Colombia: paramilitaries issue death threats in Barrancabermeja

A reconstituted paramilitary group, “Los Rastrojos Urban Commandos,” made a series of death threats the week of Aug. 13 against members of four human rights organizations and one union in Barrancabermeja in the northern Colombian department of Santander. The first threats came in a manila envelope found on Aug. 14 at the home of human rights activist Himad Choser. The envelope contained a 9 mm bullet and a pamphlet by “Los Rastrojos” declaring Choser an enemy because he had been “denouncing and attacking our economic structure, based on drug trafficking in the region.” The pamphlet described Choser as “at the service of the FARC,” the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The pamphlet also named four organizations and the National Union of Food Industry Workers (SINALTRAINAL) as collaborators with Choser.

On Aug. 18 another “Los Rastrojos” pamphlet was left in the office of the People in Action Organization, a group that defends LGBT rights. In this pamphlet the paramilitaries declared a “death sentence against Mr. Ovidio [Nieto], of the organization that defends the gays”; against “the guerrilla William Mendoza,” the local SINALTRAINAL president; and against Choser, “so that this defender of fags won’t agitate the city.” “We’re going to be blunt,” the pamphlet continued. “We won’t give more warnings.”

Local human rights organizations called on the authorities “to fulfill their role as guarantor[s] of the life and tranquility of the residents of our city,” and they asked the international community to monitor and publicize the threats and to demand that the national government take action against criminal groups. (Communiqué posted on SINALTRAINAL website, Aug. 20) Earlier in the month Colombian unionists called for international solidarity for SINALTRAINAL president Mendoza, who says the government is trying to have him sentenced to prison, where he fears he will be killed.)

Los Rastrojos” is one of several criminal groups that carry on the work of rightwing paramilitary groups which ostensibly demobilized during the middle 2000s. On Aug. 18 the Colombian radio station Caracol reported that a leading paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), acquired weapons from criminal groups in the US in 2004 and 2005, at the same time that the group claimed to be demobilizing. Basing its report on documents from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Caracol said the AUC acquired 200 M16 rifles, 100 fragmentation grenades, 150 rocket-propelled grenades and 50,000 .22 cartridges from Miami in just one year.

The last section of the AUC to demobilize, the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc, officially gave up its arms on Aug. 16, 2006. Some of its former members then formed “Los Urabeños,” which the Medellín-based news service Colombia Reports describes as “one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Colombia and in control of the drug routes in what used to be the heartland of the AUC.” (Colombia Report, Aug. 19)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 26.