from Weekly News Update on the Americas
CESAR: PARAMILITARIES MASSACRE 22
According to a report from the Minga Association for Alternative Social Promotion, on Dec. 4 and 5 a group of about 200 armed and uniformed paramilitaries entered the rural communities of La Mas Verde and Nuevo Horizonte, within the jurisdiction of Santa Isabel in Curumani municipality, in the northeastern Colombian department of Cesar. The paramilitaries, who entered and departed the area unchallenged by government forces, identified themselves as members of the Northern Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) operating under the command of paramilitary leader “Jorge 40.” (Jorge 40’s real name is Rodrigo Tovar Pupo; he has been one of the AUC’s negotiators in demobilization talks with the government in Santa Fe de Ralito. According to the schedule laid out in a July 2003 accord, all of AUC’s troops are supposed to be demobilized by the end of 2005.)
The paramilitaries abused, humiliated and tortured campesinos in the two communities before detaining an undetermined number of them. At least 22 of the abducted campesinos were subsequently found murdered, some by gunfire and some by knives or machetes. The paramilitaries imposed a blockade on the communities until Dec. 7, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the area, and preventing any news of the massacre from getting out. They then withdrew to their bases in the municipalities of Curumani and Pailitas, in Cesar, taking with them cattle and other possessions belonging to local residents.
Residents subsequently buried one of the murdered campesinos in a makeshift grave in La Mas Verde, because the body was decomposing rapidly. The army took the bodies of four other victims to the urban center of Curumani. The remaining 17 bodies were left lying out, exposed to the elements, in the two communities, as residents waited for judicial or police authorities to recover and identify them; as of Dec. 10, no authorities had made any effort to do so. (Asociacion Minga, Dec. 10)
Spokespersons from the Colombian Armed Forces who refused to be identified told Associated Press on Dec. 11 that they have no official reports confirming the massacre, but that they are in the process of verifying the information. (AP, Dec. 11)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 11
LOGGING OK’D, NO TRADE DEAL
On Dec. 13, Colombia’s Chamber of Deputies voted 81 to 11 to approve a bill which opponents say will open the country’s forests to logging by multinational companies. The Senate already passed a version of the “Forest Law”; the two bills will now be reconciled and the final version presented to Uribe for his signature. Uribe had lobbied for the bill; it is fiercely opposed by Colombia’s environmental, indigenous, African-descendant and campesino communities, who say they will challenge it in court. (El Tiempo, Bogota, Dec. 14; Censat Agua Viva website)
On Dec. 16, in response to a legal challenge to a “free trade treaty” (TLC) being negotiated between Colombia, the US, Ecuador and Peru, the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca department ordered Uribe’s government “to abstain from the partial or total signing…of any agreement which would have a harmful impact on collective rights.” It is a preliminary injunction; the departmental court with jurisdiction over Bogota has not yet made a decision about whether the TLC is in fact harmful to collective rights, natural resources, indigenous culture and campesino activities, as claimed by grassroots activists. (EFE, Dec. 16)
The legal challenge was brought by Efrain Barbosa, a professor at the National University of Colombia who has also been active against the Forest Law. (EFE, Dec. 16; Censat Agua Viva website)
The injunction was announced a day after Trade Minister Jorge Humberto Botero announced that no final agreement on the TLC had been reached this year and that negotiations would resume in mid-January. The two sides have yet to reach a deal on the issues of agriculture, healthcare and intellectual property. (EFE, Dec. 16)
On Dec. 11, Uribe–who faces reelection in 2006–announced that in 2006 his government would approve a “generous” increase in Colombia’s minimum wage. The Unitary Workers Federation (CUT) responded by pointing out that some 8.1 million Colombian workers receive less than the legal minimum wage–some because their employers are breaking the law, others because they work in the informal sector. (AP, Dec. 12) On Dec. 14, a tripartite commission made up of the CUT, the government and business sector reached an agreement on wages and price controls for basic goods and services, among other issues. (Text of Agreement posted by CUT Dec. 14 on Colombia Indymedia)
GOVERNMENT MEETS WITH REBELS
On Dec. 16, representatives of the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel organization met in Havana, Cuba, to begin a round of “exploratory dialogues” to discuss a possible peace process. The governments of Spain, Norway and Switzerland are acting as observers at the talks; delegates of Colombian civil society are also represented. The talks were inaugurated by famed Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (ENH, Dec. 17 from AFP)
On Dec. 13, Uribe and his government’s High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, announced that the government had agreed to demilitarize 180 square kilometers on the border between the departments of Valle del Cauca and Tolima in order to pave the way for an exchange of prisoners with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Under the exchange, military and civilian hostages held by the FARC would be exchanged for 300 rebels held in Colombian prisons. The FARC would also have to withdraw troops from the zone, and international observers would verify compliance before the two sides meet to work out details at a public school in the village of El Retiro in Florida municipality, Valle del Cauca. The “humanitarian exchange” was proposed by an international commission made up of delegates of the governments of France, Spain and Switzerland.
“The government accepts this proposal,” said Uribe at a press conference. “I confess humbly that this implies a concession from the government. I do it humbly but also with responsibility. We accept this modification to the positions we have maintained…because we trust in the international community.” When Uribe began his term in 2002, he insisted he would make no deals with the FARC. (ENH, Dec. 14)
SENTENCE IN ACTIVISTS’ MURDER
On Dec. 13, Judge Floreddy Gonzalez in Bogota announced the sentencing in absentia of FARC military chief Jorge Briceno Suarez, known as “Mono Jojoy,” for ordering the 1999 abduction and murder of three US indigenous rights activists in the eastern Colombian department of Arauca. Briceno was sentenced to 39 years in prison and a fine of 102 minimum monthly salaries for ordering the killing.
Indigenous rights activists Ingrid Washinawatok, Terence Freitas and Lahe’ena’e Gay were visiting the territory of the indigenous U’wa people as the Uwa’s invited guests when they were kidnapped by the FARC’s 45th Front on Feb. 25, 1999; their bodies were found a week later, on March 4, on the Venezuelan side of the border. The FARC subsequently admitted that its forces had carried out the killings.
Briceno’s brother, German Briceno Suarez (“Grannobles”), headed the FARC’s 45th and 10th fronts and was in control over the area where the activists were abducted. The conviction of Jorge Briceno–the FARC’s top military commander–was based on a recording in which his brother German apparently said: “Settle this thing, the boss authorized this matter of the gringos, that it should be done on the other side so as to not leave traces.”
The judge acquitted Nelson Vargas Rueda, a campesino from Saravena, Arauca, for lack of evidence that he participated in the crime. (In May 2003 Vargas was extradited to the US to face trial there for the murder; the US government later dropped its case against him for lack of evidence and returned him to Colombia on July 1, 2004.) (El Nuevo Herald, Dec. 14 from AP)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 18
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #116
See also our last update on Colombia:
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution