We are very worried for the safety and security of Centro Pazífico coordinator, Darnelly Rodriguez. On November 19 2021, she received the second of two death threats in two weeks. This threat came from the AGC paramilitary group. She was listed along with several other social movement and union leaders in a pamphlet that was left under the door of Cali’s largest labor federation. A translation of the threat is included at the end of the page.
Darnelly is also the coordinator for the Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network (REDDHFIC)’s Valle Del Cauca chapter. Threats against Darnelly have increased over the past year, and already last February, she had had to change her residence.
Interview with Darnelly Rodriguez, Coordinator for the Pacific Center for Human Rights (Centro Pazífico)
Conducted By James Patrick Jordan Of The Alliance For Global Justice, In Celebration Of The First Anniversary Of The Centro Pazífico’s Founding.
The Centro Pazífico, or, by its full name, the Pacific Center for Human Rights, was founded in the Fall of 2020 in Cali, Colombia, the largest and capitol city of the Department of Valle del Cauca. It was established as both an international and local response to extreme repression in the region. Southwest Colombia has the highest levels of political violence in the entire country. Many around the world saw evidence of this when we witnessed the police, military, and paramilitary assaults against the National Strike. During the strike, the Centro Pazífico was a safe place and distribution center for medical supplies. Overall, the goal of the Center is to provide office, meeting, and training space for regional popular movements, and short- and medium- term housing for threatened social leaders and human rights accompaniers.
Darnelly Rodriguez, the Centro Pazífico coordinator, is one of the most capable people I know. She is articulate, energetic, well-organized, and a comprehensive source of information. Above all, she is courageous. Earlier this year, in February, AFGJ sent out an alert asking for protection for Darnelly after she had to move for the second time in several months because of the threats against her. In the interview that follows you will read about how police viciously beat her while she undertook a mission of verification. Just the morning after finishing the interview, Darnelly texted me that she had received yet another threat—the second in two weeks. Yet, she doesn’t back down.
Question: When the Centro Pazífico opened, we were in the worst days of the pandemic. However, almost from the beginning, it was necessary to give shelter to 15 individuals displaced from a neighborhood in Buenaventura (a mostly Afro-Colombian city that is the country’s largest port on the Pacific). Can you talk a little bit about this experience? How did you organize so quickly with so few resources to receive them? What caused their displacement?
Answer: These 15 social leaders (including two youth) are from Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca. Their displacement is due to their organizational work so that minors of age can avoid recruitment by armed groups. They have community processes that present theater, dance, music, among other art forms to prevent the dispersion of children and young people in the municipality and from becoming armed actors. Because of this work, the armed groups considered the community leaders a risk for their activities, and they began to make threats and carry out assaults against them, shooting at some of them at their homes, disappearing the family members of others. They recruited four of another man’s sons and two of them were returned to his house in plastic bags. This is why the 15 leaders had to leave.
Receiving them was not easy. First, we had to go to friends in other social organizations to ask for their solidarity, in order to buy tickets from Buenaventura to Cali for these persons. That was very difficult because of the pandemic. There was no public transportation, so that we had to find private transportation, which was triple the normal costs. Additionally, we had to buy food for these persons. Once we were able to get them out of Buenaventura to our house of refuge, at first, some had to sleep on the floor, on blankets and mats, since we didn’t yet have all the beds for them. Later, we received donations from people (blankets, sheets, towels, among other things).
Q: Has the Centro Pazífico continued to offer shelter to people displaced or threatened by political violence? Can you give another example to help our readers understand the nature of this service?
A: Yes, at the Centro Pazífico we have constantly received comrades in complex and risky situations. An additional case I could mention is the following.
A young human rights defender is falsely accused of being an insurgent. They make an illegal raid of his house, stealing his computer, cell phones, documents, the same with his housemate. They begin surveilling his house, they threaten the owner of the house so that she will not rent to him so that he has to urgently leave this place.
For his security he takes shelter in the Pacific Center for Human Rights [Centro Pazífico], where he continues his activities as a Human Rights defender for one month, and subsequently he was able to secure employment to be able to find another place to live.
Q: We, as internationals, looked on with horror at what happened in Cali with the repression of the National Strike. Is this something you experienced directly and personally? Can you tell us a little about the statistics—how many people were assassinated, detained, disappeared? Can you tell us something about the victories the people were able to achieve?
