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Startling Claim as Attacks Escalate on Indians, Peasants and Unionists

Hernando Lopez, writing in the May 3 edition of the Bogota weekly VOZ, voice of the Colombian Communist Party, says that 12.000 Colombian army troops--led by nearly 1,000 US troops--have launched a "scorched earth" campaign in the southern Amazon region. Dubbed Operation Patriot, the campaign is targeting territory held by the FARC guerillas. (ANNCOL, May 4)

Lopez cites an April 25 story in the Bogota daily El Tiempo, which notes that an operation called New Year, launched Dec. 31, is currently underway in the Colombian Amazon department of Caqueta, part of a larger "Patriot Plan" aimed at winning back the countryside from guerillas. The operation includes construction of a new military base at Araracuara on the Rio Caqueta in Amazonas department. The article emphasizes the US role in the operations, which is to be funded by Washington to the tune of $110 million. The Pentagon is also to provide training for the elite Special Forces Brigades (FUDRA) which is spearheading the operation. US Southern Command chief Gen. James Hill is quoted as saying the White House will ask Congress to raise the current limit of 400 soldiers and 400 private contract agents in Colombia to a respective 800 and 600, in order to give the "maximum support" to the operation. (El Tiempo, April 25)

Little information has emerged from the remote region, but reports are escalating from throughout the country of army attacks on indigenous and campesino communities.


The Colombian independent news agency ANNCOL reports that on April 18 the Wayuu indigenous community of Bahia de Portete in northern Colombia's La Guajira peninsula was sacked by paramilitaries, who killed 12 residents. According to Amnesty International, the paramilitaries interrogated a number of children on the whereabouts of their parents, torturing and killing some on suspicion of lying.

More than 300 Wayuu were able to flee across the border to Venezuela, walking for more than 24 hours. One refugee told a reporter from the Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias that he had witnessed two sons burned alive, and his mother and nephew dismembered with a chainsaw. An Embera spokesman named Juchi told the reporter: "The Guajira people [Wayuu] have reached a decision... war has been declared. We are going to respond in such a forceful manner that they will have no desire to return to our lands. We will apply our own law, because the justice of the courts only serves to help them, the assassins."

Colombian authorities deny that the incident occurred. The public prosecutor of the nearby city of Rio Hacha says that he has proof of only two deaths. According to the press office of the Army's First Division, the Army is only sowing "seeds of friendship with the population" of La Guajira. During the last three years the Wayuu communities have suffered numerous attacks and assassinations at the hands of paramilitaries supported by troops of the Colombian Army's Second Brigade, based in the city of Barranquilla. (ANNCOL, May 27)

ANNCOL also reports that on March 30, 76 soldiers of the Alfonso Manosalva Florez battalion arrived at Gengadu, a small village of the Wounaan Embera indigenous people, located in the municipality of Rio Quito, Choco department. Two local residents were forced from their home at gunpoint and walked to the local cemetery where they were interrogated, and one was forced to dig a shallow grave--told it was to be his own. Local residents were also forced to patrol the area with the army. The Wounaan Embera Regional Organization of Choco (OREWA) told ANNCOL that in an earlier recent incursion into the village, army troops stripped and beat two women in public before interrogating them.

In the nearby village of Quijarado, two Embera youth were detained while sailing in their canoe. One, aged 16, was tortured--his head submerged in water until he was near drowning, then a gun shoved into his mouth, his tongue tugged out by a knife-wielding soldier who threatened to cut it off. He was also beaten and kicked in the testicles. His companion, 21, was beaten with rifle butt. Three adolescent girls in the village were threatened with rape. Two chickens were also taken by the troops, with one resident reportedly told that "just as he gave food to the guerilla, he had to give food to them without them paying a peso."

