Background:Published by MAC on 2001-10-15
Accounts of the August 9th demolitions as told by Tabaco residents at a community meeting held on 20th October 2001
(Notes taken by Richard Solly of the Mines and Communities Network)
During the demolition, Intercor workers took people's household goods and personal possessions and kept them. This matter was to be taken to the Fiscalia in Riohacha because it was illegal. Armando Perez Araujo had met with the Minister of the Interior who had agreed that the actions of the Judge on the day of the demolitions were illegal. The Minister was also informed that most of the inhabitants of Tabaco are African-Colombians, which gives them particular rights under the Constitution. The people of Tabaco have not previously claimed these rights because they did not know about them. There is a national office of African-Colombian affairs.
During the demolition, some of the inhabitants of Tabaco were beaten with clubs. Some of those whose houses were demolished were sick, including the children of community leader Jose Julio Perez. One of the women said that a man's head was badly wounded by a wooden club and his daughter, who was trying to help her father, was also attacked by the police, who beat her leg with wooden clubs.
Emilio Perez was attacked by fifteen men - either policemen or Intercor security personnel - as soon as he left his house. He was clubbed unconscious and left on the ground. He spent eight days in hospital and still suffers from bad headaches and forgetfulness.
Agents of the company demolished 29 houses before stopping. They threatened to demolish more and to come back and demolish the school and other public buildings. It may only have been the people's resistance that stopped them destroying more. This shows that it was not a legally enforced juridical process but a form of pressure and threat, which makes the Judge's involvement even more remarkable.
Another woman was hit by a rock in her side, which still hurts her. Her husband was attacked too. He fought back, and because of his agility in struggling against his attackers, they said that he must be a guerrilla - a false accusation which, in the current circumstances in Colombia, could lead to police reprisals or paramilitary attack. The police attempted to wound his eyes, which became covered in blood as they beat him. He recovered.
Intercor had also been threatening to dig up the cemetery and move the bodies, but there were no details given of these threats.
Intercor was offering each homeowner 2,400,000 pesos in compensation for moving and losing their houses and land. This is a little over US$1,000 or £700. Even at Colombian prices, little could be bought with this sum - it would certainly not compensate for the loss of livelihood and community which residents are facing.
There were originally more than 300 families living in Tabaco. The community had grown up over a period of just over a century, on the initiative of its inhabitants, who moved to the area when local conflicts among its original Wayuu inhabitants had left it depopulated. The people of Tabaco enjoy good relationships with the local Wayuu community at Tamaquitos, a few kilometres away. But the local municipal authorities, the Alcaldia of Hatonuevo, made regulations about how Tabaco should be laid out, then claimed the existing roads (constructed by its inhabitants) as public spaces, then stated that many of the community's houses were illegally situated.
During the demolition, the houses of those perceived as leaders of resistance to Intercor were demolished first, then the houses of those who followed those leaders. The house of one family that had been friendly to the company was left standing while the next house was destroyed. The process was clearly discriminatory.