A community of the Siona nationality of Sucumbíos became hostage in its own territory because of threats from groups linked to the dissidents of the FARC and by the paramilitaries. A team of this newspaper toured border towns that have been affected by criminal organizations, which in their wake leave traces of extortion and threats.
It is not any intimidation, Colombian armed actors are looking to defend their ancestral territory in the province of Sucumbíos, on the border with Colombia. This moment is preferable not to enter your community, located on the banks of the Putumayo River.
The arrival of any stranger puts their lives at risk, warns a People’s Defender. To learn its history they changed the jungle for a transparent glass office in Nueva Loja. They only ask for protection, no photos or publish their names.
The worst for the Siona people began in 2016, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) left sectors of the border, leaving an area desired by dissident and paramilitary groups. Both wanted to become rich with the cocaine business. Some called themselves “Los Comuneros”. They arrived at the village, composed of 41 relatives, to demand support for their combative cause.
Then there were the paras “La Constru” who wanted to intimidate them, says the head of the San José de Visitas community, of the Siona nationality. At his side are three elderly women and nine men who with their silence and looks confirm the story of their partner. The threats continued, a few months ago in his community they threw out pamphlets.
There they put schedules for their mobilization. No one could leave from six in the afternoon until six in the morning the next day. “They were leaves with the photo of a gun. The message was clear, “recalls the leader. The prohibition includes trips to Lago Agrio, El Palmar, Santa Rosa, Santa Elena … The armed actors want to hold them hostage in their territory in Ecuador.
They cannot walk quietly through the jungle. In the area homemade explosives have been placed, presumably by dissident groups. An international delegation of the Red Cross spoke with the indigenous Siona to remove this danger from their homes. In the community there is a latent fear that the younger ones will be tempted to cross the border to work in coca plantations.
Recruitment is not a thing of the past and the shortcomings of the area make them easy targets. The northern border has been historically postponed from basic services, health, education and also security. A few minutes from the binational limit there are coca leaf plantations, refining laboratories and they use the country to take the drugs to the United States and Europe, they say.
But as a result of the signing of peace between the Colombian Government and the FARC, security changed in the area. At the beginning of 2018, Ecuadorian Intelligence identified six armed organizations that fought for the territory. These were the Óliver Sinisterra Front, the Gulf Clan, the United Guerrillas of the Pacific, Peasant Resistance, People of Order and The Company.
All with links to Mexican cartels of Jalisco Nueva Generación and Sinaloa. The Óliver Sinisterra front was the first to attack directly in Ecuadorian territory, with bombs in Esmeraldas, with the murder of four soldiers; and the kidnapping and death of three journalists and a couple of merchants.
New groups emerge
A year ago, the Ombudsman of Colombia warned that new armed groups appeared to inherit the violence that left the FARC on the border. These are “Nuevo Horizonte” and “Movimiento Revolucionario del Alto”, both have their presence in Puerto Leguízamo, adjacent to Sucumbíos. To this list are added new names, such as “La Constru” and “Los Comuneros”.
The latter has been felt in villages north of Sucumbíos. One of them is Puerto El Carmen, the canton on the banks of the San Miguel River. On the first tour of its streets it would seem that calm reigned. Its businesses are open and it is also sold in dollars or Colombian pesos. In this jurisdiction there is a battalion of the Army, a captaincy of Puerto de la Marina and a police detachment.
The soldiers and police do not want to comment on the situation that exists in El Carmen port. This point is considered an enclave for drug trafficking and related crimes, such as the illegal passage of fuel to Colombia, the contraband of household appliances and now the presence of armed groups.
The lieutenant of the ship, Luis Martínez, recognizes that the merchants of the canton have been extorted. The threats came to owners of restaurants, bars, hardware stores or any business that could give some money. Last year, recalls the uniformed, a woman did not want to pay for the so-called “vaccines” and was attacked violently.
The uniformed ones thought first that it was a case of femicide, but then they verified that after the attack were the armed groups. The woman and her family escaped from El Carmen port. “The comuneros know who ask for money,” says a young woman who attends a local in the canton. “My mother knows more,” the girl replies. But business owners prefer silence. Her mother assures that she knows nothing, that two years ago, after the signing of the peace in Colombia, a supposed member of the dissidence told them that they would give her a monthly payment, but the woman refused, told her that she was Ecuadorian that his business was in Ecuador.
That was the only threat that came to him so far. On the same bank of the San Miguel River is Puerto Nuevo, another of the key points on the border. More humble than El Carmen port, this town also lives off commerce, but moves with the business of harvesting the coca leaf on the other side of the binational limit.
The operations of Colombian military and police to eradicate illegal crops had an impact on their income, especially to the owners of the premises. A community leader maintains that its residents were also extorted in the past. Everyone had to pay the vaccines (payment of money) to one “Mateo”, leader of “Los Comuneros”. All were frightened, even Otavaleños who came to the town to bring clothes from Colombia had to pay a million or two million pesos to work.
The latest threat came by WhatsApp to their cell phones. In Puerto Nuevo, only the signal from Colombian telephony is received. Here an alleged communication from the paramilitaries “Águilas Negras” put a death sentence on Venezuelans and leaders of social organizations and human rights defenders.
This threat also came to the Siona community. They organized an indigenous guard to defend themselves. The community leader says that Western culture will not understand why they act like that, but this guard has the purpose of protecting their own. “They will know that if they mess with one, it’s with everyone,” the man says. (
The Mexican influence
Pedro Oberman Goyes Cortés is the name of supposed drug supplier to the Mexican cartels. He is better known as “Sinaloa” and his center of operations is in Puerto Asis, a Colombian town that borders the country.
It presumably sells between four and six tons of cocaine a month from the binational forest. After two murders In January, the Police of Ecuador and Colombia detained two men in Puerto Asís who are being investigated for participating in the ambush of an anti-narcotics patrol. In that action two Ecuadorian policemen died.
The prisoners have links with the criminal groups that supposedly runs the antisocial known as “Sinaloa”.
At the beginning of February, the Colombian Armed Forces and Police entered the jungle to strengthen the manual eradication of coca plantations. The dissident and paramilitary groups seek to oppose these actions by threatening the community members who support the uniformed and accept the voluntary substitution of crops.
More drug confiscated
One of the most important antinarcotics operations of the last quarter was in El Carmen port. The Navy and the Army seized 700 kilos of cocaine that were taken from Colombia by boat. The traffickers, realizing the presence of the uniformed, escaped and left the drugs and boats. The controls are permanent in the river. (I)