Colombia: army kills more campesinos

On Dec. 12, troops from the Colombian Army’s 12th Brigade, attached to the Sixth Division, killed campesinos Juan Bautista Munoz and Over Semanate and driver Javier Garzon in the community of La Estrella in La Montanita municipality, in the southern department of Caqueta. The troops stopped the pickup truck—property of Garzon, who had been hired by Munoz and Semanate to transport them on an errand—and shot the three men dead.

The military altered the scene of the shooting—in violation of the law—by moving the bodies to the local soccer field in La Estrella, then issued a communique claiming that the victims were killed in an “armed contact,” and that they were “three narcoterrorists, members of the 15th Front of the ONT-FARC.” According to the army, “The subjects were carrying pistols and ammunition, and had a Toyota 4.5 pickup truck, which was used for their movements and the sale of the confiscated substance, propaganda and manuals alluding to the narcoterrorist organization.” [The prefix ONT is for “Narco-Terrorist Organization,” and would appear to be the Colombian army’s propaganda phrase.—WW4R]

Reiniciar Corporation for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights reported that such killings—in which the army kills campesinos, then claims they were rebels killed in combat—have become increasingly common, especially in the departments of Caqueta and Tolima. (Corporacion Reiniciar, Dec. 14)

According to Reiniciar, four campesinos were killed by the Colombian army in Rioblanco municipality, Tolima department, between Nov. 20 and 29. On Nov. 20, well-known local campesino Miguel Ipus Medina had left his farm in the rural community of La Pradera in Rioblanco and was heading for the village of Las Juntas to pay a debt with the Community Action Board there. About 20 minutes after he left, he was shot to death by army troops, who claimed he was killed in combat and evacuated his body in a helicopter on Nov. 21 to Chaparral, where they buried him in a grave marked as “no name.” His family recovered his body on Nov. 28 and reburied him the next day in Ibague, the departmental capital.

On Nov. 29, troops from the army’s Mobile Brigade No. 8 shot to death Eremildo Valero Bedoya, vice president of the Community Action Board of the rural community of Maracaibo; his 16-year-old niece Virginia Hernandez Valero; and 17-year-old Abelino Rada Vargas. Hernandez and Rada were students at the Jose Maria Cordoba Educational Center in Maracaibo. The three were working on Luis Ernesto Valero’s farm in the community when they were killed. Again, the army airlifted the bodies by helicopter to Chaparral. As residents met in Maracaibo with the Community Action Board’s representatives to protest the murders, army troops arrived in the village and began insulting and threatening the community members. The army patrol’s commander, a man with the last name Rodriguez, told them: “The Community Action Board means shit to me.”

The murders took place several hours after an armed clash between two units of Mobile Brigade No. 8 left one soldier dead and another wounded by “friendly fire.” On Nov. 30, Brig. Gen. Gustavo Matamoros Camacho, Commander of the army’s Fifth Division, issued a communique about alleged armed clashes in the area between the army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), claiming that “as a consequence of the armed confrontations, the professional soldier Nemecio Vargas was murdered and professional soldier Robert Henao Lescano was wounded… [H]ours later, when the troops carried out a search of the area, they found three lifeless bodies, which so far have not been identified.” The communique indicated that the attorney general’s office had gone to the site of the incident and had begun an investigation “with the goal of establishing whether the three bodies are of civilians from the region murdered by the FARC, or if, on the contrary, they were members of the terrorist group.”

Reiniciar, in reporting the killings, accused the army of “trying to cover up the reality of the facts and at the same time, altering the truth, simulating the existence of combats with members of the FARC, for the purpose of hiding the errors of the Public Force which led to the death and personal injuries of the National Army personnel.”

Corporacion Reiniciar also reported that the army has been pressuring the community of Maracaibo, restricting the flow of goods into the community and subjecting young campesinos to strip searches and forcing some of them to go to the army’s camps, where they have been beaten and tied up. (Corporacion Reiniciar, Dec. 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 17

See our last post on Colombia.