OAS Peace Mission official threatened in Colombia

On Dec. 13, an observer who works for an international body set up to monitor Colombia’s demobilization process received a death threat while visiting a poor neighborhood in Medellín. Since 2004, the Mission to Support the Peace Process (MAPP), under the auspices of the Organization of American States, has had teams of observers in different parts of Colombia and produces periodic reports. The member who was threatened in Colombia was in a meeting when a man on a motorcycle drove up to her car and told her driver that his boss would be killed if she failed to abandon her work.

This is the first time that a member of the OAS peace mission has received a threat, despite the fact that they have been monitoring the demobilization over the last four years and travel throughout many areas of Colombia. This threat not only puts this official at risk, but other international agencies as well, which have often been protected from the kinds of security risks that Colombian organizations and human rights defenders face daily. In an article by Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at the organization says, “this threat suggests that armed actors in Medellin are becoming so increasingly bold that they now feel comfortable enough to intimidate even international observers. The government should respond unequivocally and conduct full and effective investigations to get to the bottom of this.”

It is also significant that this threat takes place in Medellin, a city that has been lauded for its efforts to demobilize paramilitary fighters and bring down the levels of violence over the last few years. The reality of this death threat proves that Medellin is not safe: not for international peace observers and much less for Colombian organizations who continue to denounce the demobilization process with much stronger statements than the OAS peace mission.

In an interview on Radio Caracol, Sergio Caramagna, head of the mission, said there was a strange climate in the Medellín neighborhoods: groups of narcotraffickers and demobilized fighters from Urabá and North Valle department are fighting for territorial control. Caramagna didn’t say how this struggle for control is connected to the death threat that one of the OAS officials received. He included that 750 demobilized paramilitaries have been assassinated since the process began.

You can read more in an article by the Associated Press, “OAS Observer to Colombia Peace Process Receives Death Threats.”

The Mission’s X Report, was made public on Oct. 31, 2007. The mission issues a report three times a year to reflect the progress and problems of Colombia’s demobilization process. A few of the report’s findings are that:

* Upon the demobilization of paramilitary groups, narcotraffickers saw the opportunity to take over areas with illicit crops.

* 22 re-armed illegal networks continue to exist, a number which was identified in a previous report.

* Progress has been made to “deligitimize paramilitarism.”

* Although the authorities have detained mid-level paramilitary bosses, they are quickly replaced by others willing to do the job.

* There continue to be terroritorial disputes and vendettas among the new paramilitary organizations, which have resulted in “the assassination of the mid-level commanders and the death and displacement of the demobilized combatants. This happens in times of transition and ends when one of the rival gangs takes over the zone.

* The guerrillas have increased their influence in the wake of the paramilitary demobilization in specific geographical areas.

* Serious security concerns continue to affect the access that victims have to the Truth and Reconciliation process: “regarding the participation of victims in the voluntary statement hearings, despite the regulations issued, some problems have arisen in their enforcement. These relate to: victims’ misinformation about the process; threats and intimidation; as well as some homicides; poor coordination between agencies responsible for guaranteeing the participation of the victims in the hearings; and insufficient economic resources for the victims to travel to the cities where the hearings are being held.”

These are just a few of the report’s 70 observations, which can be useful to understand the challenges that exist as Colombia continues with its demobilization process, but the OAS peace mission hardly takes a highly critical stance of the government’s efforts. For example, in this X report, the territorial struggles between old and new paramilitary networks and narcos are mentioned numerous times as well as the risks that demobilized fighters run, but the report focuses too much on the fact that these old/new networks are mainly interested in controlling the drug business. They fail to mention that the paramilitaries continue to silence (through threats, intimidation, harassment and assassinations) those who speak out against human rights abuses, the illegal appropriation of land, victim’s rights and links between the military and paramilitaries. For example, read the story about the Nuevo Herald reporter [Gonzalo] Guillen who received 24 death threats in 48 hours while he was in Colombia two weeks ago for reporting on the links between Uribe and the narcos. Or consider the death threat made to the OAS official. Hardly aimed at controlling drug profits, these threats are carried out with political motives and intended to silence those who attempt to denounce the connections between the government and the paramilitaries.

From FOR Colombia Program, December 2007

See our last post on Colombia.