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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jorge 40, Return Our Land to Us!

(Translated by Leo Hernan Torres, a CSN volunteer translator)

By Cesar Molinares Duenas, editor of Verdad Abierta

March 10, 2009

A year before the demobilization of the paramilitary’s leader, “Jorge 40”, several peasants from southern Magdalena wrote to him (in letters that were first published by Verdad Abierta), begging for the return of their lands.  These lands had been taken by several of his men, among them, "El Tuto" Castro, who is now a free man. These farmers naively believed that "40" would return the stolen land back to them, but as of today they have yet to recover it.  On September 1, 2001 a paramilitary group met several farmers from the municipality of San Angel, south of Magdalena. This paramilitary group, led by Cesar Augusto Castro Pacheco, also known as “El Tuto”, demobilized from the North Bloc and who is now a free man, came to inform the farmers that "Jorge 40" had decided that they must abandon their lands. They were told that the paramilitaries needed their land. The farmers knew that opposition to this decision meant death.
Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, also known as "Jorge 40" had his base of operations in San Angelo. There he implemented a regime of terror and control over the entire population. Nothing was done without his consent.  Under the rule of "40" many of his men made a fortune. “El Tuto” Castro, brother of former Senator Jorge Castro Pacheco (now on trial for parapolitics) and Miguel Gnecco Pacheco, also known as “Don Armando”, began to pressure hundreds of peasants in the region to sell their land to them at very low prices. In other cases, they just threatened the farmers to hand over their property without paying a single peso.  Much of this land was originally awarded to the people of Magdalena by the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform, or INCORA, before it was taken by the paramilitary.
In 2005, even before "Jorge 40" was demobilized, several farmers in the region, believing that "40"’s men had acted without his knowledge, sent letters to the paramilitary leader begging him to return their land.  In these letters, the displaced farmers told their stories, explaining the hardships they had endured since they were evicted by “40”’s lieutenants.
One of these farmers, Miguel, complained to prosecutors that he was forced to flee San Angel because he did not want to relinquish his 45-hectare farm to “Tuto” Castro.
“…They said that “El Tuto” in the name of  “Jorge 40” brought us a message that we must abandon the land...because the AUC needed the land and that this was the reason we had to leave. I did not want to leave because I had 120 cattle and no place to take them. However, “Tuto’s” group forced us to leave; I had to move the animals. I lost 15 animals to illness. Before losing everything I sold some animals very cheaply or ate them. Mr. “Tuto” Castro’s group was looking for me to get my signature transferring my land to them. I did not want to sign. This is the reason I had to hide myself in many houses of the town. The last option was to flee... I had to go to another town to hide myself and prevent the AUC from killing me or making me sign the transferring document”.
According to this evicted citizen, he was never able to return to his farm, as he continued to fear for his life. The paramilitaries have not returned the property to Accion Social, a fact substantiated by Verdad Abierta.  However, after four years without his farm, Miguel decided to send a letter to “Jorge 40”, requesting the return of his land.
“Respectfully as usual, I am writing to you requesting that you order whomever it may concern to return my land to me. It is located in the municipality of San Angel. I was evicted 4 years ago from my farm, which was my family’s livelihood. Now I am living from their support. We are wandering from city to city in search of our livelihood. We are a hard-working family with high morality, so I beg you to return to us the land mentioned, which was taken by Cesar Augusto Pachecho, also known as "El Tuto”, who promised to make the respective payment and this disbursement was never made, so I want my land.”