Residents considered the threat of death and rape all to credible. "The Security Forces killed 6 of our brothers in 2003, and permit the activities of the paramilitaries against our communities and our lands," said the group's statement. (ANNCOL, April 15)

See also WW3 REPORT #94


In conflicted Arauca department, on Colombia's eastern plains, 12 peasants were killed by paramilitaries May 21 at the villages of Pi–alito and Cravo Charo, according to the local Joel Sierra Human Rights Committee. The killings come just as the army has launched a major offensive against FARC and ELN guerillas in the region, dubbed Operation Borrasca (Squall). Peasants accuse the army of openly cooperating with paramilitaries in the operation. ( ANNCOL, May 21)

The Joel Sierra Committee reports a wave of assassinations across Arauca department in recent weeks, with seven killed in the towns of Arauca, Arauquita and Tame between April 14 and 20. The victims were mostly local peasants and workers, and no arrests have been made in their murders. The Joel Sierra Committee counted 15 killings in the department over the past month by late April. The Committee also reported several illegal detainments by army troops, including the "disappearance" of some who the army will not acknowledge holding. (Colombia Support Network, April 20)

See also WW3 REPORT #97


On April 22, Syndicated Workers Union (USO) began a strike against the state oil company Ecopetrol in protest of President Alvaro Uribe's plans to privatize Colombia's energy sector. The following day, the government declared the walkout illegal on the grounds that petroleum refining is an "essential service" of the nation. Over a dozen union leaders were arrested, and the National Police announced that "anti-terrorist" measures would be taken against striking workers.

In an open letter to Uribe, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) protested that the declaration violated International Labor Organization (ILO) standards. "Declaring the strike by members of USO illegal and citing petroleum refining as an essential service to Colombia contradicts ILO jurisprudence on what constitutes a nation's essential services," wrote ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs to President Uribe. "Case after case has omitted oil refining from that category." (ANNCOL, May 3)

The strike was called in response to new contracts with private oil companies signed since Ecopetrol was re-organized in June 2003, giving private firms easier access to Colombia's fossil fuel resources. The strike ended May 26, when the government agreed to roll back the new contracts and instate compromise measures--such as a policy that oil fields revert to Ecopetrol control automatically when current contracts expire. Some 250 USO members, including president Gabriel Alvis, who were sacked after the government declared the strike illegal will retain their full pension rights and have an opportunity to win their jobs back through arbitration. The strike caused production losses of up to $180,000 per day. (ICEM press release, May 29)

On May 21, the National Police fired tear gas from helicopters to break up a protest in Cartagena by unionists and campesinos against Uribe's plan to enter the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Local authorities had prohibited the march at the urging of Uribe. Several protesters were also hit with rubber bullets, as were two reporters and photographer from the paper El Universal. Dozens were injured and over 20 arrested.

The action was part of a national day of protest against the FTAA, which also a 24-hour general strike in the cities of Bogota, Bucaramanga, Cali and Popayan. 300,000 teachers nationwide participated the strike. (ANNCOL, May 21)

Death threats against unionists in all trades escalated in the prelude to the oil strike. On April 20 in Bucaramanga, men with machine guns entered the home of the brother of Coca-Cola union leader Efrain Guerrero's wife in Bucaramanga, killing Efrain's brother-in-law, Gabriel Remolina, his wife Fanny and wounding three of their children--one of whom is reported in grave condition in the hospital. (CSN, April 21)

See also WW3 REPORT #97


Attacks attributed to leftist guerillas are also escalating. On May 22, a bomb explosion near Antioquia University in Medellin killed four--including the person carrying the explosive--and injured 17 more. Other explosions were also reported around the city. Nobody claimed responsibility, but authorities blamed FARC guerillas. Four days earlier, three bombs exploded in Cali, with no injuries reported. In Bogota, police arrested a man driving a truck loaded with a ton of an explosive mix of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, stating he planned to blow up a highway tunnel near the capital. (VOA News, May 22)

Following a visit to the nation, UN humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland told a news conference in May that Colombia is "by far the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of the Western Hemisphere." With 2 million displaced by the war, Colombia is second only to Sudan and Congo in global refugee crises. But rather than going to UN-administrated camps, the refugees congregate in the massive shanty-towns that surround Colombia's cities--making the crisis largely invisible to the outside world. (Reuters, May 10)

Egeland said he is "particularly concerned" with the situation in remote areas "where Indian tribes and peasant communities are totally trapped without access by us, the international community, because the guerrillas don't allow entry, because the paramilitary forces don't allow our entry, or because the military offensives...make it impossible for us to get access." (VOA News, May 10)

See also WW3 REPORT #96

(Bill Weinberg)


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, June 5, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.