By Ricardo Maldonado Rozo
Canal de Dique, Colombia, Nov 29 (EFE).- Victims and perpetrators, accompanied by the Colombian Truth Commission, Monday marched through the Canal del Dique that served as a cemetery for the bodies of thousands of people killed by paramilitary groups in Colombia.
The “paramilitary groups had the order to throw (the corpses of the victims) into the river so that they would not fill the cities, roads and farms,” Truth Commission president Father Francisco De Roux told EFE.
Those responsible “not only threw (the bodies of) people from the towns near the canal but (also) people from other regions of the country,” he said.
The Canal del Dique is an artificial water body built in the 16th century by indigenous people and slaves.
The 118-km (73 miles) canal connects Cartagena Bay to the Magdalena River in northern Colombia.
The priest expressed surprise at “the responsibility and decision of the perpetrators to come before the victims and acknowledge what they did” and that it caused “infinite pain.”
The commissioner of the institution created under the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the guerrilla movement, Leyner Palacios, told EFE that between 8-10 people were killed every day for more than seven years and that there were times that the number was even higher.
“The testimonies of the communities indicate that a cemetery was set up here around the waters of this river,” said Palacios.
He has led an investigation into the events around the Canal del Dique, where close to 10,000 people were reportedly killed, dismembered, or went missing.
Palacios said the authorities knew what was happening. But they asked the paramilitary groups to get rid of the bodies without a trace.
Even five years after the signing of the historic peace pact, communities living along the river face new violence, this time from threats posed by the dredging and reconfiguration of the canal by the state, which is “endangering the biodiversity” around it, the commissioner said.
“Alliances between paramilitary sectors are re-emerging to threaten leaders and to displace the communities again,” he added.
Today’s paramilitary groups no longer use massacres and murders to generate terror.
“Now they act discreetly, reach the meeting sites of the communities to threaten, intimidate, extort, kidnap, and expel leaders from these communities,” Palacios said.
Present at Monday’s event were former paramilitary commanders who apologized to the victims for the violence inflicted in their communities.
One of the former commanders Juancho Dique said paramilitary criminal activity was a state-backed system.
He said the “practice of tossing bodies into the Canal del Dique was a direct message from the state forces so that the statistics of deaths on the roads did not rise.” EFE