Alberto was awarded a 40-hectare plot in San Angel by INCORA in 1999. There he lived with his wife and raised his children in peace, until that day in 2001 when paramilitary forces sent by “Tuto” Castro brought the message from “Jorge 40” demanding that he relinquish his farm.
“Mr. “El Tuto” came to my house and talked to my wife. I was not there. He left a message with her that he needed to buy my farm...Then he sent other men requesting that I sell the land to another individual with the surname of Mr. Nieto…“El Tuto” wanted the
property title to get a bank loan.”
This farmer had to flee with his family and now he has moved away from his land. He also sent a letter to “Jorge 40” begging him to return his property.
“The survival of my family depends upon this land, because it is our livelihood and my children's future. Therefore I beg you to return the mentioned land, from which we were evicted by Augusto Castro Francisco Pacheco, about four years ago, who promised to make the respective payment but never did so.”
Horacio, a peasant, who inherited a 152-hectare farm, with more than 100 cattle, has a similar story. On February 15, 2000 Miguel Castro Gnecco, also known as “Don Armando”, approached him at his property to demand that he sell the farm or risk the murder of one of his children.  “Don Armando” valued the farm and livestock at 15 million pesos. Horacio did not have any other option but to sell the property and move away to another location. However in February 2005 he asked “Jorge 40” to pay a fair price for his land.
“‘Don Armando’ pressured me to sell my land. He told me that I had to sell and vacate my land or he would remove me by force.  He ordered me to sell it at his imposed price. If I didn’t do so, my relatives and I would have been in danger of losing our lives.”
As of today, neither Rodrigo Tovar, nor Cesar Castro, nor Miguel Gnecco have returned the land to the peasants, and have never paid them the true value of the land.  The paramilitaries exploited and threatened the farmers in order to pay the lowest price for their properties, as happened to Marta, a peasant who was living in Pivijay and was visited by “Don Armando”.
In her letter to “Jorge 40” she recounts how “Don Armando” sent her a message ordering her to vacate her land because he needed to bring some cattle to her property.  “Don Armando” offered to pay 50 thousand pesos per hectare.  When she bravely refused to sell her property, the paramilitary threatened one of her sons.
“Then he told me that intelligent people survive. When he got there with several armed men I told him to wait until I talked with my brother. The next day, when he came with some other armed men, he called me to the courtyard while some women and armed men were looking inside my house. I was so nervous and I asked for five hundred thousand pesos for the land…”
“He answered that on August 5th I would receive the money. I was sick, but he requested that I move away with my children on June 15th, because he needed the land before the end of the month… I was so nervous waiting for the money.”
“After one year and three months he came with eight million pesos.  Because my mother was very sick and I did not have any money, I had to accept it.”
After many tries, Marta received only 39 million pesos for her property, which cost much more, and she was forced to move away from the place that was her and her family’s livelihood. However, like asking for mercy from those who have none, she asked the powerful “Jorge 40” to return her land.
“I think that Mr. Armando must formally return my land, as so far, I have not made a formal delivery of the fields and I have not given him the title.”
These letters were found by CTI prosecutors in a raid on one of the properties of “Jorge 40”' in San Miguel in 2006. There has been no prosecution of “Tuto” Castro, who was demobilized from the North block, or “Don Armando”. These two demobilized paramilitaries are still living as free men.  Some of their victims ensure that they still possess the land that they stole from hundreds of peasants from the San Miguel area, while the farmers, who were evicted from their properties, still wander along the Caribbean coast of Colombia without being able to return to their land.
* All names of the farmers were changed for safety reasons, since many of them have reported threats on their lives.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rejection of the Paramilitary-Imposed Curfew in a Bogota Neighborhood!

