IVAN CEPEDA'S LETTER TO PRESIDENT URIBE
In Colombia human rights defenders challenge Government claims that paramilitary activity has been controlled. Iván Cepeda Castro of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes del Estado [National Movement for Victims of State Crime], whose own father was assassinated in 1994, has written the letter below to President Uribe.
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008 at 6:38 AM
In a space of less than two weeks paramilitary groups – now covered by the vague description of “emerging bands” - have murdered 12 people, ‘disappeared’ 9, and driven another 120 from their homes.
On 31 December 2007 they murdered four adults and a child in the territory of El Palmar, Nariño, a massacre that Eduardo Zúñiga, the former Governor in that area, unhesitatingly attributed to paramilitary action.
On that same day in Medellín, Víctor Hugo Gallego, the lawyer for Corporación para la Paz y el Desarrollo Social [Association for Peace and Development], Corpades, disappeared. Gallego had persistently reported paramilitary activity in Medellín.
On 11 January 2008, while a family celebration was taking place in the neighbourhood of ‘Once de Noviembre’ [11th November] of Santa Marta,, several armed men arrived and opened fire, killing five people and wounding three others. All the victims were community leaders. On 14 January, the Defensoría del Pueblo [the office of the Government’s human rights ombudsman] announced that a paramilitary group had carried out a raid in Santa Mónica, Chocó, murdering two people, abducting another eight and driving out 120 of the villagers.
It should be noted too that, in addition to these grave events, threatening messages have recently appeared in Bucaramanga in the name of the ‘Águilas Negras’[Black Eagles] group of paramilitaries. Although the Mayor of the city dismissed these threats, saying that such groups did not exist in the region, the Defensoría del Pueblo had already noted in 2007 the presence of paramilitaries in the Department of Santander.
All of this means that, in a period of two weeks and in four Departments of the country, the paramilitaries have been responsible for two massacres and several disappearances and, by an armed attack, have forced a large-scale evacuation.
It is unlikely that the ‘disappeared’ are still alive: there is no evidence of their survival and probably their remains will end in common graves or in rivers. Faced with these crimes, no-one - from the Church or the employers’ organizations, neither mayors nor governors nor the media - will call for demonstrations by our defeated citizens. They cannot ask for life to be restored to the ‘disappeared’.
And what help can be expected from the State’s servants and institutions when the response of the National Government is either silence or denial? You, Mr President, continue trying to convince both the country and the world that there are no longer paramilitary groups in Colombia - something completely disproved by the facts.
When will you comment on the crimes against humanity which continue to be committed by paramilitary groups? When will you make a solemn speech condemning the forced disappearances that have taken thousands of our compatriots to common graves and hidden cemeteries? When will the Government publicly condemn the forced evacuations through which the paramilitaries have seized the land of millions of our compatriots?
Clearly, kidnapping is a criminal practice that Colombian society should in no way tolerate. But in Colombia not only are hundreds of kidnappings carried out by the guerillas: thousands of people have been murdered or ‘disappeared’ or forced from their homes by government agents or by paramilitary groups - groups, as you will remember, sponsored a decade ago through the security firms of Convivir [a government-created security system that became a paramilitary network].
This is the reality.It will not be made to vanish by the Government’s obstinate insistence on a one-dimensional view of terrorism.
[ ]Clarifications by translator
Iván Cepeda Castro
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