One of the mayors revealed on Wednesday that he and at least 70 others were held on December 29 at a FARC checkpoint in the south of the department, and forced to listen to the leftist rebel group threaten local towns against siding with Uribe and the national government.
According to San Antonio Mayor Ismael Cruz Neira, who was one of the many terrified passengers traveling on the San Antonio-Chaparral highway, FARC’s 21st Front held them for 40 minutes, insulting the Uribe government and threatening all of the mayors and governors who collaborate with it, claiming that “Uribe is a sham and that the FARC is sure that with this government, there will never be dialogue,” reported El Espectador.
Neira went on to explain that the message was delivered on behalf of feared rebel leader “Giovanny,” and it was made clear to him that though his life was spared this time, he shouldn’t challenge the rebel group in the future. Neira also claimed that the message included warnings to other mayors in southern Tolima that the area would become a military target for FARC, as a consequence of siding with the national government.
Neira went on to explain that he suspects the FARC was referring to the social investment that has been made in the region by the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, USAID, and other government entities.
The FARC rebels also issued a warning against the governor of Tolima, Oscar Barreto, against whom they have launched several failed attacks, saying that “the next time, we will not fail.”
Threats were also made against the mayors of several other Tolima towns which, according to the FARC, have also been siding with the Uribe government. The rebels declared as military targets all entities that have any relation with the government.
For Neira, this is not his first threat from the FARC. On December 25, he received a warning to not attend a wedding ceremony, as there was a rumor was that he would be assassinated there by FARC. Neira downplays this incident, claiming that “it wasn’t the first time,” and that the entire town speaks about such warnings often.
However, a few years ago in the same town, then-mayor Belisario Tao Useche was threatened and later assassinated by FARC. Nonetheless, Neira continues to sit comfortably in his office in San Antonio.
A meeting was held on Tuesday to discuss ways to increase security for the area’s mayors. The department´s Secretary of Government, Marta Padilla, admits that there is cause for concern, but says that the necessary steps have been taken to ensure security, and that these types of threats are to be expected before elections.