A: The National Strike began on April 28, 2021, and Santiago de Cali was a strong city in the strike and counted 23 “Resistance Points” (Puntos de Resistencia, where they had concentrations of protesters throughout the day and during all the three months of the National Strike.)
As far as statistics, unfortunately, we have to mention that just in the City of Santiago de Cali, we had the murder of 84 persons, and in the Department of Valle del Cauca, a total of 91. There was a total of 401 cases of arbitrary detentions (all are now free), and 22 persons in penal establishments who are facing judicial frame-ups on the part of the Colombian State. With regard to the disappeared, we had a total of 181 persons, of whom 104 were found. We couldn’t get much information, either because of the fear of their families, friends, and companions, or because persons couldn’t get back to their homes and turned up later. Of these cases of forced disappearances, we had very grave cases such as the following: a girl of 17 years, detained and taken from the city of Cali to the city of Yumbo, where she was tortured, sexually abused, without food, over three days, and the fourth day, she was left in the street, without shoes, without money, and she had to walk almost 20 kilometers before she found someone who would help her.
Yes, I personally lived through many situations in the National Strike, the most grave, and the one that almost caused our deaths, was the following [she provides a copy of the alert released by REDDHFIC]:
“At around 8:40 p.m., a verification mission [arrived] composed of… delegates from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [UNHCHR], the Attorney General’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, and human rights defenders Darnelly Rodríguez (REDDHFIC, Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network) ,Ana María Burgos (FCSPP, Committee in Solidarity with the Political Prisoners Foundation), James Larrea of the Human Rights Committee of the Congreso de los Pueblos [People’s Congress] and the Human Rights Committee of the CUT Valle [labor confederation], Rubén Darío Gómez coordinator of the…archdiocese of Cali.
At the police station there were evidently four people in custody, 3 of them… not part of the National Strike…, and a young man who was [at demonstrations] in the sector of La Luna , who had bruises, and an open wound in his leg, due to physical aggression by agents of the National Police and the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD). Once the verification was done… a police officer asked the UN and the Attorney General’s Office to verify the police officers who were apparently injured…. The human rights defenders James, Ana and Darnelly were left behind. They began to be verbally assaulted by a police officer, who, in an intimidating manner… shouted ‘you are useless, you don’t defend our rights, you are useless, go away!’.
Immediately, barracked police officers began to come out of the police station and surround the human rights defenders…. A police officer assaulted the human rights defender James Larrea and as a result of the blows he was thrown to the ground…. and a plainclothes police officer kicked Ana Maria Burgos in the back and hit Darnelly Rodriguez in the head, without removing his helmet. Despite the aggressions and the defenseless state of the group of defenders, about 150 policemen surrounded them and shouted, ‘Go away, go away! You are useless! You are killing us or is that we have no rights?’.
Then, frightened, the human rights defenders and the official from the Ombudsman’s Office left the place. Arriving at the corner… some street inhabitants… accompanied them in a human chain to stop the aggressions…. Several police officers… shouted, ‘This time we are going to kill them!’. At that moment police officers began to fire their guns against the human rights defenders, then ESMAD arrived…. The people from the street stood in front of them, shielding Darnelly Rodriguez and Ana Maria Burgos. Meanwhile, the police officers threw a stun grenade… and continued firing into the air and towards the human rights defenders and the people in the street. Dazed, the two human rights defenders… Darnelly Rodriguez and Ana Maria Burgos ran away, [but]… Darnelly Rodriguez received two impacts with what was apparently a blunt force weapon. One of her wounds is on the left side of her breast and the other in the calf of her left foot. The two women were helped by a bystander…to go to where the rest of the mission was. At that precise moment… Darnelly Rodriguez received what apparently was a blow in her coccyx which prevented her from moving normally. Then a police officer arrived at the scene and took them away, running, and told them, ‘Get out of here because these people are very emotional, and anything could happen’.”
Because of these aggressions, I have a spinal injury, a herniated disc, for which I have to undergo surgery. But it is difficult since it is a complicated surgery. Above all, it is a long period of quiet time (two months) that would prevent me from working. Therefore, it keeps getting postponed since I cannot stop working for that long because I have to care for my daughter.
Q: Were Centro Pazífico groups involved in the National Strike? Many of us contributed to funds for the street medics, funds that were distributed by Centro Pazífico members and allies.
A: Yes, fortunately we had your help for the street medics, or the health brigades, as they are known here. It helped us buy medications, cots, and thousands of supplies for attending to the wounded.
