from Weekly News Update on the Americas
CAUCA: INDIGENOUS SEIZE ESTATE
On Sept. 2, between 500 and 1,000 indigenous Nasa (Paez) people demanding “Freedom for Mother Earth” began a peaceful occupation of the La Emperatriz estate on the Huellas indigenous reserve in Caloto municipality, in the north of Cauca department, Colombia. “This is not only an action to reclaim a piece of land, legitimately deserved and required, but also a declaration of freedom for the land, all the land, [which has been] attacked to end life itself,” said a Nasa leader. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, Sept. 6 from ACIN Communications Network; Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca–CRIC, Sept. 2)
On Sept. 5, after Cauca governor Juan Jose Chaux ordered the Nasa evicted from the estate–apparently under instructions from President Alvaro Uribe Velez–government forces arrived and attacked the community with tear gas, gunfire and grenades, and beat and arrested many community members. According to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) and the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), residents reported that government forces destroyed the community’s food reserves in the Bodega Alta reservation, blocked ambulances from taking away the wounded and prevented health workers from treating the injured. Police agents brutally attacked an administrator for ACIN who was trying to help evacuate a person wounded by grenade shrapnel; they dragged him from the ambulance and beat him repeatedly. An official from Caloto municipality finally managed to win his release. (Minga Informativa, Sept. 6, from ACIN; Adital, Brazil, Sept. 8 from CRIC/ACIN; Equipo Nizkor, Sept. 11)
On Sept. 9, Henry Chocue, coordinator of the Alvaro Ulcue youth movement of the northern Cauca indigenous communities, reported that army and anti-riot police units from Popayan (capital of Cauca) and Cali (capital of neighboring Valle del Cauca department) had attacked again, wounding and arresting community members and burning part of the estate. The indigenous governor of the Huellas reserve was beaten badly and had to be hospitalized, said Chocue. Early on Sept. 10, Chocue reported that 21 community members had been wounded and 13 youths were being detained by security forces. The police gunfire stopped during the night but resumed shooting and detonating explosives on the morning of Sept. 10. Community members on the nearby Guayabal estate were also attacked. (Report from Red Juvenil, Medellin, Sept. 10; Report from CRIC/ACIN, Sept. 10)
A Sept. 10 report from CRIC and ACIN gave the number of wounded at La Emperatriz as 35, including 13-year old Ovidio Dagua, who lost his eye to grenade shrapnel, and Huellas governor Maximiliano Conda, who suffered cranial and facial trauma. Two community members were hospitalized with skull fractures and one suffered a bullet wound to the chest.
When Sandro Garzon, captain of the police anti-riot squad, was wounded during the night of Sept. 9, the Nasa Indigenous Guard–which arms itself only with traditional wooden staffs–rescued and protected him, and indigenous authorities treated his wounds. The Indigenous Guard sought help from the Office of the Defender of the People, the United Nations and human rights organizations to return Garzon to authorities the next day. In an interview with the ACIN Communication Network, Garzon thanked the Nasa community for treating him with respect, and with tears in his eyes, contrasted his treatment with the abuses carried out against the community by security forces.
In a ceremonial fire, the Nasa communities burned the riot police shields and other war gear they had recovered from government forces. Circling the fire, they sang the anthem of the Paez people and saluted the indigenous movement as armed soldiers stood by, watching in silence. Also on Sept. 10, Nasa leaders met with National Police director Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro in the mayor’s office in Santander de Quilichao, and won a pledge that his forces would not attack or try to remove the Nasa from La Emperatriz while the community seeks a dialogue with the government. (Report from CRIC/ACIN, Sept. 10)
The Nasa activists chose La Emperatriz for the occupation because the estate was included in a reparations agreement for the Dec. 16, 1991 massacre of 20 indigenous people who had occupied El Nilo estate in Caloto. The massacre was carried out by state police agents in alliance with drug traffickers. In the agreement, signed a week after the massacre on Dec. 23, 1991, the government promised to hand over 15,663 hectares of land to the Nasa over the next three years. The government reiterated its commitment in another agreement signed in 1995 with the indigenous communities, indigenous councils and the CRIC, yet so far has provided just over 9,000 hectares.
The Nasa say they will remain on the estate until the government appoints a high-level commission to address their three main demands: ownership of the La Emperatriz estate; resolution of the land problem; and a national debate between the government and the people to resolve the country’s structural problems.
