A Story of Collective Resilience: Disappeared in Chocó I
Forced disappearance, Memory of mourning, and resistance. An approach to the consequences of the conflict in the Bajo Atrato. Chocó (Colombia)
Anselmus Baru, CMF
Claretian Missionary, Province Colombia Venezuela
The armed conflict in Colombia and its protagonists (guerrillas, army, and paramilitaries), for more than five decades, with its evolution and different methods of warfare, has left tens of thousands of families without the life and presence of many of their loved ones. Some families have managed to see the bodies or corpses of their relatives, but in others, the deep pain is still evident, because they do not know where their closest ones are; they disappeared. The forced disappearance of many people who have been torn away from their families and stripped of their dreams and hopes by the conflict is a crime against humanity that has disarticulated the habitat of life of victimized families and communities. But the resistance of the few (individuals, collectives, and organizations) that have not ceased in the search for their bodies or their lives, the demand for the historical truth is a cry in the face of oblivion and discouragement.
Enforced disappearance can be understood as a practice of violence, a mechanism for regimes and organizations to impose their control and power. It generates violence, and suffering, and produces terror in the kidnapped person, as well as in the families and communities. Enforced disappearance has been a weapon of war, in the majority of cases, used by the State. Enforced disappearance occurs “when a person is arrested, detained or abducted against his or her will or otherwise deprived of his or her liberty by government authorities or by organized groups or private individuals whose actions are approved in some way by the government. […].
As a result, the disappeared person is left outside the protection of the law, in a state of defenselessness, and exposed to other human rights violations such as torture, sexual violence, and murder” (Amnesty, 2011). But this elimination of the legal person does not stop there. It also uproots their world and life relationships, their family, community, and territorial ties; it erases their socio-affective and collective memory. Because in the end, in forced disappearance, the blood is eliminated, the tortured body, the body whose life has been taken away, but the trace is still there, in the territories, in the villages, in the neighborhoods, and in the rivers of the country (HREV, 2019, 3).
On December 6, 2001, the newspaper El Tiempo , published research data from the National Center of Historical Memory (CNMH), which, according to it, from 1958 to 2021 there have been 80,720 missing persons in the country. But, according to studies revealed by the Unit for the Search for Missing Persons (UBPD), after the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC-EP, this statistic increased to 99,325. The same study has shown that the victims are found in different regions of the country. The department of Antioquia stands in the first place in the high rate of missing persons with a total of 20,286 victims; then Meta, with 5,459 missing persons; followed by Magdalena, with 4,123; Valle del Cauca, with 3,983; and Cesar, which has 3,955 cases.
From the point of view of the actors and perpetrators of disappearances, the studies of this same entity reveal the following data: paramilitaries, with a total of 46.1 percent of the cases registered between 1970 and 2015 (a total of 13,562). Then, guerrillas, with 19.9 percent (5,849); post-demobilization groups, with 8.8 percent (2,598), and state agents, with 8 percent (2,368).
It can be seen that forced disappearance has caused damage to the very body and spirit of the disappeared, but also to the family, the communities, and, of course, to society itself. We cannot ignore the damage at the moral, psychosocial, and emotional level; damage at the sociocultural, socioeconomic, political, and even at the level of the environment and livelihood; because in this case, many acts of enforced disappearance have as a consequence the uprooting of the territory, displacement.
From the previous data, dealing with the subject of the disappearance in a country like Colombia is very complex. Therefore, in this article, I want to limit myself to the accompaniment and advocacy of the Claretian missionaries in Chocó, especially in Riosucio, Bajo Atrato, responding to the approach and the pastoral option they have taken in favor of life, the defense, and protection of human rights, especially of all those who are affected by enforced disappearance and its consequences, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 16): Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.
Department of Chocó and the Municipality of Riosucio, Geographic Approximation
The department of Chocó is located between the western mountain range and the northern part of the Colombian Pacific, with an area of 45,530 square kilometers. To the north, it borders the Caribbean Sea in the Gulf of Urabá; to the northwest, with the Republic of Panama; to the west, with the Pacific Ocean; and to the east with the department of Valle del Cauca. Administratively, it is divided into 31 municipalities and 147 townships. Quibdó is the departmental capital (cf. Caicedo, 2006, 10).
