Jimmy Díaz Burbano, governor of Colombia’s Putumayo admitted that large areas of the lowland jungle department were shut down by a “paro armado”—a civil strike enforced by the guns of the FARC guerillas. He said the strike had been called in response to government spraying of the glyphosate herbicide across the territory along the Río Putumayo to wipe out coca leaf crops. Díaz said spraying hurts the campesinos and provokes a reaction from the illegal armed groups they sell their coca to, calling for a dialogue on the issue. “I will be a bridge between the community and the Colombian state and do everything possible to assure that the people are heard,” he said. (Diario del Sur, Nariño, May 29)
Colombian authorities are currently investigating the FARC’s alleged use of child soldiers in Putumayo, following anonymous tips from educators in several villages of the guerillas’ recruitment of at least 13 minors, between the ages of 10 and 16. According to authorities, FARC fighters arrived in the area May 13 and actively recruited children from village schools, violating international humanitarian law. The Colombian Family Welfare Insititute (ICBF) office in Mocoa, the departmental capital, has sent a committee to the remote municipality of Puerto Guzmán to verify the allegations. “It is evident that children are being recruited in this area,” he admitted. In a recent report on child soldiers, the UN counted 343 children recruited to illegal armed groups in Colombia between January 2009 and August 2011. (Colombia Reports, May 21)
“False positives” scandal continues
A Colombian court on May 4 ordered the Ministry of Defense to pay more than $260,000 to the family of a young man who was murdered and disguised as a guerrilla in 1998. Juan Carlos Misat Camargo was abducted in the northern department of Cesar by the army’s Battalion 40 before being killed, adorned in camouflage and planted with a rifle to look like a member of the ELN guerrilla group. The government was ordered by the State Council, the country’s highest administrative court, to pay over $260,000 in compensation to Camargo’s wife and son. Authorities were tipped off to the incident by a soldier involved in the cover-up who said Camargo was disguised as a guerilla to boost casualty counts for the battalion. The phenomenon of the Colombian army disguising murdered civilians as guerillas to increase kill counts is popularly known as “false positives.” (Colombia Reports, May 4)
Paramilitary attacks on labor continue
On May 24, a gunman opened fire on a union leader inCali but missed, killing the man’s brother and wounding two other people, including a 4-year-old girl. Adolfo Devia, vice president of the Cali Municipal Corporations Workers Union (SINTRAEMCALI), escaped the attack uninjured. The gunman was captured by the union leader’s bodyguards and turned over to police. Two other SINTRAEMCALI leaders received death threats last month signed by the Black Eagles paramilitary group, sardonically inviting them to their own funerals.
The threats were noted in a letter that 10 US congressmen sent to President Barack Obama last week, protesting ongoing paramilitary attacks on Colombian labor. Finding “an intensification of violence against labor activists” in Colombia, the letter urged Obama to ensure the Andean nation keeps its commitments to protect labor leaders under the new free trade agreement with the US. Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for union organizers, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. So far this year, seven trade unionists have been killed in Colombia, compared to 30 for all of last year, according to the National Union School, which keeps count. (AP, May 26)
Venezuela cracks down on FARC
Venezuelan authorities on May 25 announced the detention of 10 people suspected of participating in a cross-border raid five days earlier in which 12 Colombian soldiers were killed. The men have been turned over to Colombian authorities to verify if they have ties to the FARC, Venezuelan Defense Minister Henry Rangel said in a statement. Venezuela, long accused of supporting the FARC, has responded to the attack by sending an additional 3,000 troops to the border. From Zulia state, along the international border, Rangel said that any guerillas crossing the border would be caught thanks to the “iron hand and the work” of the Venezuelan military. President Hugo Chávez recently vowed to cooperate with Colombian authorities, saying he wouldn’t allow guerrillas to use Venezuela to “camp, train or attack other countries.”
But Colombian hardliners were not appeased. Colombian authorities say that intercepted rebel emails show the FARC’s top commander, known as “Timochenko,” is operating along the Venezuela-Colombia border. The issue was also exploited by Venezuela’s right-wing opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. “The guerrilla groups are permanently in our Venezuela,” he said in a statement. “It’s important to tell [Chávez] not to lie.” (Miami Herald, May 25)
See our last post on Colombia.