The Colombian human rights group Red de Defensores (Defenders Network) reports in a May 10 alert of a massive illegal detainment of over 100 students, mostly minors, by an elite National Police unit in the conflicted oil city of Barrancabermeja. The students had been peacefully occupying their school buildings continuously since April 18 to protest budget cut-backs and the laying off of teachers. On April 24, one of the occupied schools, the Colegio Diego Hernández de Gallegos, was invaded by men who identified themselves as paramilitaries and threatened the students. Then, at dawn on May 5, ten of the schools were invaded by the National Police, who arrested 113 students and members of their families. Two of the students’ fathers were beaten, and five members of the Syndicated Workers Union (USO), who had been supporting the strike, were also detained. All are still being held without charge at the National Police Magdalena Medio Operation Command post outside the city. The Metropolitan Anti-Disturbance Security Corps (SMAD), the elite unit reposnible for much recent violence in Colombia, carried out the raids.
Barrancebermeja is the same city where workers at Colombia’s central oil refinery and the local Coca-Cola plant have been targetted for assassination and intimidation by the paramilitaries. See our special report from Barrancebermeja, Augsut 2003.