an area of the map for world news.
March 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 3)
Resistance Against Colombia's Guerrillas
Rebels Without Weapons
resistance against Colombia's guerrillas is not only a form
of heroismit is a symptom of the state's retreat from
the rule of law. Throughout the country, hundreds of small towns
suffer from malign neglect.
Semana (centrist newsmagazine), Bogotá, Colombia,
Jan. 8, 2002
In a normal country,
the police take care of the civilian population. In many Colombian
municipalities it is the other way around. Disarmed citizens
are the ones who end up saving policemen from being gunned down
by guerrillas. The slaying of Jimmy Guauña Chicangana,
the Indian resident who was killed on Dec. 31 as he sounded
a chirimía (a local handcrafted wood instrument) to proclaim
civil resistance to the takeover of the town of Puracé,
36 kilometers (22 miles) from Popayán, by the FARC (Fuerzas
Armadas Revolucionarias de
Forces of Colombia) illustrates the dangers confronted by these
heroic resisters in the face of the inhumane cruelty of subversives
and government neglect. That night Jimmy was preparing to greet
the new year when he was taken by surprise, just like the other
residents of Puracé, by the assault of Fronts 6 and 13
of the FARC against the police station. This harassment, which
took the life of two policemen, began at five in the afternoon.
The guerrillas sacked the Banco Agrario (farmers bank)
and then destroyed the parish house. Sometime after 10 oclock
that night, motivated by the recent demonstrations of valor
by people in other towns like Bolivar, Caldono, and Coconuco,
also in the Cauca region, Jimmy persuaded several people to
go along with him to the towns central park. Along the
way they invited their fellow townspeople to join in the civil
protesters in Bogotá, Jan. 18, 2002 (Photo: AFP).
Two blocks from the park, as a group numbering at least 100
people was already gathering, the group found itself face to
face with several guerrillas, who intimidated them to get them
to give up their idea. Jimmy, who had just finished his seventh
semester studying law at the University of Cauca, answered that
they had a right to celebrate the arrival of the New Year and
pleaded with them not to destroy the town. The guerrillas allowed
him to keep moving toward the central park, but on the condition
that he would not summon any more people. But Guauña
Chicangana had not walked more than 100 yards when the shot
rang out that ended his life. Those walking with him fled in
panic. The occupation lasted until about midnight, and the guerrillas
destroyed 30 houses.
|Armed only with their courage,
ordinary citizens stand up to brute force and terror
That same night, the FARC encountered civil resistance in three
other towns. In Coconuco, located some 20 minutes from Puracé,
the guerrillas attempted to make the people forget the lesson
they had offered on Dec. 23, when the inhabitants continued
praying their Christmas novena prayers as the Ejército
de Liberación Nacional (National Army of Liberation)
attacked. To bolster their courage, the citizens lit candles
and sang hymns.
This time the FARC managed to destroy the police station and
the church, and they sacked the Banco Agrario before the people
of Coconuco once again united to resist. Led by the pastor,
they came out into the street armed with white sheets, which
they waved as a sign of peace. In this way, for the second time,
they prevented the guerrillas from demolishing the central part
of the town.
In Berruecos, north of Pasto, guerrillas attacked the police
station at 4 p.m. Amid the gunfire, townspeople came out into
the street to ask that the attack be stopped. This allowed some
of policemen to take cover and others to hide in the upper part
of the church.
Three hours later, in Belén de los Andaquíes,
three hours from Florencia, 100 guerrillas from FARCs
Front 61 attacked 14 policemen in their station. When the shooting
stopped, at about 9 p.m., the townspeople came out of their
houses and formed a cordon around the police station, holding
white sheets and Colombian flags, as they sang the national
anthem. Another crowd congregated in the park and shouted anti-war
slogans. Faced with such a demonstration of citizen power and
fearing that a [AC-47] Phantom [Colombian military
surveillance] plane would arrive, the guerrillas fled.
All these are heroic examples of towns that rose up in valor
to prevent armed perpetrators from using violence in their name.
This phenomenon started in Caldono this past Nov. 12, when members
of the Paeces Indian tribe showed exceptional courage: Carrying
torches and with the music of Mercedes Sosa, Ricardo Arjona,
and José Luis Perales, they prevented Front 8 and the
Jacobo Arenas Column of the FARC from attacking the town by
forming human cordons.
However, these demonstrations also highlight the tragic state
of neglect in which hundreds of small towns find themselves.
This seemed to be demonstrated with the official reactions in
the wake of resistance by the residents of Bolivar one week
after the resistance in Caldono. Most of Bolivars 28,000
residents faced off against more than 300 FARC guerrillas. Men,
women, and children surrounded the subversives and let the air
out of the tires of their vehicles. Eighteen policemen managed
to escape, and six more were protected by the townspeople.
The commander of the District 2 police force, Col. José
Edgar Herrera Betancourt, announced that he would not only reinforce
police presence in the town, but would return to 12 other towns
in the south of the district lacking protection. He anticipated
the arrival of a mobile anti-guerrilla squadron for the Cauca
district and promised 3 billion pesos for construction of new
police stations in recognition of the civil valor and
community support that is building peace, as reported
in the media.
But many wonder whether police protection should be a prize
rather than a constitutional obligation of the state. In the
case of Caldono, this was the third attack in less than two
years, during which the state failed to devise measures to protect
it. In Bolivar, it was the third in less than six months.
No less pathetic is that the guerrillas fail to grasp the resounding
message from the residents of these towns when they risk their
lives, unarmed, so that the guerrillas, who are carrying rifles
supposedly in the name of the people, will leave them in peace.