11 July 2014
COLOMBIA URGENT ACTION: Sign petition protesting violent eviction of El Guayabo Community members from their land.
[Note: The following has been adapted for CPTnet. The release on CPT Colombia's blog contains a gallery of photos showing in more detail the events of the day.]
On Thursday 26 June, forty-five riot police, led by Leonel Gutierrez Lagares, Inspector of Police of Vijagual, raided the house of Henry Rincón Rinel, a school teacher in El Guayabo. After four attempts at eviction over the last year, Inspector Gutierrez Lagares, with only eighteen hours notice, ordered the surrender of Rincón’s house. Riot police entered the property, using fifteen tear gas canisters within the span of seven to ten minutes to disperse community members who had gathered to protect the house and take control. During that time, riot police caused injury to several community members including severe reactions to the tear gas, lesions, and blows to the body. The community remained peaceful during the eviction and members were surprised by the police violence.
Eric Payares, a community leader from El Guayabo, said that on Thursday, shortly before the riot police arrived, that “what happens here today is the responsibility of Mr. Gutierrez Lagares, Police Inspector of Vijagual.” Mr. Gutierrez Lagares carried out this eviction without a court ruling regarding the land in dispute, without sufficient notice—the eviction letter arrived in El Guayabo only eighteen hours earlier—and lastly, by taking advantage of a second eviction ordered for that same day in El Guayabo.
Rodrigo Lopez Henao, who claims to be the landowner of the farms in El Guayabo, has terrorized the community since 2009 in a legal battle attempting to displace the families who have been using the land for subsistence farming since 1986. The land which the Guayabo farming community is struggling to protect is divided into two sections, Altamira and San Felipe.
Mr. Lopez Henao arrived on Thursday, 26 June at 9:00 a.m. at Altamira, accompanied by his lawyer, associates, a representative from the mayor’s office of Puerto Wilches, the Inspector of Police in Puerto Wilches, and forty-five riot police. After hours of discussion between lawyers, the authorities agreed to postpone the eviction of Altamira on the grounds that it was illegal and arbitrary.
The Guayabo community celebrated with shouts of joy and songs of praise. But the celebration was short-lived, when community members realized that Leonel Gutierrez Lagares used the threat of eviction for Altamira as a distraction from the raid he had ordered for Henry Rincón Rinel’s house. As soon as the Inspector of Police of Puerto Wilches declared the Altamira eviction postponed, the community had to run twenty minutes north in order to protect Rincón’s house from eviction, but the riot police eventually violently took possession of it and land that community members farmed.
CPTers Hannah Redekop and Sarah Sommers were present in El Guayabo on 26 June. Redekop reflected, “It was so frustrating to watch a beautiful celebration in which a community gathered to praise God for his protection turn so quickly into a violent attack by the police against that same community. Unfortunately, Colombian law continues to favour the rich landowners while the victims of the conflict are revictimized.”
One of the many farmers from neighbouring villages who came to support
the community blocks the entry of the riot police