"Carmelo Agamez is a human rights advocate and leader of MOVICE in San Onofre, Sucre. His life has been devoted to denounce the crimes committed by paramilitaries and corrupt politicians (…) In the 1980s he was active in the political party Unión Patriotica and because of that he suffered an attack, was imprisonment and had to go into exile. Then, like the rest of the inhabitants of San Onofre, he endured the reign of terror and slavery that was introduced under the command of the local leader of the AUC, Rodrigo Mercado Peluffo, alias Cadena. He saw many of his friends and neighbors to be taken to the farm “El Palmar”, where they were tortured, murdered and buried in mass graves, on orders from political leaders of the department. However, unlike many others Carmelo began a silent resistance. He organized peasants whom had been displaced from their land, helped to train other leaders and when conditions were ripe, he impulsed the revolt that lead to break the collective fear.” 1
Between 1994 and 1997 the civilian armed structures or legal paramilitary structures under the name of Convivir started to appear in the department of Sucre. Since then, “Sucre and in particular the municipality of San Onofre, has been the scenary of multiple violent acts, which can be classified as crimes against humanity. These acts include the mass disappearance and murder of at least 3,000 people, 75 massacres from 1999 to 2000 that left 329 victims, the concealment of hundreds of corpses in mass graves, the forced displacement of 70,000 people in Sucre and 2162 families in San Onofre, regular practices of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, the extermination of 90 militants of the Patriotic Union, the destruction of agricultural organizations as the ANUC, the plundering of public assets and resources and the usurpation of land and goods of the population, pushing the people that stayed into forms of modern slavery and under total political control. In a study of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) dated in 2005, in San Onofre 90% of territorial control was exercised by the paramilitaries.”2
In the department of Sucre paramilitary structures got rooted in the economic and social life, "the regional and political elite helped in the formation of paramilitary groups in the region and sometimes served as the intellectual authors of the massacres perpetrated by the AUC ".3
Since 2006, 35 politicians (2 governors, 4 representatives to the camera, 3 Senators and 7 members of parliament, among others) have been investigated by the Supreme Court and Prosecutor, because of their alleged links with paramilitary groups. Between 1994 and 2008, in the period when these people were in public office, the department experienced massacres like the one in Ovejas (16th of January 2000, 42 deaths) and Chengue (17th of January 2001, 31 deaths). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner in Colombia stated at the time that "in these massacres there is strong evidence of direct involvement by public officials in the region, both civilian and military."
However, despite the arrests and the alleged paramilitary demobilization process, the paramilitary structures remain in force in the region, an example may be the patrols, curfews and practices of "social cleansing" as described in various reports of the Early Warning System of the Ombudsman's Office since 2006.
The Chapter of MOVICE in Sucre emerges in 2006 as a proposal that refuses to conform to a general state of impunity and the penetration of the paramilitary structures in the political, economic and social life of the department. It was founded with the experiences of human rights organizations and social and political opposition parties and movements that had been working in the department for decades.
In August 2006, members of Chapter Sucre MOVICE in Sincelejo marched for the first time to denounce the reactivation of paramilitary activities in the region. Following this demonstration death threats were made by paramilitaries against defenders and victims of the Chapter, and a list of extermination that was apparently made by politicians from the region started to circulate. As a result the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the 8th of November 2006 granted precautionary measures to 17 social leaders, including Carmelo Agámez.
On November 27, 2006 the MOVICE, as part of its strategy to combat impunity and the right to truth, organized together with the Human Rights Commission of the Colombian Senate, a Citizens Hearing for Truth in the municipality of San Onofre that was attended by 1,500 people and which recollected almost 300 testimonies of human rights violations and corruption.
Following the denounces that had been made in the Citizens Hearing a couple of weeks after several paramilitaries, politicians and the former mayor of San Onofre Jorge Blanco Fuentes were detained. After the hearing harassment against members of the MOVICE increased, triggering the forced displacement of around fifteen members of the Chapter Sucre to other parts of the country and in one case, into exile.
It is in this context that the detention and judicial process against Carmelo Agamez occurs.
The arrest of Carmelo Agámez
"No one shall be deprived of liberty without the order of a competent authority"
Article 29. Political Constitution of Colombia
On 13 November 2008, at 1:00 am, five men in civilian clothes who identified themselves as members of the national police stormed into the house of Carmelo Agamez without an arrest or search warrant. They insulted the wife of Mr. Agámez, demanded the whereabouts of her husband, and then proceeded to seize all rooms. After half an hour the men left the house and entered an official car.
The false judicial process against Carmelo
On 15 November 2008, Mr. Carmelo Agámez accompanied by his lawyer voluntarily presented himself at the Attorney's Office in Sincelejo. The Prosecutor questioned Carmelo Agámez for three hours and although Carmelo insisted he was innocent, the prosecutor ordered his immediate detention.
The human rights defender is investigated for the crime of conspiracy and his belonging to paramilitary groups. These are the same groups against which Mr. Agámez has testified and which in several instances have declared him a military objective.
