from Weekly News Update on the Americas
The latest headlines from Colombia focus on the ups and downs of the “peace process” with the ultra-right paramilitary network. Talks with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have—on paper, at least—led to the “demobilization” of some 30,000 paramilitary fighters, and the uncovering of several mass graves where AUC had dumped its victims. Meanwhile, high-ranking figures in President Alvaro Uribe’s administration have been sacked—and even imprisoned—for their ties to the paramilitaries. Yet despite these developments, all too little seems to have changed on the ground in Colombia’s violence-torn countryside. Weekly News Update on the Americas provides this round-up of recent atrocities by paramilitaries—and points to their continued collaboration with elements of the official security forces.
Paramilitaries Kill Five Near Bogotá
At 1:30 AM on July 1, about eight heavily armed members of a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group, dressed in camouflage and wearing ski masks, arrived in a pickup truck in the municipality of Viota, just two hours from Bogotá in Cundinamarca department. The paramilitaries entered a public establishment known as El Tigre, where 70 people were celebrating father’s day, and shot five people to death, including a 14-year-old boy. A 10-year-old boy was seriously wounded.
The paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Casanare has been active in Cundinamarca department since 2003, and has carried out numerous selective murders and forced disappearances in Viota. Most of the victims have been community leaders or people active in social or campesino organizations. This past Jan. 5, the National Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s office charged Col. Rodrigo Alfonso Gonzalez Medina, Maj. Alexander Lizarazo Parra and Maj. Alejandro Robayo Rodriguez, who served in the Air-Transported Battalion Colombia 28 in 2003, with crimes including multiple aggravated homicide, forced displacement, aggravated kidnapping, forced disappearance and terrorism. As part of the same case, the attorney general’s office ordered the investigation of Capt. Mauricio Arbelaez for similar crimes and charged four other men as members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Casanare. Nine bodies have been uncovered in Viota, but hundreds of other victims remain disappeared. (Agencia Prensa Rural, July 2)
Army-Para Collaboration in Meta Terror?
On June 28, soldiers from the Bacna Battalion of the Colombian army’s Mobile Brigade No. 4 entered the farm of campesino Bertulfo Reyes in the rural community of Palmar in Vista Hermosa municipality, in the lower Ariari region of Meta department. Reyes was away; he had taken his wife to the doctor’s office. The soldiers stayed in the house for three days, and stole and destroyed many of the family’s personal items, according to a complaint sent to the Notimundo agency by the Human Rights Commission. When Reyes returned to the home, the soldiers had gone, but left behind a message reading: “Don’t hide, we came for you, your destiny is to die at our hands: Battalion Bacna.”
On June 29, in the rural community of La Victoria, in Puerto Rico municipality, Meta department, soldiers from the army’s Joaquin Paris Battalion stopped several campesinos who were coming from La Cascada community in Puerto Concordia municipality. Among the soldiers was a paramilitary known as “Pantera,” who told the campesinos: “Greetings to the guerrillas Cachirre and the others from the FARC’s 44th front,” referring to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. “Pantera” also referred in a threatening tone to campesino Edilberto Daza Bejarano, human rights coordinator of the zone and member of the Human Rights Commission of La Victoria. “Pantera” said of Daza: “we’re going to cut that son of a bitch’s head off, because he’s a informer.”
On June 30, a phone message was left with an operator in the town of Santo Domingo, Meta department, for Jaime Ortega, coordinator of the town’s Human Rights Commission, telling him: “Don’t be an informant, son of a bitch guerrilla helper, very soon we’re coming for you.”
On July 1, at 2 PM, three paramilitaries dressed in civilian clothing boarded a canoe ferry transporting passengers on the Ariari river from Puerto Rico to the rural community of Chispas. They violently seized rural worker Oscar Camelo, one of the passengers, and forced the ferry’s operator to continue without him. Camelo has not been heard from since.
“All this takes place in a context of re-engineering of the paramilitary strategy, which combines disarmament processes with the creation of new paramilitary structures like the so-called ‘Black Eagles’ [Aguilas Negras],” said Hector Hugo Torres of the Human Rights Commission. (Agencia Prensa Rural, July 3)
Army Murders More Campesinos
On June 27, Colombian soldiers publicly displayed the body of campesino Cruz Aldelio Brand at the Nueva Granada Battalion base in Barrancabermeja, Norte de Santander department, claiming he was a “guerrilla killed in combat.” Cruz Aldelio was the president of the Communal Action Board of the rural community of La Union, in Yondo municipality, Antioquia department. He had been missing since June 25, when he left to take part in a community road repair project. (Asociacion Campesina del Valle del Rio Cimitarra-ACVC, June 27 via Agencia Prensa Rural)
On May 26, soldiers from the army’s 21 Vargas Battalion under the command of an officer with the last name Ferro, detained Genaro Potes, a 51-year-old campesino with mild physical and mental disabilities, as he left his brother’s home in the rural community of Campo Alegre, in El Castillo municipality, Meta department, and headed on horseback for a meeting about property taxes in the community of Puerto Esperanza. Witnesses say the soldiers tied up Potes in a cacao plantation next to the community’s school and accused him of being a guerrilla. The soldiers interrogated another campesino who was passing by, and asked if he knew Potes. The campesino said he did know him, as an honest worker. On May 27, residents of Puerto Esperanza saw soldiers take Potes’ body in a military truck to Granada municipality in Meta. On May 28, a local radio station reported that the army had killed a guerrilla in an armed clash in El Castillo.
Commander Perez of the 21 Vargas Brigade repeatedly identified Potes as a guerrilla and obstructed his family from recognizing and claiming the body, arguing that Potes had no identification. His family says Potes left his house with his personal identification documents as well as the titles relating to his farm. Potes was easily recognized in the community by his mild disability, caused by childhood polio, which gave him a distinctive off-balance walk. (Statement from Movimiento Nacional de Victimas de Crimenes de Estado, Corporacion Claretiana Norman Perez Bello & Comite de Solidaridad con Presos Politicos, May 3 via dhcolombia.info]
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 8
Weekly News Update on the Americas
From our weblog:
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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution