COLOMBIA: REBEL LEADER EXTRADITED, MASSACRES MOUNT
by Weekly News Update on the Americas
REBEL LEADER EXTRADITED TO U.S.
On Dec. 31 a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Juvenal Ricardo Ovidio Palmera Pineda (alias Simon Trinidad), was taken from a maximum security Colombian prison and flown to Washington on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plane. In Washington, Palmera was taken to US District Court--kept open late on New Year's Eve, just for him--where the Justice Department said he appeared before Magistrate Judge John Facciola; he was then driven to an undisclosed location. Palmera has been indicted in the US on charges of drug trafficking, kidnapping and supporting terrorists. The US government says Palmera shipped five kilos of cocaine to the US; the kidnapping charges stem from the FARC's February 2003 capture of US military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves after their plane crashed in the southern department of Caqueta.
Palmera was serving a 35-year prison sentence in Colombia after courts there convicted him of aggravated kidnapping. Palmera was a negotiator for the FARC during peace talks with the government of Andres Pastrana Arango. He was arrested in Ecuador on Jan. 2, 2004. Palmera is the first FARC leader to be extradited to the US. Alleged FARC member Nelson Vargas Rueda was extradited to the US on May 28, 2003, to face charges for the March 1999 murder of three US activists, but he was returned to Colombia on July 1 of this year after the US government dropped its case against him for lack of evidence.
The US has made 270 extradition requests to Colombia. On Nov. 24, Colombia's Supreme Court authorized the extradition of Palmera and two leaders of the rightwing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC): Salvatore Mancuso and Carlos Castano. On Dec. 16, the Colombian government agreed not to extradite Mancuso, who faces drug trafficking charges in the US, as long as he complies--and pushes other AUC members to comply--with the terms of a "peace accord." All arrest orders against Mancuso are suspended while the peace process proceeds, and he travels in Colombian government vehicles under state protection. Castano disappeared last April and rumors spread that he was killed in a factional fight within the AUC; other reports suggest he may be in Israel, or in the US, where his wife, Kenia Gomez, and their daughter were recently granted asylum.
On Dec. 17, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez authorized Palmera's extradition but issued an ultimatum giving the FARC until Dec. 30 to free 63 hostages in exchange for halting the extradition. The list of hostages includes the US military contractors--Howes, Stansell and Gonsalves--along with politicians, soldiers and a German businessperson. The FARC did not respond--and did not refer to the offer in three communiques issued on Dec. 27 and 29--but had made clear in the past that it would not accept such a deal, and would only free the hostages in exchange for the release of 500 jailed rebels.
(Miami Herald, Jan. 1, Nov. 26; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Jan. 1, Nov. 26; AP, Jan. 1; El Mostrador, Chile, Dec. 31; FARC Communiques, Dec. 27, 29)
28 DEAD IN TWO MASSACRES
On Dec. 23, several contingents of the AUC's "Northern Bloc"--headed by Salvatore Mancuso and currently engaged in "peace negotiations" with the Colombian government--came to the Middle Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department from Ocana municipality and the southern area of neighboring Cesar department. The paramilitaries set up a roadblock on the road that links the town center of Convencion to the village of Cartagenita in Convencion municipality, where they abducted and murdered campesino Jesus Humberto Guerrero Jimenez and stole 10 million pesos ($4,147) from him. At the same site, the paramilitaries abducted and killed an unidentified young campesino who lived in Cartagenita.
Early on Dec. 25, the paramilitaries entered the village of Santa Ines, in El Carmen municipality, where they forced the community's residents to gather before separating seven campesinos from the group and killing them. Four of the victims were identified as Leonel Bayona Cabrales, Samuel Perez Abril, Custodio Melo and William Montano. The paramilitaries also abducted, tortured and freed two other campesinos, and robbed the village residents of 15 head of cattle, money and other possessions.
Also on Dec. 25, the paramilitaries abducted two unidentified men near the border of Ocana and Convencion municipalities, and murdered them in the hamlet of Culebritas in Convencion. Some 1,000 residents of the villages of Cartagenita, Miraflores and La Trinidad in Convencion municipality have fled their homes in terror and are hiding in rural areas, unable to reach larger towns because of the paramilitary siege. They are running out of food and have no access to medical attention.
The paramilitaries remain in the area, divided into two groups: one stationed in the hamlet of Santa Maria, between Cartagenita and Miraflores in Convencion municipality, 12 kilometers from the base of the army's Energy Road Plan Battalion #10; the other in the hamlet of Planadas, in El Carmen municipality. The residents of La Trinidad, Miraflores and Cartagenita had previously been displaced by paramilitary violence at the hands of the AUC's "Catatumbo Bloc"--which was officially demobilized this past Dec. 10--and had returned to their homes on May 20, 2003 after being promised that the government would provide them with security.
Minga, a Colombian human rights group, is asking the government to protect the civilian population, neutralize the paramilitaries responsible for the violence, provide emergency humanitarian assistance to displaced communities and assist their safe return, and open criminal investigations into the killings. In addition, Minga wants Sergio Caramagna, head of the Organization of American States (OAS) accompaniment mission which is overseeing the negotiations with the paramilitaries, to verify these violations of the ceasefire. (Minga, Dec. 29, via Prensa Rural)
On the night of Dec. 31, at least 17 campesinos were shot to death in the rural community of Puerto San Salvador, Tame municipality, in the eastern Colombian department of Arauca. Another three campesinos were wounded in the attack. The victims had gathered in a public spot to celebrate New Year's Eve. Tame mayor Alfredo Guzman said the victims included six women, seven men and four children. One of those injured in the attack said the perpetrators had accused the victims of being paramilitary supporters. That testimony led local authorities to blame the FARC for the massacre, though Arauca police commander Col. Rodrigo Palacio told the press that the police and military are still trying to determine who was responsible. (EFE, AFP, Jan. 1)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 2
ARAUCA: ARMY KILLS GIRL
At 3 AM on Nov. 28, the Colombian army's Mobile Brigade 5 entered the village of El Botalon in Tame municipality, Arauca department. The uniformed troops were accompanied by individuals out of uniform who have been recognized as participating in past paramilitary actions. Later in the morning, as fighting broke out between troops and insurgents in the area, the soldiers set up a sniper post and fired at a busy intersection, badly wounding Karly Johana Suarez Torres, who was either nine or 11 years old. Wounded by a bullet to the head, Suarez died en route to a hospital in the city of Arauca. The army surrounded El Botalon, preventing any of the residents from leaving and blocking food and supplies from entering. (Humanidad Vigente, Comite Regional de Derechos Humanos Joel Sierra, Nov. 29, via Colombia Indymedia)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 19
BOGOTA: CAMPESINOS PROTEST TRADE PACT
On Nov. 29, Colombian campesinos marched in Bogota with their cows, oxen and tractors to protest a planned free trade treaty (TLC) between the US and three Andean nations. The protest was held a day before the sixth round of trade talks was set to begin in the US city of Tucson, AZ, between representatives of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the US. The talks were scheduled to close on Dec. 4. The previous round of talks was held Oct. 25-29 in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The four governments have been discussing the trade pact since last May, and hope to sign it by February 2005, despite opposition in all four countries. (Caracol Noticias, AP, Nov. 29) The talks come on the heels of a four-hour visit to Colombia on Nov. 22 by US president George W. Bush. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez used the visit to press Bush for a "fair trade accord" with special consideration for the Colombian agricultural sector and more flexibility on intellectual property rights; Bush apparently did not respond to the request. (Red Colombiana de Accion frent