mission is on the ground, checking what happened.
Social leaders in Tumaco fear that the 150 FARC members will be joining the dissident group led by aka Guacho or David, who has gained strength in recent weeks mainly in the coca growing areas. Besides, the tone of the statement released by the Romaña ETCR makes it clear that, with the capture of Tito Aldemar Ruano, the tension deepened between the State and the FARC in Nariño.
The government's response confirms this hypothesis. Vice President Oscar Naranjo, acting as spokesman, justified the arrest saying that, on July 14, the High Commissioner for Peace had revoked Ruano’s accreditation because "it was proved that he was not part of the FARC”. The official document issued by the High Commissioner also specifies that "the revocation was notified to the person concerned by a public edict on July 19". Another argument presented by the government was that, on September 25, an additional statement specified that Tito Aldemar Ruano and Francisco Pineda were not part of the FARC lists and that they were "both requested for extradition".
As to the statement of the Romaña ETCR, the High Commissioner said that "people accredited as members of the old organization are covered by the benefits of the Peace Agreement, including amnesty and the access to the Special Justice for Peace (JEP) system". But far from reassuring the FARC, the statement caused significant malaise. A high placed source indicated that "the FARC was not consulted on the police intervention, and this is a clear violation of the Peace Agreement".
FARC veterans fear other such operations in the Veredales zones. Aka Camilo, a former member of the unit led by Romaña, told RCN Radio that "if they were to come now and take comrade Romaña, they would invent anything. They came to get someone (Ruano) and they could have coordinated the operation with our commander. The fact that they did not leaves many doubts".
One of the questions that Ruano’s arrest raises, according to the FARC, is to what extent will the JEP operate. FARC commanders have extradition requests, the same as Ruano, and in theory they should all benefit from the transitional justice system.
The truth is that, so far, there is no information of the whereabouts of the 150 veterans who left the ETCR. Romaña says that he does not know where the men from his former unit are, and that currently only his personal security members are with him at La Variante: "they left, and who knows what they are now up to. Some will be in their homes, others looking for a new future. I do not know if they will come back. It will depend on whether the government solves the problem of the captured comrade".
So far, though, neither the government, nor the police, or the army had confirmed the escape of the 150 FARC ex-combatants.
The missing at El Charco
In Nariño, problems go beyond the sphere of Tumaco. Coinciding in time with the events at La Variante, members of the national police elite corps are looking for the bodies of six FARC members who, according to the Aldemar Galán ETCR, were killed in the town of El Charco, North of Nariño, by presumably Alirio Cuero Obando (aka Álvaro Galán) and Eliécer García Estupiñán (aka Marcos Arteaga) – both dissidents from the FARC, according to military sources.
According to the Aldemar Galán ETCR, this happened on October 15. One hypothesis is that the six former guerrilla members – who were all in the process of demobilizing – refused to join the dissidents and got killed as a result. In theory, they were in the area due to a transfer of Transitory Space facilities currently under way. This has still to be confirmed by the authorities. So far, no bodies have been found and the only source confirming the killings is the FARC.
The murders were committed, presumably, in a village called Isupi, near San José de Tapaje, in the municipality of El Charco, the poorest in Colombia according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), a place where the FARC, the ELN and the Bacrim have historically been active. In the town hall of El Charco, they prefer not to talk about the murders. They say that the only authoritative voice is that of the police and that they could not even confirm if there had been any clashes. Nor is there more information at Pasto, Nariño’s capital city, distant six hours by boat from Tumaco.
The Colombian government says that the Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation on the disappearances and that, until the bodies are found, there will be no declarations. Meanwhile, the police have expanded the search radius because "no bodies have been found in the site, nor has anyone filed any complaint".