Northern Cauca’s indigenous communities face a desperate lack of agricultural land; 70% of the land they hold has forest cover and only 12% is suitable for agriculture. According to a study by the Colombian Rural Development Institute (INCODER), the area’s 13,500 families need an additional 39,000 hectares of land in order to survive. (Minga Informativa, Sept. 6 from ACIN; CRIC, Sept. 2)
Messages urging that the government immediately negotiate with Nasa leaders to resolve their demands can be sent to:
President Alvaro Uribe (email@example.com) Vice President Francisco Santos (firstname.lastname@example.org) Presidential Human Rights adviser Carlos Franco (email@example.com) Please send copies to ACIN at firstname.lastname@example.org
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 11
MEDELLIN: PARA “DEMOBILIZATION” A SHAM
On Sept. 1, Amnesty International (AI) released a new report showing that the Colombian government’s strategy of demobilization of rightwing paramilitary groups “threatens to…ensure that those responsible for some of the worst human rights atrocities continue to kill, disappear, and torture with almost complete impunity.” The report focuses on Medellin–Colombia’s second-biggest city and the capital of Antioquia department–where the November 2003 demobilization of more than 860 members of the Bloque Cacique Nutibara (BCN) paramilitary group “has proved to be a deadly illusion.”
According to the report, paramilitaries in Medellin continue to operate as a military force, to kill and threaten human rights defenders and local community activists, to recruit and to act jointly with the security forces. However, rather than operating in large, heavily-armed and uniformed groups as they did in the past, they are now increasingly cloaking their activities by posing as members of private security firms or by acting as informants for the security forces.
Marcelo Pollack, Amnesty International’s researcher on Colombia, blasted the “Justice and Peace” Law–approved by Colombia’s Congress in June 2005–and Decree 128, which provide the legal framework for a national paramilitary “demobilization” process. “The Justice and Peace law will open the way to recycle paramilitary members, even those responsible for killings, kidnappings, ‘disappearances’ and torture, into security guards, civilian police and informants,” said Pollack. Amnesty International is calling on the Colombian government to overhaul the demobilization process to guarantee the right of victims and their relatives to truth, justice and reparations, and to ensure that demobilized combatants are not “recycled” into the conflict, among other measures. Amnesty International also calls on the international community not to provide political and economic support to the demobilization process until the Colombian government implements such measures.
In the last 20 years, Colombia’s armed conflict has cost the lives of at least 70,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians killed out of combat, while more than 3 million people have been internally displaced since 1985. Tens of thousands of other civilians have been tortured, kidnapped or disappeared. The vast majority of these human rights violations have been carried out by army-backed paramilitaries. The latest figures suggest that the paramilitaries have been responsible for at least 2,300 killings and disappearances since the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) declared a unilateral “ceasefire” in December 2002.
Under the July 2003 Santa Fe de Ralito agreement, the AUC agreed to demobilize all its combatants by the end of 2005. More than 8,000 paramilitaries have reportedly demobilized so far, not counting those from the BCN, who demobilized under a separate but linked process. (AI News Release, Sept. 1)
The report is online at: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engamr230192005.
BARRANCABERMEJA: MORE UNIONISTS MURDERED
On Aug. 20, hired killers shot to death union activist Manuel Antonio Florez in a rural area of Barrancabermeja municipality, on the road leading to the village of Llanito in the Magdalena Medio region of Santander department in eastern Colombia. Florez was a member of the National Union of Industrial Agriculture Workers (Sintrainagro) who worked for the oil palm production company Oleaginosas las Brisas. The Barrancabermeja section of the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT) called the murder “one more sign of the violation of the ceasefire that the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) committed themselves to in the framework of negotiations with the government of President Alvaro Uribe.”
“While the Colombian state announces with great fanfare the demobilization of the Central Bolivar Bloc [of the AUC], the paramilitaries headed by ‘Julian Bolivar’ and ‘Ernesto Baez’ continue in their sacred task of completely exterminating unionism in this area of the Magdalena Medio with the blessing of this government,” said the CUT.
