Paramilitary Groups Displace Indigenous in Yondo

The following is excerpted and translated from an article that appeared in Vanguardia Liberal of Bucaramanga on January 8, 1998

Five youth and two women, all indigenous, came to Yondo fleeing death; new displaced in Antioquia

"Leaving behind your house and your land isn't going to solve the problem, but at least you save your life and your children's lives." With these short words five youths and two women, all indigenous, reached the city of Yondo yesterday, stalked by the violence lashing out at the rural areas in several municipalities of the Middle Magdalena region.

This family, from San Juan del Ite, one of the last villages in the municipality of Yondo, and part of the indigenous settlement of los Andes y Yagari, had to suffer the death of two family members, last December, at the hands of paramilitary groups who identified themselves as with the "self-defense" groups of Cordoba and Uraba.

Since then, they've not been at ease, and the anguish caused by the fear of a possible retaliation mounted day by day. This week, they couldn't take it any more, and decided to leave everything behind, to deal with the situation.

Tears in their eyes, and anguish written all over their faces, they told parts of what they went through and would like to forget.

They stopped the party

On December 25, the peasants and indigenous all joined together in a single celebration, as the village is small and they all knew one another; they were celebrating Christmas in the dusty streets of San Juan del Ite.

The liveliness and camaraderie among neighbors was interrupted by a group of approximately 40 men, some in military uniform, police uniform, and civilians, their faces covered, who came shooting in all directions.

Everything turned to chaos, everyone sought cover, trying to flee that nightmare. According to the accounts, the men came down, spoke, identified themselves as members of the self-defense groups of Cordoba and Uraba, and told the population, "don't be afraid, you needn't run because in any even they were going to return to the town."

After the shooting, it became somewhat calm again, and the residents realized some were wounded, one was Norberto Basquiaz Tascon, a 31-year-old indigenous man and the father of 5 children, who was shot several times, and another youth, who was beaten by the armed group.

His friends and relatives tried to take him to Yondo, but it was impossible to find transportation. Only a car headed for Puerto BerrRo passed by, and they sent him off, with his brother, Silvio, 29 years of age. He received emergency room treatment in Puerto Berrio, but due to the gravity of his wounds he was to be taken to Medellin. A few kilometers outside of Puerto Berrio, the ambulance was intercepted by hooded men, with high-power weapons.

They forced the occupants out and, after saying a few words, in the cruelest fashion shot up Norberto, who couldn't even react, and his brother Silvio, and left them in the middle of the highway. The driver and the nurse were "miraculously saved."

The five persons who came to Yondo are the widow of Norberto, their five children, and his mother, who depended on Silvio. The new year was tragic, for in addition to the constant fear, they are living in extreme poverty.

This story, repeated day after day in the region, with a few changes in the protagonists and the circumstances, is a matter of persistent concern for the authorities in the Middle Magdalena region, as they witness the mounting problem of displacement in the face of the indifference of the national government and the actors in the conflict, who are the main causes of the peasant migration.