The Pacific Center for Human Rights served as a warehouse for the collection of food and medicines to assemble the first aid kits that were delivered during the national strike to all the points of resistance. It was also used as a site for non-emergency health care, that is, for minor cases…, these people were taken to the Human Rights Center and treated by health workers.
Likewise, the Centro Pazífico was our meeting place, where we slept to be able to cover the points of resistance. Approximately 20 human rights defenders would sleep there. It was where we were planning for the next day, where we received the information coming in from the street, where we were making declarations, where we held press conferences, among other activities. The role of the Centro Pazífico was fundamental for the work of the human rights groups among us.
Q: The number of victims of political violence almost always increases during the holidays. Is the Centro Pazífico and its member organizations prepared to receive more threatened leaders, more displaced people? Do you have the tools you need to defend human and labor rights? What are their immediate and current needs: groceries, printer, beds, furniture, security camera, anything else?
A: Yes, we human rights defenders, always, throughout the year, are ready to attend to whatever situation presents itself, late at night or in the morning, Sunday or Monday. Wiithout regard to the day or the hour, we are there to help, above all, when our comrades’ lives and security are at risk.
At the Centro Pazífico, we have many needs. We already count on all the financial help we have received for rent and utilities, but we do not know where all the materials will come from in order to attend to our fellow social leaders.
This is what we need at the Centro Pazífico: cots so that people will not have to sleep on the floor, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, but, above all, we need funds so that when we receive some threatened social leader, we can offer them the food necessary for their subsistence while they are staying there.
Additionally, for training, declarations, and communication work, we need a computer that is constantly at the Human Rights Center, a printer, a video camera, a projector, and to be able to keep our comrades in the territories constantly trained.
Regarding security, we think it is important to install a security camera system in the center that will allow us to monitor the house.
Finally, we are thinking of being able to acquire a house, not a rented one but our own, so that this work we do will last for many more years, will be constant as our rights are being violated.
Q: The repression of the strike was made possible by bullets and guns and helicopters and tear gas from the U.S. government. As we prepare for a season dedicated to peace and good will to all, do you have any final words in closing on the importance of international solidarity?
A: First, we would like to thank the Alliance for Global Justice for their constant support, not only financially, but also for their constant accompaniment of our social movements, for sharing everything that is happening in our country, and for pressuring the Colombian state to provide guarantees for human rights defenders. We would also like to thank James, Raquel, Maya [staff and volunteers at AFGJ], and everyone for always being there.
International solidarity has always been so important for us, because at the national level we do not have the resources for our work, but also because it makes our situation visible in their countries, and we put an end to the lies that the national government is telling about Colombia. The solidarity shows the social and political reality, and that is very brave and important for us. We hope that this support continues for a long time and that we can help many social leaders in Colombia, especially here in the Southwest where the repression is so heavy.
Copy of latest death threat to Darnelly Rodriguez and other social and labor leaders in Cali:
(Translated by Maya Hernández)
The Gaitan Self Defense Groups of Colombia (AGC)
Public Notice November 2021
The Gaitan Self Defense Groups of Colombia (AGC) ratify our flags and denounce any and all guerrillas, communists, militias who threaten the country of Colombia. We have decided to move forward with attacks against those who form part of people’s organizations, such as unions, NGOs, human rights defenders, medics, people’s congress, and farmworkers who call themselves the Strike Committee, as well as certain representatives of political parties who encourage criminal activity and different forms of struggle in an effort to revive urban militias such as ELN, EPL, FARC dissidents, that began on April 28th, 2021. As a direct result of an intelligence process that was started to monitor and interfere with such organizations in the Department of Valle and Cauca, we were able to identify key individuals, their financing and their politically militant orientations. The “front line” [primera linea] calls have gravely harmed our beloved Colombia.
In continuation of our struggle against insurgents, we take military action against anyone who sympathizes or supports the following people: Magaly Pino alias la Chiqui, Walter Agredo, Alfredo Mondragón, Darnelly Rodriguez, Francisco Maltes Tello, Wilson Sáenz, José Miliciades Sánchez, Julián Lozano, Alexander López, Carlos Garcia, Jimmy Nuñez, Jorge Ivan Vélez, Wilson Ariaz, Isabel Olaya, Alberto Guzmán, Jhonson Torrez, Eufemia Mosquera, Gilberto Pareja, Feliciano Valencia. Our goal is to exterminate them.
¡For a Colombia that is free of Castro Chavism! ¡AGC is present!
For the motherland of Colombia, and for all