(Translated by Chuck Summers, a CSN volunteer translator)

The Youth of Bosa Do Not Accept Social Cleansing or Curfews… Such is the painful countdown of he who that leaves the house at 4 a.m., he who packs his books and cleans his shoes the night before, she who packs hot drinks, she who quickly primps in an effort to look her best in front of her classmates, she who picks up a child in the garden, he who takes care of his grandchildren, he who opens the bakery, he who listens to loud music submersed in the effervescence of youth, he who practices a sport or uses his able hands to jam on the guitar along with his friends, he who speaks differently, he who dresses differently, your father, my mother, your brother, my sister, your children, my children; today they count their last seconds of life, their last steps through the neighborhood, the store, the park, the school, threatened with death with the anxiety of their studies and dreams.
A message has arrived in some neighborhoods of Bosa; a statement from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia announcing a (poorly named) “social cleansing” campaign targeting prostitutes, drug dealers, street thieves and burglars, drug users, car hijackers, and kidnappers.  It also imposes a curfew for all those living in the area, threatening the lives of those seen out in the street after 10:00 p.m.
Today and always, we, the youth of the area, oppose every action that threatens the life and dignity of our friends, neighbors, fathers, sons, teachers, grandparents, uncles, etc.  Therefore, we must pay attention to these acts of barbarism and terrorism; we must inform people about this message so it can be discussed in homes and schools; and we must be vigilant.  All so that the joy of life and the hope to live in peace, with social justice, may be the daily reality lived in our neighborhood, rather than that which the paramilitaries try to impose on us.
Youth of the Bosa Neighborhood. March 18, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Choco territorio de contrastes

