Colombia’s police sent its brutal anti-riot unit ESMAD to Mocoa to vacate a plot occupied by homeless survivors of a natural disaster that killed hundreds and nearly destroyed the town three weeks ago, national radio station Caracol reported.
According to Caracol, the ESMAD were involved in clash a with disaster victims who had set up camp on the outskirts of the city . This has not been confirmed, however, neither by authorities nor independent and social media.
Mocoa’s instant problem with homelessness
Following extreme rainfall, Mocoa was partly destroyed by floods and mudslides on April 1 in a disaster that killed at least 328 people. Sixty-nine people are still registered disappeared. Thousands of the city’s inhabitants were left homeless by the destructive forces of nature.
Caracol reported that some 700 victims had created a makeshift camp on the outskirts of the destroyed town to have a roof over their head while their city is rebuilt, but were removed by the feared and generally violent ESMAD unit.
However, local news website Noti-Fonteras Putumayo estimated 70 people had occupied the plot and did not confirm the ESDMAD was involved in the operation.
ESMAD = Run as fast as you can
Colombia’s most-feared and most brutal police unit has an impressive brutality record.
Counting only disciplinary charges, almost 10% of the 3,600-strong unit is under investigation for police brutality by the Inspector General’s Office, according to conservative radio station RCN.
According to the progressive think tank CINEP, between 2002 and 2012, the ESMAD outright executed 133 civilians, carried out 512 arbitrary arrests, injured 596 civilians and tortured 73 Colombians.
Members of the ESMAD have been in Mocoa for weeks, but according to the institution to assist in rescue efforts, not to carry out police duties.
The claim of Caracol, one of Colombia’s most popular news outlets, could not be confirmed by either local or social media, leaving it unclear whether the ESMAD was involved in the eviction.
Why tensions after so much suffering?
The victims that set up camp on the occupied plot told Caracol that the situation in the government-organized shelters, where thousands are housed, is “complicated.”
“One can see the difference between one of the government shelters and a place like that of the Association of Indigenous women, ASOMI,” Valentina Gonzalez of the regional victims NGO Casa Amazonia told leftist online radio station Contagio.
The victims right worker compared the government-constructed shelters to concentration camps, Contagio reported.
In spite of the victims’ vulnerability and the apparent lack of facilities to shelter the thousands of homeless, authorities sent did send police to forcibly remove the homeless victims from the plot.
“The police told us they were going to move us, but didn’t come with any concrete solutions, just that we had to leave,” an anonymous victim was quoted as saying by Caracol.
While Caracol reported a clash between the ESMAD troops and the victims, local news outlet Notifronteras reported the victims abandoned the plot peacefully. On social media there were also no reports of violence.
Private property still private property
Mayor Jose Castro told Caracol that the victims were removed because, while the government is looking for plots to house its citizens, the victims had illegally occupied private property.
“The government is making progress in the acquisition of lots, but we need to come to the understanding that it is impossible to just occupy private property. Everything has its course.”
Mocoa Mayor Jose Castro
According to the victims, Caracol reported, the farmer that owns the plot where they had been staying was looking to sell his piece of land.
Central park turned into homeless shelter
Having been made homeless for the second time in a month, this time not by nature, but by the state, the victims went to the city’s main square and set up camp there to demand dignified shelter, both Caracol and Notifronteras reported.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said last week that the reconstruction of Mocoa, a town of 45,000, could take two to three years.
The first permanent homes are expected to be finished in four months, President Juan Manuel Santos said last week, leaving many of locals who lost their home in precarious situations for many more months, some maybe even for years.
To curb the number of homeless, authorities are offering residents originating from other parts of the country the travel expenses needed to return to their native provinces, Notifronteras reported.