Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | April 10, 2013

Ituango: a town in the cross-fire for forty years.

Verdad Abierta has published a report worth sharing:

Ituango is a town in northern Antioquia department, a seven-hour drive from Medellin. Once upon a time, in the 1970s, locals left their doors open, and everyone knew one another.

A decade later, at the beginning of the 1980s, town-life changed when the FARC arrived in the region. They planted coca plants and employed locals. There sprang numerous labs where coca leaves were processed into cocaine. The original crops, banana, yuca, coffee, and corn disappeared. So did cattle ranching.

Frequently, the FARC gathered the locals for indoctrination classes. But the town traditionally voted Conservative and the FARC’s lectures on agrarian reform fell on deaf ears — for the most part.

During that time, from 1986 to 1997, the FARC attacked the town’s government offices seven times, repeatedly destroying the police station, setting bombs in the banks, and looting stores. Once, the FARC emptied out the hospital’s pharmacy.

The FARC’s 18th Front took control of the area, and though locals regarded them with terror, the FARC became somewhat intertwined with the local population.

One day in 1996, a helicopter landed in the town’s main plaza, and brought the paramilitaries. Locals say the helicopter had a logo of the government’s Armed Forces. The paramilitaries began a persecution against anyone associated with the FARC. They massacred and held public executions, raped women, burnt down homes, extorted stores, and displaced thousands of farmers of humble origins. To this day, the precise number of victims of the paramilitaries in Ituango is unclear.

The FARC fought for control. They infiltrated paramilitary camps and lay roadblocks; in one incident, the FARC killed 70 paramilitaries.

Nowadays, the Armed Forces patrol Ituango, and the locals continue to live in fear of being caught in the crossfire.

Daily life is like this — people do not leave their homes, and the local shops remain closed. Often, there is a shortage of food and gasoline because the military block supplies from getting to the FARC.

Frequently, there appear graffiti messages, signed by the FARC’s 18th Front, in which locals — especially women — are warned not to associate with government soldiers or policemen.

Moreover, because Ituango has a high unemployment rate among young people, youth are at high risk of being recruited for armed groups, whether by the FARC, the paramilitaries, or even the government’s army.

Local agriculture is difficult to revive because of land mines. Moreover, farmers are less motivated as they have learned that it takes three or four months for a coca plant to sprout leaves, while it takes takes three to four years to grow yuca, cocoa, and banana.

After thirty years, the FARC’s 18th Front remain in Ituango, and are believed to have 263 active members divided in three groups, as well as dozens of sympathizers.

Read more news about Ituango here.

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