The CUT also reported the Aug. 21 abduction and murder near Barrancabermeja of Jose Gualdron, who worked for the palm company Bucarelia. His body was found on Aug. 24, covered with leaves, on a palm plantation on the road leading from Puerto Wilches to the company’s land. (CUT Barrancabermeja, undated, posted on Colombia Indymedia, Aug. 30)
BOGOTA: DISPLACED OCCUPY HOMES
On Aug. 29, more than 300 families displaced to the capital by Colombia’s internal armed conflict began occupying six blocks of housing under construction, part of the Riberas del Occidente residential complex in the Patio Bonito sector of the Kennedy neighborhood in western Bogota. The group includes about 1,200 people, 577 of them children; they are occupying 163 houses which the District Savings and Housing Fund (Favidi) began building six years ago but which remain unfinished and unoccupied. The occupation leaders say they are not necessarily seeking homes at the site, but rather are seeking dignified living situations for the time being, and eventually a safe return to their places of origin. Agents from the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) of the National Police have surrounded the area and are restricting people who enter or leave; police have reportedly prevented the delivery of a water tank, and refused to let neighbors bring in donated food. (Statement from Asentamiento Permanente de Refugiados Internos por la Vida y la Dignidad, Aug. 29 via Red de Defensores No Institucionalizados; Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES), Aug. 31 via Colombia Indymedia; International Peace Observatory (IPO), Aug. 31 via Colombia Indymedia; El Tiempo, Bogota, Aug. 30; Humanidad Vigente, Aug. 29 via Colombia Indymedia) (See our last report on rights abuses attributed to ESMAD: /node/1097)
“The government promised us homes and they haven’t given them to us,” said one spokesperson as he helped bring children and supplies into the buildings as the occupation began on Aug. 29. Another spokesperson, Orlando Mora from the southern city of Pasto in Narino department, told a reporter: “Those of us who are here are political leaders from each one of our regions. We belonged to the Patriotic Union, but the paramilitaries forced us to flee.” (ET, Aug. 30) The Patriotic Union (UP) was a leftist party formed when an armed faction of the Colombian Communist Party demobilized in 1985; the party was dissolved after thousands of UP members were murdered.
On Sept. 2, police agents surrounding the housing complex attacked, beat and arrested a television cameraperson who had just filmed a news segment on the occupation with journalist Patricia Uribe of the Noticias Uno program. Police also confiscated his camera and footage. (Message posted by Prensa Cajar on Colombia Indymedia, Sept. 2)
The families are asking supporters to write to the following Colombian officials to demand that their rights be respected:
General Prosecutor Edgardo Jose Maya Villazon (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), Presidential Human Rights adviser Carlos Franco (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), Human Rights unit of the Attorney General’s office (email@example.com), Defender of the People Volmar Antonio Perez Ortiz (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please send copies to Michael Fruhling at the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: email@example.com
(Statement from Asentamiento Permanente de Refugiados Internos por la Vida y la Dignidad, Aug. 29)
ACTIVIST SEIZED IN VENEZUELA
On Aug. 26, Colombian teacher and grassroots activist Enrique Alfonso Gonzalez Torres was kidnapped in Maracaibo, capital of the western Venezuelan state of Zulia. The same day, he was taken to the Colombian city of Barranquilla, where on Aug. 30 Gen. Mario Montoya Uribe, commander of the Colombian Army’s First Division, presented him as a rebel allegedly captured in the Colombian city of Maicao. Gonzalez had been living in Venezuela after fleeing persecution in Colombia; he was a member of the Continental Bolivarian Coordinating Committee (CCB), which says individuals linked to Colombian state security forces carried out his abduction with the complicity of Zulia state police. (Message from CCB General Secretary Oscar Rotundo, undated, posted on Colombia Indymedia, Sept. 4) Gen. Montoya served as an instructor at the US Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, in January 1994. (SOA Watch List of Graduates)
The incident echoes the Dec. 13 kidnapping of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) representative Rodrigo Granda Escobar (Ricardo Gonzalez) in Caracas; the Colombian military initially claimed it arrested Granda in Cucuta, Norte de Santander department. The incident sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries. (See WW4 REPORT #107: /node/284)
U.S. SOLDIER SENTENCED
In a US court-martial process on Aug. 10, US Army Specialist Francisco Rosa pleaded guilty to using, possessing and distributing cocaine and making a false official statement. He was sentenced to five years in prison, demoted to the rank of private and will receive a bad conduct discharge. US Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas, Staff Sgt. Victor Portales and Staff Sgt. Kevin G. Irizarry-Melendez are jailed in the US awaiting court-martial in the same case. The four were among five US soldiers stationed in Colombia who were arrested last March 28 or 29 while using a US military plane to smuggle 35 pounds of cocaine from Colombia into the US. (See WW4 REPORT #108: /colombiapeasantsassassinated)
In a sworn statement to military investigators at Fort Bliss, TX, on March 31, Staff Sgt. Rosas detailed how the drug ring successfully shipped some 170 pounds of cocaine from Colombia to the US, taking advantage of the fact that US customs agents rarely searched the luggage of US soldiers. (AP, Sept. 3)
ARMS DEALER FIGHTS EXTRADITION
An attorney for international arms trafficker Sarkis Garabet Soghanalian told a Miami federal judge that Soghanalian should not be extradited to Colombia because “for decades, [he] has supplied valuble assistance to the US government, in criminal trials as well as in the reduction of illegal arms shipments.” The attorney, public defender Kathleen Williams, did not mention specific examples. The extradition request for Soghanalian was filed in Miami federal court on July 15. Another public defender, Paul Rashkind, took over Soghanalian’s defense in late July. Colombian judges want Soghanalian to testify about a complex international operation which led to the fall of Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), now exiled, and his intelligence advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos, jailed in Peru since 2001. The Colombian government says Soghanalian acted as an intermediary between 1998 and 2000 in a deal for the purchase from Jordan of 50,000 AK-49 rifles destined for the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Some 10,000 of the weapons were eventually parachuted to the FARC rebels in and around the municipality of Barranco Minas, in the eastern department of Vichada. Soghanalian told Peruvian authorities that Montesinos agreed to pay $80 million for the guns. Peruvian prosecutor Ronald Gamarra last year expressed suspicions that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) supported the deal with the goal of radicalizing Colombia’s counterinsurgency war.
