THE PEOPLE HAD NEVER SEEN THEM LIKE THAT. With their heads shaved and their faces painted black, the soldiers began to come out of the Luciano D'Luyer barracks in San Vicente de Chucurf at 6 p.m. on February 5, 1989. During the past week, when the army was patrolling the streets and people were forced to hide in their homes, slogans were painted on walls and notes were put under doors. They announced the imminent "cleansing" of San Vicente of the guerrillas and their collaborators, and were signed by the paramilitary command, "Colonel Rogelio Correa Campos." That Sunday evening, the mayor and town councilors went to the battalion commander to ask for an explanation. "The army has more than ten uniforms; that is one and they are entitled to go out into the streets like that," the com- mander told them. As night fell, the sounds of machine-gun fire, bombs and grenades filled the town. One grenade exploded in a house, killing a four-year-old boy instantly and wounding his grandmother and mother. An elderly nun saw a bullet hit her bedroom. The next day, the civil authorities again asked the commander for explanations. "In the eve- ning, a group of guerrillas tried to take the town, the soldiers went out and followed them and there was a confrontation," he answered. On March 16, community organizations, the town coun- cil and the mayor sponsored a Forum for Life and Democracy in order to discuss with regional and national authorities measures to bring peace to the region. Only a few regional politicians showed up; national and departmental authorities refused. After the forum, military operations in the neighbor- ing villages intensified. According to the president of the municipal council, Adolfo Mufioz, peasants talked of nearly 40 dead and many wounded who could not be brought to the towns because the army stopped them. More than 500 families fled. Curiously, say council representatives, people are being forced out from the most productive lands, which are then being repopulated with people close to the paramilitary. The area is rich in farmland and pasture, oil, gas and coal. San Vicente is the third most important municipality in the department of Santander, with 85,000 inhabitants, of which 45,000 live in the urban area. It was the zone which mobilized most people during the regional civic strike in 1987 and the peasant marches of May 1988. During the October 27, 1988 national civic strike residents paralyzed the town for eight hours. Military attacks have sparked town officials to unite irrespective of party in a Common Front for Life and Democ- racy, as agreed at the March 16 forum. After that event, Rafael G6mez, commander of the D'Luyer battalion, wrote the mayor asking for tapes of the speeches and a list of participants. He hadn't attended himself, "because I knew that there would only be attacks on the army."
Tags: Colombia, Military, paramilitary, Violence