One of the worst massacres in the history of Colombia. The phrase, in a country already accustomed to horror, has been repeated in so many towns in this country that it only sounds like a classification of cruelty. However, what happened to the inhabitants of El Salado, a town located in the Montes de María, in the Colombian Caribbean, is a huge image of the State's helplessness that allowed, for seven days, paramilitary groups to rape, kill and displace to its settlers. Almost twenty years later, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) had to order precautionary measures to protect the town's cemetery and the victims who are still searching for several disappeared.
The El Salado massacre occurred between February 16 and 22, 2002 and at the time the press called it a "blood festival", due to the macabre details of how 450 men from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) forced the locals to play drum music before performing them on the town's soccer field; or the cruel lottery in which they were forced to count to 30 to define the order of the murders. So many years later there is no concrete data on the number of victims. The National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH) reports 32 deaths, the Justice and Peace Chamber of the Bogotá Tribunal speaks of 58, and the Colombian Interdisciplinary Forensic Work and Psychosocial Assistance Team (EQUITAS) counts 97 fatalities.
In the midst of that pain, there are still families searching for their missing relatives. Damaris Martínez, a lawyer for the Colombian Commission of Jurists, who accompanies several of them, explains to EL PAÍS that at the time of the massacre and, due to the displacement, the community buried the bodies in the El Salado cemetery. Years later, when the authorities made inquiries, they found that in many cases there were bodies with missing skeletal remains. "With the subsequent intervention of the institutionality at the head of the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation (FGN) to carry out the respective criminal investigation – in the years 2000 and 2013 particularly – as well as third parties and nature, some of these bodies or parties of them were altered and / or lost, so to date they continue to be missing ”, indicates the document that they delivered to the JEP.
The search for the 22 disappeared is still active, but this year the NGO Colombian Commission of Jurists found, in a visit to the area, that in the cemetery there were broken vaults and parts of bodies in sight. "This makes them at the mercy of the animals, of third parties who can go to the cemetery and of the severe weather conditions in the area," says the lawyer. The NGO made videos and these reached the Special Peace Jurisdiction, which ordered the protection of the cemetery to facilitate the discovery of the disappeared. "We do not know if those exposed bodies are from the massacre because it is a community cemetery and other people are buried, but it is important to protect it for the search for the disappeared from this massacre," adds the lawyer.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which is the court created to judge the crimes of the extinct FARC guerrilla and the military, does not carry out any specific investigation into this massacre because it was committed by the Self-Defense Forces, whose process goes through another type of court. . But concern to protect cemeteries, where there are believed to be thousands of unidentified victims, prompted the protection of the cemetery to be ordered.
“The remains found there could be from that massacre or others that occurred in the region. We studied the issue and we see that this petition meets the requirements of urgency and gravity and we order the mayor of Carmen de Bolívar to make at least one closure of the cemetery in a period of 20 days ”, says JEP magistrate Alejandro Ramelli .
The decision is an urgent measure while the pandemic passes and the authorities can travel to the area, but it also seeks to prevent the victims from losing the opportunity to find their disappeared.