(See WW4 REPORT #95: http://www.ww3report.com/95.html#andean12)
Miami federal judge Robert Dube has set Soghanalian’s extradition hearing for late September, and has allowed him to be released from detention to his brother’s home in South Florida, where he is under 24-hour guard and must wear an electronic monitoring device. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Sept. 2–quote retranslated from Spanish)
Soghanalian, a Lebanese citizen of Armenian origin, is a longtime permanent resident of the US. (Democratic Underground Fact Sheet) He is 76 years old, has diabetes and a spinal problem and uses a wheelchair. Soghanalian made a fortune selling weapons to Iraq during that country’s war with Iran; he also sold rifles to Christian forces in Lebanon, missiles to the Argentine military junta during the Falklands War with Britain, and ammunition to right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in Nicaragua.
Soghanalian was arrested in December 1999 in Miami and charged with bank fraud and money laundering in California, but he used the argument of close collaboration with the US government to win his freedom in August 2001. (ENH, Sept. 2) It was not clear when he was rearrested; both the Medellin daily El Colombiano and the Spanish news service EFE reported on Aug. 30 that Interpol and Colombian Administrative Security Department (DAS) officials collaborated with US authorities to arrest him in Florida. According to EFE, the DAS said in Bogota that an Interpol warrant was issued for Soghanalian’s arrest in April, and the extradition request was submitted once US authorities confirmed his arrest. (EC, EFE, Aug. 30)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 4
VALLEDUPAR: ANOTHER UNION LEADER MURDERED
Early on Sept. 11, the body of Colombian union leader and human rights activist Luciano Enrique Romero Molina was found in Valledupar, capital of Cesar department, in Las Palmas, a sector of the La Nevada neighborhood which is under the control of right-wing paramilitaries. Romero had been tied up, tortured and stabbed 47 times in various parts of his body. He was last seen alive around 9 PM the previous night while driving his taxi; his wife reported his disappearance around 10 PM.
Romero worked for 20 years in the Cicolac-Nestle Food Products Factory in Valledupar; the company fired him in October 2002 for participating in a strike which the Labor Ministry falsely declared illegal. He continued to be active in the National Union of Food Industry Workers (Sinaltrainal) as a member of the union’s human rights committee, and was also active in the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee Foundation. Romero had received many death threats and several times had to leave Valledupar; he lived in Gijon, in the Asturias region of Spain, from October 2004 to April 2005 under an international solidarity and protection program. He had recently returned to Valledupar. According to the Unitary Workers Federation (CUT), Romero is the 37th union activist murdered in Colombia so far this year. (Sinaltrainal, Sept. 11; Fundacion Comite de Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos Valledupar, Sept. 11; CUT, Sept. 12; Colectivo de Colombiano/as Refugiados/as en Asturias, Sept. 12)
FLOWER WORKERS BEAT DOLE
The Colombian government’s Ministry of Social Protection has finally granted formal recognition to the Union of Workers of Splendor Flowers (Sintrasplendor), an affiliate of the Union of Flower Workers (Untraflores). Sintrasplendor was founded 10 months ago to represent workers at Splendor Flowers, a subsidiary of the multinational company Dole. In a brief message announcing the victory, the union did not say when the recognition was granted but thanked “Colombian and foreign friends” for their support. The next step, the union writes, is to win the rehiring of fired workers and negotiate a contract. Dole’s attempts to prevent the union’s recognition had sparked an action campaign by the US-based Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP) and the Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR). (Sintrasplendor Message, undated, posted on Colombia Indymedia, Sept. 3)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 18
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #113
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Oct. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution