Another leader of the Peace Community of San José de Apartado was killed by the Colombian army on Nov. 17. Arlen Salas David was working in his cornfield with his comrades when a unit of the 17th Brigade opened fire on them. One soldier threw a grenade, which exploded near Salas, apparently killing him instantly. His comrades could not come to his aid when he fell, as the soldiers continued to fire. By the time they were able to reach him, he was dead. Salas was the Peace Community’s local coordinator for the hamlet of Arenas Altas, where the incident occurred.
Later that day, a delegation from San Josesito, the refugee camp where the Peace Community leadership has lived since the village of San José was occupied by the army earlier this year, visited Arenas Altas to investigate. The delegation was detained in a house in Arenas Altas, where the army accused them of being guerillas and attempted to interrogate them. The troops also shot at other houses in Arenas Altas, and at the hamlet’s schoolhouse, which had children in it at the time. Troops told residents they had been fired on from the schoolhouse; this was denied by the teacher, who said only he and the pupils were in the building, and that he instructed the students to lie on the floor as the troops fired. (San José de Apartado Peace Community statement, Nov. 18, via Red de Defensores)
We have previously noted that Gen. Héctor Jaime Fandiño Rincón, commander of the 17th Brigade at the time of the army massacre at San José in February, was trained at the US Army’s School of the Americas in “Small-Unit Infantry Tactics” in 1976.
It nows comes to light that his replacement, Gen. Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe, who has commanded the 17th Brigade since May 2005, was also trained in counter-insurgency at the School of the Americas in 1976. He attended the Small-Unit Infantry Tactics C-7 course to “become familiar with small-unit operational concepts and principles at the squad and platoon level, [to] receive training in planning and conducting small-unit tactical operations.” (SOA Watch)
10,000 Colombian soldiers have been trained at the SOA, which was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001. Colombia continues to send more soldiers to the SOA/WHINSEC than any other country. SOA Watch states that “SOA graduates are consistently cited for human rights abuses.” (SOA Watch)
As usual, there were cases of harassment the foreshadowed the latest atttack. On Nov. 12, four men from the Fiscalia, the state prosecutor’s office, entered San Josesito without permission from the community, questioning residents and filming them with a camera. (San José de Apartado Peace Community statement, Nov. 12)
Reads a Nov. 18 statement from the Peace Community:
We make an appeal for national and international support, so that our extermination can be stopped; so that the inhabitants of the whole region of Arenas Altas are not forced to become internally displaced, which the Army has told us is their objective. The serious and committed work that Arlen was carrying out will guide us. Pain barely lets us talk but we will continue to cry ‘Dignity’ out loud, like he taught us to do during his daily chores and his commitment to the community. His two small children will continue to walk besides us, building a different tomorrow in which there will be respect for life. Arlen, our tears accompany this horror but you are with us, giving us life. Thank you for your leadership, your committment. Someday history will judge those who murdered you. (Translation via SOA Watch.)