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Claretian Missionaries – PROCLADE Internazionale

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Building Peace in Atrato I. Colombia. SDG 16

by | Sep 21, 2022 | America, Peace | 0 comments

Rescuing the identity of the peoples of Atrato. Building Peace

In the Context of the Armed Conflict

Marcial Gamboa cmf

Parishes of Riosucio-Carmen del Darien. Chocó

The Colombian Chocó region, where indigenous and Afro-descendants have been living peacefully for centuries, has been invaded by armed groups of all stripes. The people who inhabit this territory have only been critical to these armed groups as long as they could incorporate combatants into their ranks, most of the time forced at gunpoint or with threats to their families. The interests of these armed groups are centered on mining resources and coca. Therefore, the construction of the human territory of Atrato implies helping indigenous and Afro-descendants to heal their deep wounds and rebuild their dignity as individuals and peoples. To do this is to build dialogue and Peace in this battered part of the world. Fortunately, both indigenous and Afro-descendants are people with vast hearts and an extraordinary capacity for resilience. Peace is the fruit of Justice (cf. G.S., 78).

Miguel Angel Velasco cmf

Chocó, amid a history of war

  The Department of Choco is a vast territory of Colombia located in the northwest of the country in the Andean and Pacific regions. It is bordered to the north by the Republic of Panama and the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic Ocean), to the east by Antioquia and Risaralda; to the south by the Cauca Valley, and to the east by the Pacific Ocean. There are 46,530 km2 of territory, with a population of 534,826 inhabitants, according to the 2018 census. It has three main rivers: the San Juan, the Baudó, which flows into the Pacific Ocean, and the Atrato, which flows into the Caribbean. All this means that this region has enormous growth potential.

In Colombia, we are involved in a growing wave of violence, which involves the middle and lower strata of Colombian society; from these social groups are nourished the protagonists of the active armed conflict for more than 50 years. Today it can be affirmed that the conflict has lost all its social and ideological charge and is a conflict rooted in economic and drug trafficking interests. The conflict is only leaving pain and hatred in the most humble families who are the ones who continue to live the drama; we see how our children are going to swell the ranks of a war that only leaves death as an inheritance. 

The armed combatant groups only seek to obtain money in various ways: the production, transformation, and commercialization of coca paste keeping the distribution routes active; the exploitation of illegal mining; the cutting of wood; extorting merchants by charging the “vacuna .”All of this leaves the territory bathed in blood by the armed groups that, daily, fight over these routes of the two seas; this, the Chocó, is a strategic territory for the trade or trafficking of illicit drugs to other countries.   

The armed conflict arrived in the municipality of Riosucio in the 1990s, instilling fear in the territory with the presence of the ELN (National Liberation Army), which remained there for a long time. Later, the FAR EP appeared in the region for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, in Urabá Antioquia, “self-defense” (paramilitaries) grew. At that time, what was said was “Urabá for the military and Riosucio for the guerrillas .”All this turned into a “time bomb” that exploded in 1997 in the municipality of Riosucio. That year the paramilitaries arrived in Riosucio, and the Salaquí, La Balsa, Cacarica, and Domingodó rivers were bombed. With the National Army’s Operation Genesis, thousands of families were displaced, leaving the territory practically empty.   Since then, the emptied territory has been used for logging by the company PIZANO S.A., which extracts large quantities of “Katio” wood.


The conflict continued to worsen in the area of the rivers Salaquí, Truandó Domingodó, Curbaradó, Jiguamiandó, and the villages of the Atrato river. From there, the population left in an exodus of more than three months, crossing rivers and streams, pushed by the rifles of the FARC EP that used them as a human shield, with the promise of a strike on the Urabá highway, through Mutata, to defend the territory. Thousands of families arrived in the village of Pavandó where the National Army detained them; there, in Pavandó, a settlement for displaced persons was created. The continuation of the armed struggle and the confinement caused the disappearance and death of many people, including numerous community leaders.

The conflict continues to grow in this country through illegal armed groups, affecting the social, political, and cultural coexistence of the Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples of the Atrato River. The armed groups control the territory with a rifle in their hand or a pistol in their belt, wearing military uniforms; they are present in the villages and community meetings, intimidating everyone and generating panic. They systematically silence the community leaders who can exercise the autonomy of the government of the communities; they silence, therefore, the legal representatives of the Local Community Councils. They do the same with the indigenous governors, violating the function recognized to them by the internal regulations of the Community Councils.

Today, war and death are spreading along the Atrato River and its tributaries. The presence of the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), with their invasive military strategy, floods the rivers, streams, highways, and roads and reaches the center of the villages, thus maintaining the AGC’s control of the territory. Their military organization is as follows: a political commander, an army commander, and a commander. They form a triangle, which watches over all the families’ movements, controls who enters and leaves each river and reports the activities of the villagers. In addition, they, the members of the AGC, are allowed to bring outsiders into the territory for the monoculture of coca; coca is a crop that puts the region’s food security at high risk.

The Darien region of Chocó is no exception to the traces of pain and silent tears that drip daily in the silence of the lives of mothers and fathers. They suffer the damage left by the war in their hearts; the disappears in the Armed Conflict are the fruit of their entrails. This situation of more than 50 years of armed conflict has left this country with nothing but a deep sadness in every human being. The Atrato River, the river that gives life to the region, keeps the remains of many people who were mistreated, murdered, and then thrown to the bottom of the river.

In the municipalities of Riosucio and Carmen del Darien, the Association Canto a mis Ancestors del Darien Chocoano was created in collaboration with the office of the Unit for the Search of Missing Persons (UBPD). Families with the same drama of silently mourning their missing children belong to this Association; in it, they search together for their children in the hope that they will appear somewhere. The Association now has a census of more than two hundred people reported missing; the organization wants to continue to make visible the barbarity of the violation of human rights in the region. 

Marcial Gamboa cmf


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