posted on Sun 14 Jul 2019 10:10 AM
Dispatches from the Field: Visit to the Cauca Department

On Saturday (13 July), the Security Council delegation travelled to Cauca, Colombia’s department with the highest number of killings of former combatants and social leaders.  The municipality of Caldono in the Cauca Department hosts one of the 24 Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration (TATR), divided into two camps, Santa Rosa and San Antonio. Caldono’s population is over 70 percent indigenous, and poverty levels are high, especially in rural areas.

The Council’s programme for the day included a meeting with local community leaders in Caldono, a visit to the Santa Rosa TATR including a tour of the living quarters, and a stopover at a nearby collective productive project employing former combatants and some members of the local communities. At the Santa Rosa TATR, Council members held a large group meeting with the inhabitants and members of local indigenous communities. Top officials from the central and local governments and a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) senator made presentations, with Council members mostly in listening mode.

The two-hour meeting with community leaders was held in a civic centre in Caldono town. The participants were local indigenous community leaders, including one person who had been present at the 4 May armed attack on a community leaders’ meeting in which several people were wounded and property was damaged. Representatives of the Cauca-based non-governmental organisations also participated in the meeting. The organisations included: Asociación de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte de Cauca (ACONC), an association of Afro-descendant communities in northern Cauca department; Asociación de Mujeres Afrodescendientes del Norte de Cauca (ASOM), an association of Afro-descendant women comprised of 10 women’s groups; the Human Rights Roundtable for the Defense of Life and Territory, a mechanism for dialogue composed of organisations including students’ movement, teachers’ unions, state crimes victims, and LGBT organisations; and the National Roundtable on Security Guarantees for Human Rights.

The community leaders shared with the Council delegation details of their daily life under threat; in fact, one person expected at the meeting had cancelled their participation that morning because of an unexpected security-related development. The representatives of human rights and ethnic networks provided a Cauca-focused, overall picture of different aspects of the challenges present in the implementation of the peace agreement.

The Security Council’s visit to the Santa Rosa TATR provided an opportunity for the large group meeting referred to above, bringing together ex-combatants living in the TATRs as well as some already living in nearby communities, and members of the ethnic communities, especially the Nasa ethnic group on whose land the TATR is located. They were gathered in a big-tented sitting area with a podium at the front, on which several speakers joined the Council visiting mission’s co-leads Ambassadors Gustavo Mesa-Cuadra of Peru and Jonathan Allen of the UK. The remaining Council members were seated near the podium. Top government officials on the podium included Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo; Emilio Archila, Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation; and Andres Stapper, Director of the Agency for Reintegration and Normalization. The local officials included Governor Oscar Rodrigo Campo Hurtado of Cauca and Mayor Paulo Andrės Piso Losada of Caldono. FARC Senator Pablo Catatumbo was also on the podium.

The central government officials used the gathering to give updates on the different aspects of the implementation of the peace accord. Trujillo conveyed a message of support from President Ivan Duque for the community and the peace process. Governor Campo Hurtado talked about how much blood had been shed in Cauca and how Cauca had been famous mainly for its coca production. He described how, even though the residues of the violence persist, the population and the local government are trying to change this.

Other speakers from the local community also emphasised the history of violence in the area and the need to develop an economy de-linked from the cultivation of illicit crops to break the cycle of violence. They thanked the Council for its visit, saying that only a short while ago such a visit would have been unthinkable. They stressed how instrumental the involvement of the international community has been in changing the dynamics on the ground. FARC Senator Catatumbo echoed these sentiments and praised the Council for deciding to include Cauca on the visit’s itinerary. He also expressed his party’s gratitude for including on the visit’s agenda a meeting in Bogotá with the party’s leadership.

Following the presentations from the podium, the meeting was opened to comments from the floor. Most speakers emphasised the fact that the killings in the region were ongoing and urged the Council to pay close attention to this situation in the context of the implementation of the peace accord. Some raised the issue of impunity in this connection. Several speakers nonetheless expressed their gratitude to the Council for its presence.

An indigenous women’s leader pointed out that the peace process had gained the international community’s involvement and that this involvement in turn prompted the central authorities to come to Cauca. Despite the provisions for women’s participation in the peace accord, implementation is largely absent, she said, pointing to the composition of the panel of speakers as an apt illustration.

During the tour of the TATR living quarters and the nearby tree tomato agricultural projects, members learned about the interesting dynamic between the TATR and the indigenous community of the area. Many of the former combatants in the TATR have had roots in the community, and the community has embraced the TATR’s presence. The productive projects in Caldono, taking place under the reintegration part of the peace process implementation, foresee local community members’ participation in the economy being developed.

The Cauca visit, and the exchanges with persons living the daily reality of the peace process were a useful practical complement to the messages Council members had received the previous day in Bogotá, and seemed to reinforce their view of the importance of ongoing support for the peace process by the Council and the UN more broadly.