Youtube video: Salvatorianas en el Choco

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paramilitaries in Southern Bolivar Consolidate while Authorities Remain Silent

(Translated by Lucas Sanchez, a CSN volunteer translator)
Through a public announcement, paramilitary groups operating in the south of Bolivar have publicly manifested their armed presence and operations in the region of southern Bolivar, calling themselves the “Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.”
The announcement was distributed this week in a few of the municipal capitals in the south of the department of Bolivar and the civilian population finds itself under the threat that history will repeat itself. In the aforementioned announcement it is expressed that:
It is worth remembering that during the period of the consolidation of paramilitarism in the region, from 1997 to 2002, it has been possible to register the perpetration of more than 556 crimes of state that include 163 victims of massacres, 40 victims of forced disappearances, 163 victims of extrajudicial killings and 190 of other categories that have been attributed to paramilitary groups, the army and their joint operations.

This terror implanted in the south of Bolivar continues to live in the memory of all of its inhabitants, as does the impotence and frustration towards pervasive impunity.

Paramilitary presence in the region and the impact of these announcements has already brought as consequence the displacement of inhabitants of the municipalities that have abandoned the region.

In this regard, it has been denounced before different authorities of the Colombian government several events that denote paramilitary presence in this region of the country:

On the 27th of October, 2008, in the rural neighborhood of San Mateo in the municipality of Montecristo (department of Bolivar), an armed group made its presence known with clothing used exclusively by military forces, and that identified themselves before the community as members of the “Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces.” There they established a roadblock restricting the free circulation of the inhabitants of the region, inspecting those transiting around there.     

Similarly, in the place known as Mina Caracol, in the rural neighborhood of San Pedro Frio, municipality of Santa Rosa (department of Bolivar), during the last days of the month of October 2008, armed individuals, dressed with military clothing and that wore an armband around their upper arm with an eagle patch, traveled throughout various mining settlements.

It is highly worrisome that presently, in the middle of an increment in the militarization of the south of Bolivar, new military units converge there about which exist substantiated claims about their role in the beginning and consolidation of paramilitarism, and that there are these new patrols, as well as the circulation of announcements that tell the presence of these criminal structures.

These announcements, in the form pamphlets, have been circulating in various departments since the month of October 2008, and are signed by the Gaitanista Self-defense Forces of Colombia.  
In the region of Uraba, Bajo Cauca and western Antioquia, an announcement circulated in October of 2008, where they announced a freeze of all normal activities and a call to arms to “stop the advance of guerrilla groups in the region.”

The same happened in Narino, in October of 2008, where the same paramilitary group, the “Gaitanista Self-defense Forces of Colombia,” threatened social and human rights organizations that have worked in the region.

In light of what has been pointed out, we ask you to address the Colombian authorities so that the following is demanded from them:
1. The adoption of special security measures on behalf of the inhabitants in the south of Bolivar that include the pertinent and conducive measures toward combating the free enterprise of criminal structures in the south of Bolivar.

2. A reason for why, in the middle of an elevated militarization of the south of Bolivar through military units like the Luciano de D’elhuyar battalion and Narino battalion, the free enterprise of paramilitary structures has increased.  
3. That the events herewith denounced are fully investigated, proceeding towards the adoption of pertinent sanctions.
Bogota, March 17, 2009
Federacion Agrominera del Sur de Bolivar, Corporacion Sembrar, Comision de Interlocucion del Sur de Bolivar, Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia, Coordinador Nacional Agrario, DH Colombia, Corporacion Utopia, Asociacion Nomadesc, Campana Prohibido Olvidar

Neither False nor Positive; By the State and Against the People

(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)

