The Colombian government is denying reports of a mass grave found in the Meta department on the eastern plains, charging that the allegation is a strategy to derail the Andean nation’s free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU). A group of NGOs and activists headed by Sen. Piedad Córdoba reported last week that a grave containing 2,000 bodies had been found in the Meta municipality La Macarena, next to an army installation. The finding was corroborated by an international human rights commission led by six members of the European Parliament.
After the discovery was announced, a government spokesperson told Caracol Radio: “It is considered to be suspicious that this NGO is promoting this allegation, precisely when in September, in Europe, Colombia will try to ratify an FTA with the European Union, it’s not a coincidence.” On July 26, President Alvaro Uribe himself weighed in, saying, “Here come the enemies of the Public Force and the Democratic Security [policy], perpetrating calumnies against the army of the fatherland…” He called the foreign delegation “mouthpieces of terrorism.”
Colombian president-elect Juan Manuel Santos did meet with members of the NGOs after the claims were made, including representatives of British group Justice for Colombia, an organization vocally opposed to the Colombia-EU FTA because of Colombia’s human rights record.
According to a press release from the Colombian Foreign Ministry, the Meta site in question is an old cemetery with 449 individual graves. The statement said the Prosecutor General’s Justice and Peace unit undertook a mission to the site after the NGOs’ allegations. While some of the remains have been identified, others never had identity papers, the statement said.
Colombian deputy Iván Cepeda of the leftist Polo Democrático dismissed this version, asserting that locals had reported the mass grave but were ignored by authorities. He raised the possibility that the bodies are “false positives“—civilians arbitrarily killed by the army to inflate body counts in the war against leftist guerillas. “There is a grave picture of human rights violations in the oriente of Colombia,” Cepeda said. (TeleSUR, July 26; ColPrensa, July 25; Colombia Reports, July 22; El Tiempo, July 21)
The US-Colombia FTA is advancing despite continuing human rights concerns.
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Colombia: campesino leader assassinated in Meta
Norma Irene Pérez, a member of the Alto Guayabero Human Rights Committee in Colombia’s Meta department, who was assisting in the public investigation of the mass grave recently uncovered in the local municipality of La Macarena, was “disappeared” on Aug. 7. Her body was found in her vereda (hamlet) of La Unión on Aug. 13. A mother of four and the head of her family, she was also a local organizer of the cross-country Marcha Patrótica in July. There have been no arrests in the case. (RCN Radio, Aug. 23)