The “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army” (FARC) guerrillas murdered two teachers here in the state of Arauca during the week of June 8. I traveled to Arauca City on June 12 for their wakes – which were held in the Arauca Teachers Union auditorium.
Pablo Rodriguez, of the Sikuani people, taught in the indigenous school in Marrero. He was murdered in his classroom by the FARC on June 9. Because of the difficult access to that community, his body wasn’t recovered until two days later. When I arrived in Arauca City, the wake had finished and the funeral procession was marching to the cemetery.
Humberto Echeverri taught for 18 years in the community of Los Colonos and he was with his students on June 11. The Social Pastorate program of the Catholic Church has a nutrition and community garden program in Los Colonos, and they were monitoring the weights of the children. FARC guerrillas came into the school and told Humberto they needed to speak with him. They led him away, prevented the people from following, and then killed him.
The wake for Humberto began shortly after I arrived at the union office. I heard a woman crying out and I followed her cries into the auditorium. Arelis, who is eight-months pregnant, was leaning over the coffin of her spouse. She was accompanied by their two children - Jorge and Andrea.
Jorge told me that he is six-and-a-half years old. “The FARC took him a long ways away,” he said. “There were three shots – one in the air and two at my papa. It’s sad.” Andrea said that she will turn ten this month and I could see the tears in her eyes.
Humberto was another victim of the war between the two guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN (“National Army of Liberation”), in Arauca. That war began in late 2005 and it appears to be escalating once again. The FARC and ELN both profess to be fighting for social justice but here in Arauca they’re acting just like the paramilitary death squads – threatening and killing civilians that they view as supporting the other side. Their war is solely about the control of territory and resources in Arauca.
More than 350 civilians have been killed as a result of that war and thousands of people have fled from their homes. The FARC and ELN have now caused more damage to the Arauca social movement than the military and their paramilitary allies were able to accomplish in two decades.
Teachers and other community leaders in Arauca are afraid for their lives. The FARC has threatened various teachers. The ELN also threatened people prior to the murders of Pablo and Humberto – stating that if the FARC killed anyone, the ELN would respond by killing two or more people that they view as supporting the FARC.
The mid-year school vacation began on June 12 and extends until July 5. Several teachers are unsure about whether they will return to their schools after vacation. Twenty four teachers have been killed in Arauca during the past eight years.
The FARC also distributed a written death threat in late May in which they declared the Arauca State Peasant Association (ADUC) and the Regional Student and Youth Association (ASOJER) to be “military targets.” I live in the social organizations building in Saravena which houses the offices of ADUC and ASOJER.
My friend Robinson spent 18 months in prison for “rebellion” and he was the only person I talked with at the wake that still exhibited some hope. He said, “We have to transform our difficulties into something beautiful.”
In love and solidarity,