Tibu (Agenzia Fides) – “Speaking about this part of our country for most people means speaking about an independent republic in a strategic position which has now become a headquarters for numerous outlawed groups of armed men fighting for control of the local drug trafficking activity, which now involves criminal gangs, for which membership is almost a miracle": these words were part of testimony by Bishop Omar Alberto Sánchez Cubillos, O.P of Tibu diocese., on his way back to Catatumbo, a Colombian sub-region situated in the north east of the Norte de Santander Department.
Bishop Sánchez Cubillos, aged 52, since 2011, Bishop of one of the dioceses with the highest number of conflicts in all Colombia, and where people live in fear, gave this interview to a local newspaper La Opinion, in Cucuta, which, in turn, sent the interview to Fides.
" Catatumbo is a place where many of the people are scarred, stigmatised also as victims. Catatumbo today is for the rest of the country a part of the territory which has nothing except coca, and in abundance… it escapes the hand of president Juan Manuel Santos. However few are aware of the complexity of this travailed region, whose wealth appears to have become its misfortune and the cause of its many ills that are far worse than presented by the media, for which it became famous only for the kidnapping of three journalists" (see Fides 27 and 30/05/2016).
Catatumbo used to be a paradise: rich in oil, coal, forests, scenery and fertile land. But total abandonment by the institutions resulted in illegal plantations. " Gradually the peasants became prisoners in a prison with open doors " the Bishop explains , "they traded culture and traditions for work which allowed them to put bread on the table at home". "Today it’s a matter not only of illegal plantations, but also of a society in decomposition, a transformation of behaviour and values ". The Bishop explains that money from coca is everywhere, except among the Catatumberos families.
FARC, ELN, EPL, paramilitary groups and today also criminal gangs, have crushed the people of Catatumbo, known for their remissive character, as subversive flags wave over their land. " Catatumbo people have learned to live side by side with armed gangs. This is a territory under strict control and those in charge control also personal relations and behaviour. The people have adapted to this because they love the little piece of land on which they live and they want to make sure their families are safe, left in peace, because they have seen so much, too much, and are simply not interested in contradicting anyone", it’s very sad to say but “people here are simply content to survive”, concludes Bishop Sanchez.
(CE) (Agenzia Fides, 31/05/2016)