The false positives appear in the national media phantom as something new and exceptional, a product of the war’s degradation and the Mafioso alliances among military figures and between them and groups of drug traffickers and paramilitaries. Really, this is about a series of atrocious acts within the dynamic of this eternalized war, but it is absolutely false to affirm that these are new and exceptional cases, or that it is a question of isolated actions of a few “rotten apples” within the military forces. The war that has been fought in Colombia since the 40s, or if it is seen with a larger look back, since The War of a Thousand Days, or even since the Wars of Independence, has been characterized, especially in its recent manifestation, by the forced involvement of the civilian population in combat actions by all the armed groups, especially the agents of the State.
We may speak of a declaration of war against the civilian population of Colombia since the publication and carrying out of the LASO plan (Latin American Security Operations), that in May of 1964 began to be carried out from the United States against rebellious groups of campesinos that, since “El Bogatazo,” had gone into the forest organized as self-defense groups and that represented the threat of communism in Colombia, with the influence of the young Cuban revolution. In this context, President Guillermo Leon Valencia carried out the instructions of the Pentagon to the letter in order to begin the strategy of “taking the water away from the fish,” a reference to the fact that the affinity of the civilian population for guerrillas was what assured their subsistence and that, therefore, if this support were attacked, the fish would die. The abuses of the campesinos in the villages were not long in coming, independently of whether or not they were sympathetic to the guerrilla project.
Currently, false positives are employed as war propaganda to affirm the triumph of the government over the insurgency. It’s a question of theatre, prepared by the military forces and sponsored by the great communications media, allies of the economic and political elites of the country, in which those parts of the war are reported that give an image of efficiency and strength of armed forces that had lost prestige. The most well-known form of false positives is extra-judicial execution, which puts onto the stage innocent individuals who are disappeared from their homes, murdered and disguised as guerrillas, in order to be presented as brought down in combat in distant areas of the nation.
Another of the methods used to create false positives are attacks using car bombs or other explosive devices carried out by soldiers in alliance with drug trafficking groups or with their own network of informants, among which we find the “attack” on the El Nogal Club (February, 2003), and the bombing in the Advanced War School (October, 2006). A third method includes accusing the insurgency of acts committed by third parties; an illustrative case is that of the massacre of San Jose de Apartado, carried out, according to the results of the investigation carried out by the prosecutor, by paramilitaries in collaboration with soldiers of the XVII Brigade.
A situation of such magnitude, which involves the daily violation of human rights and International Humanitarian Law on the part of the State, puts in “check” a civil society already worn out and bloodied by the war and with little confidence in governmental structures.  As opposed to generating a climate of reflection and common solutions for political and economic problems, the government is permanently striking blows at the people, denying them their fundamental rights and fooling them through a media show organized in such a way to not allow people to be moved by any single news story because there is always another even worse story being published.
The double standard of the Uribe government has no limits.  On the one hand, it promotes the organization of the network of informants and the payment of juicy rewards in exchange for information that permits the capture or execution of members of the guerrilla forces. On the other hand, soldiers involved in cases of false positives are condemned.  And yet, the troops are permanently pressured to produce results, that is to say “positives,” in exchange for promotions, leaves, medals, etc. What kind of government offers money in exchange for increases in the numbers of executions committed? How is it possible that to get that money informers invent attacks, accuse innocent persons and find support for this among members of the army?
The figures are alarming: from the middle of 2002 to the middle of 2007, there were some 955 cases of extra-judicial execution at the hands of the Army reported in 22 of the 33 departments of the country; between 80% and 90% of the cases were that of civilians presented as guerrillas killed in combat. In the period of Democratic Security so far, more than 1,015 cases have been reported.  This number does not take into account the innumerable testimonies of families and victims silenced by the terror of a government skilled at buying consciences, silencing minds and making evidence disappear.
Therefore, the Human Rights Observatory of the University of Caldas is joining the national protest against false positives in memory of the victims, out of respect for the families and because we believe in having a right to know the truth. A society cannot be built on a foundation of deceit and violence, we demand justice! The voices of our murdered and disappeared friends and colleagues cry out for us to pay our respects by taking action on their behalf.
Human Rights Observatory of the University of Caldas
Published by Salmon; http://elsalmonurbano.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Letter to the FARC about the Massacre of the Awa and about the Indigenous in the Conflict

