<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Colombia: Displaced Communities Take Action

Refugees from Civil War Face Police Repression as They Occupy Abandoned Houses in Bogotá

By Ramón Acevedo
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

September 5, 2005

Photos: Ramon Acevedo
BOGOTÁ: After many broken promises by the Colombian government to supply homes to displaced communities, a group of 700 adults, 577 children, 15 pregnant women, 22 handicapped, and 25 seniors have taken over vacant homes in the south-western neighborhood of Kennedy in Bogotá.

At 6 am on August 29, 2005 six buses and five trucks pulled into Patio Bonito, Kennedy. Carrying all of their belonging from rolled up mattresses to pots, pans, and boxes, the families began to fill the 163 unfinished homes. These half-built homes have been unoccupied for the past six years.

At first the armed security guards tried to stop the mass of people, but they soon understood the severity of the situation and did not resist. As soon as the families got into the homes they began to settle in. By the first hour the children and adults together began to cut the weeds, clean the cement dust from inside, and set up kitchens. Three hours into the takeover windows were covered with plastics and cloths, mattresses were rolled out, babies were deep asleep, and coffee was being passed around.

I spoke to a mother who had been traveling with another family. She told her story of how the paramilitaries had come into her town, in the Tolima region of Colombia, and assassinated her brother and her husband with a chainsaw. They were farmers working a small plot of land. The paramilitaries accused them of working with guerrillas, which she denied. For the past five years she and her three children have had to move around to escape the “paracos.”

One of the spokespersons from the group stated, “The majority of us are displaced because of our political beliefs,” and added, “We have come from different regions of Colombia, where the paramilitaries violently pushed us out.” Due to fear of repression by the government and the paramilitary, this spokesperson preferred not to give his name.

On the first day of the occupation of these houses the riot police, ESMAD, was sent in by the local mayor’s office. The ESMAD has been known to violently repress protesters and was recently involved in the assassination of a 15-year-old demonstrator, Nicolas Neira, last May 1ST. Since the arrival of the police the families have been fearful. Community leaders have urged the media and government officials to be present in order to prevent police attacks and arrests.

Today, in Colombia, there are more than 3 million people displaced internally. In 2004 some 287,000 were displaced, an increase of 38.5 percent from the prior year. The majority of these displacements were due to the violence by the Colombian Armed Forces and their paramilitary allies. Colombia is second to Sudan in human displacement due to violence.

Continuously, the 40-year-old Colombian civil war has been fueled by military aid from the United States. Since 1999, when Plan Colombia was signed, over $4 billion U.S. dollars have been funneled into the police and military of Colombia. This has increased human rights atrocities by the government forces and their paramilitary allies. For decades the Colombian government has been involved in gross human rights violations. At the same time the U.S. has made Colombia the largest recipient of military aid outside the Middle East.

After three days of occupation the displaced community is isolated. The police do not let anyone in or out. Food and supplies that friends, family, and neighbors bring is not allowed into the community. “We cannot sleep because of the cold and fear of being kicked out,” stated one person. “My kids are sleeping on the floor on top of plastic sheeting.” People are suffering from diarrhea and respiratory problems.

The displaced group that has taken over the houses in Bogotá has no other choice. The government has made no concrete effort to organize access to basic health, food, housing, and education services. In Colombia the situation of the displaced population, both in collective settlements and on the outskirts of cities, moves them to take action into their own hands. “Don’t ask me my name, but let me tell you what we need. A place to live,” stated one of the community leaders.

Members of the community requested anonymity for reasons of security.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America