For the most part, the Chocó region is an equatorial jungle crossed by the Atrato, San Juan, and Baudó river basins, among others. It is characterized by scarce communication routes, high economic precariousness, and visible neglect by the State. Its territory serves as a corridor between the coast and the interior of the country and, unfortunately, it has become a strategic corridor that is coveted by illegal armed groups for the trade and trafficking of arms and drugs.
The Chocó is rich in biodiversity. Since the 19th century, international megaprojects such as the Atrato-Truandó canal, monoculture plantations of African palm trees, and illicit crops such as coca are also present. Many mega projects were left in the plans, and concessions to multinationals without guarantees of protection of biodiversity and ancestral culture of Afro and indigenous communities, have been proposed by the State; but beyond this situation, little or nothing has been taken into account to the Chocoanos -ethnic groups, communities, organizations and laws established by the State and endorsed by international bodies- as evidenced by the fact that historically their resistance struggles, internal regulations, and ethnic and territorial demands have been ignored.
This, together with the economic interests of the government, businessmen, and supranational organizations, has generated conflicts of a political nature between the State and illegal groups (guerrillas, dissidents, and self-defense groups); conflicts that have caused and continue to cause a high human and ecological cost. Thus, the civilian population enters into these disputes, being the main victims. The great paradox of this region is to be, in the midst of natural abundance, the value of its people and its cultural wealth, a cultural and biodiverse habitat crossed by tragedies: misery in bulk, extreme poverty, discrimination, geopolitical exclusion, and one of the most complex scenarios of the conflict, in which people’s dignity has been stripped.
Riosucio is also part of this department. It is not on the margins of the social and political reality that has marked the region. The municipality of Riosucio is located in the northern zone, in the Lower Atrato region of Chocó. This area is crossed by the Atrato, Salaquí, and Truandó rivers. “The municipal area is 7,046 km² and is bordered to the north by Unguía (Chocó) and the Republic of Panama, to the east by Turbo and Mutatá (Antioquia), to the south by Carmen del Darién (Curbaradó), Bahía Solano (Mutis) and Juradó (Chocó) and to the west by Juradó (Chocó). It has the townships of Alto Ríosucio, Belén de Bajirá, Campo Alegre, Chintadó, Jiguamiandó, La Honda, La Larga, La Raya, La Teresita, La Travesía, Llano Rico, Peranchito, Peye, Playa Roja, Puente América – Cacarica, Salaquí, Sautata (Perancho), Tamboral, Truandó, Tumaradocito (Bella Vista), Venecia and Villanueva, the police inspection La Isleta and also a population center” (IGAC, 2012).
The economic activity of the riosuseños revolves around agriculture, timber extraction, and fishing. In the urban center, the economic activity is mediated by the presence of different traders, both native and from other regions of the country.
For the Claretian missionaries, their presence in these areas is emblematic. The arrival of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, in 1909. The challenge to missionary creativity is still relevant today. To respond to the desires and demands of the ethnic-territorial communities with the accompaniment of organizational and socio-community processes is a way of deploying the Claretian imprint and charism. Defending life, taking care of the territory, living free of violence, and promoting peace are traits that must continue to germinate peace and dismantle the conflict.
Anselmus Baru, CMF
Retrieved from: https://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/paz-y-derechos-humanos/cuantos-desaparecidos-ha-dejado-el-conflicto-en-colombia-cifras-y-datos-637170, December 06, 2021, date accessed, May 12, 2022.
 This information can be found in the reports of the National Coordination of the Displaced, which was held in Bogota on September 13-14, 2002. Coordinación Nacional de Desplazados, Segundo Encuentro Nacional de Desplazados, Memorias, Ediciones Ántropos, Bogotá, 2003, pp. 94-96.