(Translated by Elaine Fuller, a CSN volunteer translator)
[ 03/07/09 ]
We know that the war produces these situations. But that does not justify them. To the contrary, it obliges us to resolve them and to resolve the conflict itself.  We are committed to this.  We want this letter to serve to open a public dialogue with you, a dialogue that we hope will be direct and transparent, will help resolve problems, will move us forward on the road to peace and will not worsen the situation. We hope that you will give orders that will prevent the threats and the targeting of people, of which we have spoken, from becoming a painful reality for our people.
Santander de Quilichao, February 19, 2009

To: Commander Alfonso Cano and other members of the Secretariat of the FARC-EP

We are taking advantage of this open channel, in conjunction with Colombians for Peace, in order to begin a written communication with you, and to submit for consideration the following analysis and issues in the framework of our stated and ancestral commitment to peace and to a political solution to the conflict through dialogue and negotiation.  
The indigenous people of Colombia, in particular those of Cauca, have moved forward toward specifying our strategic political project.  We can synthesize it into three principles:
1)     The necessity to transform the political system into one in which there is justice, democracy and government by all, as well as a good life lived in harmony with the environment.
2)     The necessity that this new political system truly respect the right of indigenous peoples to self-government, as well as their right to make decisions regarding their territories and natural resources. We are committed to our conviction that Mother Earth is not the property of anyone (least of all transnational corporations), and should be protected and liberated so that she may nourish and care for all living beings.
3)      The necessity that the relationship between peoples be one of understanding, respect and solidarity.  In other words, we seek a truly democratic political system (which so far does not exist anywhere); an alternative economic system that does not destroy the environment; a harmonious society.  
All of the preceding principles depend on the existence of peace. In our work to strengthen peace, we have arrived at a conclusion that is simple but truthful: “There will be no peace for Colombians if there is no peace for indigenous people, and there will be no peace for indigenous people if there is no peace for Colombians.” We do not simply want to be excluded by the war and its atrocities at a time when it is laying waste to this country.   We don’t want to put ourselves in a shell while people are killing each other.  No.  We want the war to end.
We humbly believe that we have made progress toward meeting all these objectives.  In the Department of Cauca, the organization and mobilization of the indigenous has allowed us put into practice real exercises in self-government.  We have gained ever-growing control over our territory and natural resources and we continue to defend a way of life that does not destroy the lives of people or the natural environment.   We are not being naive in regards to these successes.  We know that they are relative given the advance of the exploitative and predatory economic model; that building democratic governments at the grassroots level is slow; that defending an alternative way of life in the midst of consumerism is at times impossible.  Even so, our whole organization is prepared to defend these advances by all means possible because they are guides on a road to a just end, and we understand that they are a contribution to the whole popular movement.  
However, working against these objectives that we consider just are the illegal actions of both the predatory economic model and the illegitimate Mafioso political system that is misgoverning the country today.  We have stated publicly that government and corporate conduct and activities openly go against that which we are building.  While we build a popular county government that reports to the town council and the assembly of community members, you take over the county, destroy houses and create a pretext for the security forces to invade communities.  We, unarmed and with uncovered faces, dismantled the trenches of the police in the center of Caldono, Toribio and Jambalo so they would not affect the civilian population while you put in place antipersonnel mines with no consideration for the people who are not a part of this war. While we fearlessly passed judgment against the members of the military who have murdered indigenous community members, you kidnapped indigenous and non-indigenous officials of the Jambalo mayor’s office to prosecute them for stealing money, as if we had not already demonstrated our ability to apply our own community justice.  It is as though you are against the power of the people and the direct government of communities by community members. One community member told us that it seems as though you are for taking the authority that the poor and the Indigenous have worked so hard to gain while allowing the rich to retain all the power that they have.   
What now worries us most is the campaign that has been going on for some time now, in which you are pushing to create parallel structures to those that we have built.  Militia groups and their initiatives within communities have become an enormous risk to the lives of indigenous people and a threat to their organization.  You know that weapons debilitate those who carry them; people become more arrogant and vain when faced with those that are unarmed. You also know that many young people join these groups for reasons that are not political, sometimes as a solution to family problems, or to avoid fulfilling obligations to or sanctions from the community and, almost always, these young men and women have little political education.  You also know that when there are armed groups nearby, there are always those who turn to them in order to resolve personal problems.  Many of these quarrels are presented as political and those in charge of the armed groups end up getting involved in the game with the goal of gaining allies or the guarantee of future favors.  
More serious still is that these groups of militias are the sources of “reliable” information with which armed organizations feed their political interventions.  This results in you making political decisions on the basis of rumors, gossip and personal quarrels that then lead to the absurd targeting of innocent individuals.  Some of your people (we don’t know whether or not by order of the secretariat) have threatened the most prominent members of ACIN and CRIC, and also non-indigenous advisors who have worked with us for 30 or 40 years and who you have accused of being allied with the government. And the officials of the indigenous mayor’s office who were accused of stealing money now find themselves on a list of people to be assassinated in retaliation for the fact that our indigenous guard freed them and our justice system sanctioned the indigenous militiamen responsible for their kidnapping.  In a previous era you spoke of popular justice; now the mere will of a person is enough to condemn him/her to death.   By following this road of forcefully compelling people to join armed groups, or involving them in a voluntary manner but without paying mind to political considerations, we will arrive at a point where the targeting of people becomes a generalized phenomenon, which has resulted in massacres such as that of our Awa brothers or that of the Kankuamos, and many of the abuses and crimes to which you have already admitted will be repeated.
Each situation is different but behind it all is your interest and the interest of the Government to force us into the armed conflict.  We have already said we are not living outside of the conflict; we are in it as victims and we want to be in it as participants who are helping to resolve it.  But we don’t want to be an armed group; we don’t want our community members to become combatants in anyone’s army because we have realized that popular government and the direct and conscious organization of all people are more powerful than any armed force.  Our own experience tells us that an armed force that separates itself from the people from which it stemmed and imposes itself on them becomes a force of occupation, and all forces of occupation become odious to the people and are bound to be defeated.  We know that the war produces these situations.  But that does not justify them.  To the contrary, it obliges us to resolve them and to resolve the conflict itself.  We are committed to this.  We want this letter to serve to open a public dialogue with you, a dialogue that we hope will be direct and transparent, will help resolve problems, will move us forward on the road to peace and will not worsen the situation. We hope that you will give orders that will prevent the threats and the targeting of people, of which we have spoken, from becoming a painful reality for our people.
Given the urgency of this situation, we await a prompt reply.
Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN)
Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC)
Also:  Colombians for Peace

