The story of Riociego is the same as that of other communities of the basin of the Salaquí River and all those of the Lower Atrato and Darién region in the extreme northwest of Colombia, closer to the Panamanian border than the center of the country where decisions are taken.
These are areas mainly populated by Afro-descendant settlers - the majority of whom arrived from various parts of the Chocó and Urabá since the 1930s and who, under Law 70, 1993, have garnered official legal recognition of collective ethnic territories where they co-exist with various indigenous groups.
The main reason for the area’s vulnerability is its location. It has been mentioned in several landmark legal decisions that have contributed to the safeguarding of its rights and have helped further claims that compensations are in order for the damages caused to it during the last four decades.
In 2013, when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Colombian state for the deaths and displacement of thousands of inhabitants from 23 communities as a result of Operation Genesis, performed by the Colombian Army, it declared that “those communities are located in a region of great geostrategic importance in the armed conflict, particularly for armed groups operating outside the law, who have used this region as a corridor for the trafficking of weapons and narcotics, and have therefore pushed for the destruction of native species in order to plant coca, African palm and bananas.”
In September 2018, the Special Peace Jurisdiction prioritised the investigation of crimes committed by the FARC and the armed forces between 1986 and 2016 in the regions of Urabá (in Antioquia), the Darién rainforests and the Lower Atrato basin (both in Chocó) as one of its first cases. The conflict afflicted this region, “due to its geostrategic location and the potential of intercontinental and interoceanic connection infrastructure projects because of its access points and routes and closely associated road corridor,” explained the judicial branch of the new transitional justice system, which was established as a result of the landmark peace deal between the Colombian Government and the FARC in 2016.
Reality after the peace negotiations has followed a similar pattern: there are two new protagonists, with the same communities caught in the middle. In September 2015, at a time when FARC guerillas were preparing to lay down their weapons, a dissidence of the former AUC paramilitaries entered the region. They call themselves the Self-Defence Gaitanistas of Colombia (AGC) and the government dubbed them the Gulf Clan. Some months later, the guerilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN) took hold of other territories from the jungles around Baudó range to parts of the Pacific Coast above the Truandó River. The territorial struggle between both illegal actors has meant that it has been under fire for the last two years.
The Truandó River is the most strategic of all the tributaries of the Atrato River - the most important of the Colombian Pacific - because it is an easy exit point towards Panamá, the Pacific Ocean and the marshlands that interconnect the entire Lower Atrato basin with the Darién forests and Atrato River towards the Caribbean Sea.
Only humanitarian organizations have entered the area, and the community continues unaided. Over the last year, the Ombudsman's Office has issued five early warnings, calling attention to the risk faced by the Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations in the Lower Atrato and the Darién region, but the situation grows increasingly more worrysome.
“There is no way even a piranha could get in here.” This is how many locals describe the absence of national government, almost normalizing the dominance of the armed groups.
Civil servants of the Ombudsman's Office calculated that their organization and the International Red Cross (CICR) have to help a family from Riosucio in a situation of forced displacement due to death threats every single week.