The judicial process is characterized by serious irregularities. In the same process politicians from the region committed to the paramilitary structures, are investigated. The unexplained involvement of Mr. Agámez in the process could be explained as a retaliation of politicians linked to paramilitary structures against the human rights defender and/or as a mechanism to prevent the MOVICE to establish itself as a civil actor in the process.
Mr. Agámez is accused to have participated in a meeting in the village of Berrugas, municipality of San Onofre in 2002, a year in which politicians in the department had political ties and were supported by the paramilitary group AUC to accede to public charges.
The accusing party has never specified the exact date on which this alleged meeting took place even though the defense has emphasized the importance of specifying the exact date of the meeting.
Carmelo Agámez presented himself during the elections of 2004 as a regional candidate, and in this period he and his support bases were systematically threatened by paramilitary structures during his campaign. The election results were quite disappointing for Carmelo, who got only 80 votes in the electoral contest.
Witnesses against Carmelo
The testimonies used in the process against Carmelo Agámez are at least debatable .
Carmelo Agámez is mentioned by the wife of former San Onofre Mayor Jorge Blanco, who said she had heard her husband mention that Carmelo had been at that meeting. This witness later redrew her testimony, yet the prosecution did not take this into account. Jorge Blanco was imprisoned after the Citizens Hearing for Truth in which Agámez actively participated and denounced Blanco's relations with paramilitaries.
Carmelo Agámez is also mentioned by a former councilman, Luis Carlos Hocón Blanco, from the municipality of Rincón del Mar, who's ties with paramilitary structures have been proved within and outside the judicial court and who had been arrested after Carmelo Agámez and MOVICE publicly denounced his alleged links with paramilitary structures in the region.
Another witness is William Balseiro Gomez, who as noted by the defense, had a personal enmity with the family Agámez, because of a testimony made by the brother of Carmelo Agámez, which resulted in the arrest of members of the Balseiro Gomez family, on the charge of drug trafficking .
All the witness statements are contradictory, some say they saw Carmelo in the first row of the meeting in the village of Berrugas and others in the last.
The no-reason of justice
"Another aspect of the greater concern is the use of legal actions against
human rights defenders, such as investigations or criminal or administrative
actions, when these are realised in order to harass and discredit."
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report
on the situation of defenders 2006
The criminal proceedings against Carmelo Agámez have been characterized by violations of the due process and are ultimately the best way to silence the claims of truth and justice by the victims in Sucre.
Because of the violations of a due process and the lack of judicial guarantees Agámez' defense filed a judicial complaint favourably resolved on May 13, 2009 in a ruling by the Criminal Division of the Superior Court in Sincelejo, in which it recognized the violation of the fundamental right to a due process, in the case of Agámez the right to know the evidence against him and to have the possibility to controvert the same.
The defense also tried to turn the detention of Agámez into a domiciliary detention, arguing that several politicians linked to paramilitaries in the region had received the same benefit. On May 21 2009, the prosecutor Rodolfo Martinez Mendoza denied the possibility of an house arrest for Carmelo arguing that "the presence of the accused in this process makes this Office suppose that being in his place of residence (sic) would constitute a danger to the security of the Society of San Onofre, since from his residential site (sic) he could possibly continue committing crimes in the criminal enterprise of the AUC. "
In July 2009, the Attorney General's Office issued a resolution that ordered a criminal investigation against the prosecutor who opened the investigation against Agámez for alleged corruption in connection with his accusations against Agámez. Citing several press notes from human rights organisation Human Rights First, the Attorney General drew attention to the lack of impartiality and independence of the prosecutor and therefore, ordered the case to be reassigned to a prosecutor in Bogotá.4
The investigation was assigned to the Prosecutor 28 of the National Counter terrorism Unit of Bogotá. On November 6 2009, Rafael Calderón Valbuena, without taking into account all the irregularities evidenced in the process, decided to accuse and prosecute Carmelo Agámez.
Carmelo's detention situation
Besides facing an unfair trial the prison conditions of Carmelo Agámez have been framed within a climate of disturbing insecurity. After his first detention, he was being held in a prison in Sincelejo prison in which he faced a difficult security situation, since he was held with the same paramilitaries and members of the Black Eagles he had denounced. Only until the 28th of January 2009, weeks after the solicitude, Carmelo was transferred to a prison in Corozal, where politicians and civil authorities linked with paramilitary groups are being held and processed. On 9 September 2009 the national vice-president of the INPEC (National Institute of Prison and Detention Centers) visited the prison and ordered that Carmelo had to be transferred to one of the corridors of the same prison, deteriorating through this measure the living conditions of Carmelo Agámez.
1“La venganza” Iván Cepeda Castro, El Espectador 21/12/2008
2Informe 2001 OACNUDH, presentado el 18 de abril de 2002 en Ginebra delante de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos
3El paramilitarismo en Sucre un proyecto Armado desde su clase política. http://nuevoarcoiris.org.co/sac/?q=node/300
4Human Rights First 10/11/2009
5Desde la injusta prisión 25: URGE TRASLADO DE CARMELO AGAMEZ” Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz 28/11/2008