Monday, March 16, 2009

Awas Massacred: The Civil Population and the Indigenous Territories are Attacked

(Translated by Rudy Heller, a CSN volunteer translator)
[ 03/05/2009] [ Source: COMUNIDAD INJUSTICIAS ] [ Authors: Gloria Patricia Lopera Mesa and Nicolas Ceballos Bedoya]
With the same energy with which we condemn the extermination and displacement of indigenous and campesino populations by the army and the paramilitaries, we must raise our voices when this violence is perpetrated by the guerillas.
It’s not the first time that the guerillas strike the indigenous population. That’s a fact. Cases of FARC homicides of indigenous people in Cauca, as well as ELN murders of U’was in Catatumbo back in 2004 are well known. And to that, we can add the kidnapping of three Awas in 2008 and the planting of mines in the lands of this tribe in Narino.
As denounced by ACIN, the massacre of Awas is part of a strategy of terror, this time used by those who claim to be the “people’s army.” But the strategy has been part and parcel of all the actors in the conflict and of some mining multinationals. It is meant to ensure control over strategic areas, in this case, the land of the Awa people, a privileged region blessed with the natural wealth of the Amazonian hillsides and, in turn, close to the Pacific basin.
As has been the case with other deplorable cases in which the guerrillas have remained silent or have even openly denied committing acts which have later been demonstrated to have been perpetrated by them —as was the case of the massacre of the former representatives of the Valle departmental assembly— at least in this case, they have acknowledged their involvement in some of the deaths. However, their justification is totally unacceptable. They state that they did not kill them because they were indigenous people, but rather, because they were army collaborators. Even in this, the Farc are no different from the armed actors on the other side of the conflict, and who have used the exact same excuse here and in other areas of the country for the assassination of indigenous people and campesinos, accusing them of being guerrilla collaborators.
It may seem obvious, but due to the special sensitivities that the massacre of the Awa has stirred up, it should be remembered that the reason for condemning these deaths is not that the victims were indigenous persons. The key reason for condemning the Farc massacre is that it was an attack against the civilian population, caught in the middle of two armies which claim to defend civilians but whose presence, instead of being a mechanism for their protection, has become a permanent threat. The Farc’s justification is neither ethical nor legally admissible, since it involves the murder of persons who were neither in combat nor in equality of arms with those they face, a clear violation of the rules of international humanitarian law as embodied in the expanded Geneva protocol.
Furthermore, in addition to being an attack against the civilian population, the Awa massacre bears evidence of violating the duty to respect indigenous territories, which binds all actors involved in the armed conflict. Regarding the latter, article 18 of the ILO’s 169 Agreement forbids any unauthorized incursion into indigenous territories and, even more vehemently, article 30 of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, prohibits carrying out military activities in indigenous territories without previously consulting with the peoples affected. Although the latter instrument has not been signed by the Colombian government, citing precisely the rejection of the obligation to consult all incursions into indigenous territories, the Declaration contains a set of demands that ought to be respected by all of the actors in the conflict, particularly by those who have taken up arms to challenge the legitimacy of the Colombian State. For this reason, they should submit to more exacting ethical standards in order to truly differentiate themselves from the institutions whose legitimacy they question. And, as regards the State, respect for the territorial autonomy of the indigenous people is to be brought into line with the constitutional duty to protect all Colombians, in such a way as to ensure that the latter does not serve as a reason for the public armed forces to enter into indigenous territories without consultation, but rather, that it be understood as the duty to support the authorities of the indigenous peoples to ensure security within their territories only when so requested.
The clear intent of the indigenous organizations and of the Awa leaders, as expressed in their statements, is that they do not wish to be involved in the conflict, and in their statements they demand that all of the armed actors withdraw from their territories. This position, which is consistent with what the indigenous peoples in southern Colombia have stated for decades, contradicts the Farc’s explanations and removes all legitimacy from the Minister of Defense’s criticisms of the Farc’s silence.
The commitment by the armed actors to respect the indigenous population shall only gain credibility when all fighting within their territories ceases. To the extent that any party breaches this obligation, they will place the population living in these territories at risk, since by being there the opposing side would also show up. Respect for the autonomy of the indigenous territories, as well as for the life, integrity and freedom of the civilian population that lives in and outside of these territories, thus represents the first step that the Farc, and, in fact, all armed groups need to take in order to humanize the civil war that our country is suffering and, hopefully, some day, will end.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Women's Day 2009: The Work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with Displaced Women and Young Girls in Colombia

(Translated by Nancy Beiter, a CSN volunteer translator)

