Last October the U.S. Committee for Refugees hosted a six-city tour of two members of communities displaced by the violence in Colombia. Following is biographical information on Rosalba and Eliseo, who were referred to by first name only for security concerns, in addition to an excerpt from Eliseo's testimony. For more information, contact Hiram A. Ruiz, USCR, (202) 347-3507, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosalba lived with her husband and three children in the Riosucio region in northwestern Colombia. They had two small houses and two farms. She and her husband were farmers who grew rice and corn, and Rosalba was active in the local women's association.
In late 1996, paramilitaries began a campaign to force people in the Riosucio area off their land and out of town. Paramilitary groups often serve the interests of wealthy patrons, including narco-traffickers.
In Rosalba's village, the paramilitaries first tried to pressure the locals to leave through coercion, and blocked the entry of food and medicine into town. Soon they turned to violence and terror, torturing and killing a number of Rosalba's neighbors. Paramilitaries often torture and execute civilians in front of their families and neighbors to terrorize the population into abandoning their homes.
Several thousand people from Riosucio fled by boat, across the Atrato River to Turbo, a large coastal town seven hours away. Nearly 4000 men, women and children were housed in a large, unventilated sports hall, where they slept on bleachers or on the floor. Although a majority, including Rosalba and her family, have since taken shelter with local townspeople, more than 1000 of the displaced continue to live in the sports hall, where there are no services or activities in this sports hall.
Rosalba has spent the past year and a half traveling across Colombia to raise awareness of the displaced persons from her village.
Eliseo lived for four years in the small town of Maracaibo with his wife and seven children, whose ages ranged from a newborn to 12 years old. He owned a small plot of land, and rented other plots from large landowners.
In September 1996, 2000 people, including Eliseo's family, were forced from their homes by a convivir. Convivirs are government-sanctioned groups that gather intelligence about alleged guerrilla activity in their communities, acting as spies for the military, and engage in the same human rights abuses as paramilitaries.
The displaced persons fled to Rioblanco. After being in Rioblanco for about ten months, the leader of the Maracaibo Displaced Persons Association was murdered, presumably by paramilitaries. Eliseo, who was active in the organization, feared for his life. He and his family again became displaced. This time they fled to Colombia's capital, Bogotá. Today, Eliseo and his family live in a refugee center there. He cannot return to Maracaibo, because he would be at risk from the Convivir. He is trying to negotiate with the government to be resettled in another region.