by Weekly News Update on the Americas
COCALEROS BLOCK ROADS
On Feb. 17, campesino coca growers (cocaleros) in the Peruvian district of
Tocache, in the Huallaga valley in San Martin region, began an open-ended
strike to protest the recent aerial spraying of pesticides by the Peruvian
National Police (PNP) over coca fields and other crops. Both the Interior
Ministry and the government's anti-drug office denied they had conducted
any such spraying as part of recent anti-drug operations in the zone. The
strike was called by the Committee of Struggle in Defense of the
Peasant Pacifist Leader and Family Killed by Army at San Jose de Apartado
by Virginia McGlone
Less than a month away from the eighth anniversary of the founding of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, in Colombia's violence-torn Antioquia department, a campaign of intimidation by the Colombian army in collaboration with paramilitary forces has left several dead at the village. The community had planned on using the occasion of the March 23 anniversary to officially declare seven more of its outlying settlements as Peace Zones, or areas of non-cooperation in the war.
In late February, troops began mobilizing to San Jose de Apartado's outlying settlements, especially Mulatos; several members of these communities have been detained and interrogated. The communities of Buena Vista, Alto Bonito and Buenos Aires have come under indiscriminate bombardment by helicopter, displacing some 200 peasants. Finally, one the founders and leaders of the Peace Community has been massacred together with his family and close friends.
Luis Eduardo Guerra, 35, was murdered on Feb. 21 by what area witness testimony confirms to have been an operative of the 11th Brigade of the Colombian army. Luis Eduardo's remains were found together with those of his son Deiner Andres Guerra Tuberquia, 11, and his companion Beyanira Areiza Guzman, 17. The bodies were found naked and partly mutilated, with signs of torture and beatings; Deiner's head was found several meters from his body. They were apparently detained while working their cocoa fields near Mulatos, and taken to the nearby settlement of La Resbalosa, where they were slain and left in a shallow grave.
Members of the community of Mulatos searching for Guerra also found the bodies of Alfonso Bolivar Tuberquia, 30, close friend of Guerra and member of the Peace Community council in Mulatos; his wife Sandra Milena Munoz Pozo, 24; and their children Santiago Tuberquia Munoz, 2, and Natalia Andrea Tuberquia Munoz, 6. This family was also found with signs of torture and partly mutilated.
The process of corroborating these events was a slow one due to negligence on the part of the national prosecutor's office (Fiscalia) commission that was sent to investigate the matter. After receiving the information from the Peace Community counsel, it took until Feb. 26 for the bodies to be officially processed, and another two days before they were returned to their relatives.
The world peace and human rights community have hailed San Jose de Apartado as a key player in the process towards peace in a country that has known almost half a century of war. In recent years, rights observers stationed at the village from Peace Brigades International and Fellowship of Reconciliation have helped restrain armed attacks on the community. The new killings represent a significant escalation.
The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado is demanding that the government punish those responsible for the massacre of Luis Eduardo Guerra, his family and his friends, and all human rights violations that have taken place in the area over the last eight years.
The Peace Community is also demanding that their initiative to declare themselves conscientious objectors as a whole community-a stance they call "active neutrality"-be respected as a constitutional right.
Luis Eduardo Guerra was a primary voice of these demands and initiatives, having been appointed by his community as interlocutor with the state and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which recently issued orders to the Colombian government to protect residents and leaders of the Peace Community.
Guerra had taken his community's message to NGOs and forums in countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and the United States, but always kept the focus on the struggle in his jungle village. As he told one international conference at the Social Forum of the Americas, in Quito in July 2004:
"Why so many meetings and events, if we are getting murdered, gentleman? Why expensive hotels, NGO experts and so many intellectuals-all of this for what, if what we urgently need is that you to helps to not die."
Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado:
On Feb. 28, the US State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, covering 2004. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) finds that some of the findings have been shaped by "political considerations":
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez charged Feb. 21 that President Bush is behind a plot to assassinate him—and warned that if it succeeded, Venezuela would halt oil exports to the US. "If I am assassinated, there is only one person responsible: the president of the United States," Chavez said during his weekly radio and TV show, Hello President, claiming he had received a tip from his good friend Fidel Castro. "If, by the hand of the devil, these perverse plans succeed...forget about Venezuelan oil, Mr. Bush," Chavez said. Addressing his own people, he added: "I will not hide, I will walk in the streets with all of you...but I know I am condemned to death." (UK Guardian, Feb. 22)
Bad news for freedom of speech on opposite sides of the planet. The presidents of both Kygyzstan and Venezuela seem to have gone litigation-happy against opposition figures.
Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan was hit with devastating floods when torrential rains burst the Shadikor Dam near Pasni, sweeping people, homes and livestock into the Arabian Sea. A smaller dam also burst elsewhere in the province, while landslides also claimed casualties in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The confirmed death toll has reached 360, with 1,500 more missing. (The Scotsman, Feb. 14)
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel responded angrily to charges by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega that his government's new arms deal with Russia is intended for trafficking to Colombian guerillas. "Venezuela is a sovereign country," Rangel said. "We are only accountable to Venezuelans and the country's institutions," adding that the arms are intended only for "purposes of national defense" and accusing the State Department of "provocations." The State Department expressed concerns about Venezuela's deal to buy 100,000 AK-47 rifles and several military helicopters from Russia. (Venezuelanalysis, Feb. 8)
by Weekly News Update on the Americas
REBEL LEADER EXTRADITED TO U.S.
On Dec. 31 a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Juvenal Ricardo Ovidio Palmera Pineda (alias Simon Trinidad), was taken from a maximum security Colombian prison and flown to Washington on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plane. In Washington, Palmera was taken to US District Court--kept open late on New Year's Eve, just for him--where the Justice Department said he appeared before Magistrate Judge John Facciola; he was then driven to an undisclosed location. Palmera has been indicted in the US on charges of drug trafficking, kidnapping and supporting terrorists. The US government says Palmera shipped five kilos of cocaine to the US; the kidnapping charges stem from the FARC's February 2003 capture of US military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves after their plane crashed in the southern department of Caqueta.