In all armed conflict, women are more at risk of becoming victims of gender violence and sexual abuse.  In Colombia, where violence and sexual exploitation are among the most frequent causes of forced displacement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is working with state authorities and with displaced persons to help identify the roots of the problem.
Ibague, Colombia, March 5, 2009 (UNHCR) – Women and young girls comprise more than a third of the displaced population of Colombia, one of the largest in the world with more than 2.8 million registered cases.  The reasons are not coincidental.  In the conflict, many have suffered violence directly related to the fact that they are women.
Last December Elvira (named changed for her protection), along with her two daughters aged 18 and 15, arrived in Ibague, a town located in central Colombia.  Her family used to live on a farm in a rural area with a high presence of illegal armed actors.  With the passage of time, as her daughters were growing up, Elvira became increasingly nervous since everyone in the region knew that many young girls had been captured by these armed groups to serve as combatants or as sex slaves.
“My husband did not want to leave the farm and we talked about this a lot.  He beat me, but where I come from this is what men do.” Elvira explained that she had worried about going to the city alone with her daughters without any way to support herself and them, but she finally left after her 15-year-old niece, who lived on a farm near to hers, was captured. “My husband would not allow us to take the mule, so we walked for two days,” she added.
They first went to a small town where troops from the army were installed.  Elvira believed that would provide a certain measure of security for her family.  Soon her older daughter got involved in a relationship with one of the soldiers. Shortly after the battalion left, the family received death threats and was declared a “military objective” by one of the groups of illegal armed actors who viewed the relationship between the young girl and the soldier as “collaborating with the enemy.”
Stigmatization and persecution as retaliation for a real or perceived relationship with armed actors or with the armed forces of the state is one of the risk factors identified by the Colombian Constitutional Court in Auto 092 of 2008 for the protection of the rights of displaced women.  Other risks include sexual violence and abuse resulting from the conflict, risk of sexual exploitation and slavery, forced recruitment, and the persecution of leaders of women’s organizations, among others.
“Sexual violence against women is an habitual practice that extends, systematically and invisibly, throughout the context of the armed conflict in Colombia, as are sexual exploitation and abuse on the part of the illegal armed actors, and, in some isolated cases, on the part of individual agents of the Public Forces” said the Court in Auto 092 of 2008.
In effect, violence against women is one of the causes of forced displacements in Colombia; half of displaced women report being victims of gender violence.   Few prevention mechanisms have been put into practice, partly because many victims come from marginal areas where conflict is heavy and where the presence of civil agencies of the state is low.
“The lack of the presence of the civil agencies of the state can have a negative impact especially on women:  the lack of access to education and health care, for example, are recognized factors for serious risk and in rural areas few mechanisms exist for reporting abuse and violence,” said Jean-Noel Wetterwald, UNHCR representative in Colombia, who added that her agency is focusing this year on establishing prevention efforts in priority areas around the country.
Last year, UNHCR conducted participatory diagnoses with approximately 300 women in Colombia to determine the specific challenges that confront them before and during their displacement and their resulting needs.  Statistics are very difficult to gather given the remoteness of the locations affected and the sensitivity of the subject matter, but there is enough information to understand that the situation is critical.
According to the calculations, 30% of women do not have access to prenatal care; pregnancy among adolescents is estimated at 37% and more than half of displaced women report abuse by their spouse or partner.  About half of displaced families are headed by women who are without resources to sustain themselves economically. Women rarely hold title to their lands or personal property and, in particular, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians have no documents of identification.  The majority of women who have suffered violence do not know where to look for protection or to report abuse.
UNHCR is focusing on promoting prevention activities in high risk areas such as organizing documentation campaigns with the National Register to provide identification to women in conflict zones.  At the larger, national level, UNHRC supports creation and capacity building of women’s rights groups and trains local functionaries in the treatment of cases of gender violence. Also, it supports the construction of shelters and boarding schools in conflict zones for young people to study under conditions of safety.
By Marie-Helene Verney
Ibague, Colombia

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don Berna (alias of Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano) Implicates Ex-General Mario Montoya in Paramilitary Activities

(Translated by Deryn Collins, a CSN volunteer translator)

Medellin, March 1 (IPC)  The self-confessed drug trafficker and paramilitary boss Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, who goes under the alias of ‘don Berna’, admitted in the South New Cork District Court, that there were alliances with high-level Army officials and Police in the raids of Comuna 13 (Municipality 13) in city of Medellin during Operation Orion, which took place between the 16th and the 19th of October, 2002.
Amongst the cited officials by ‘Don Berna’ are ex Army General Mario Montoya Uribe, who is currently the Colombian ambassador in the Dominican Republic, and ex General of the National Police, Leonardo Gallego, now retired.
´Don Berno’ asserted that “the Self Defense Forces of Bcn (bloque Cacique Nutibara) arrived in Comuna 13 as part of an alliance with the Cuarta Brigada del Ejercito, (4th Army Brigade), which included generals Mario Montoya, of the Army, and Leonardo Gallego, of the Police”.

For the duration of Operation Orion, General Montoya acted as commander of the 4th Army Brigade, with headquarters in Medellín, and General Gallego as commander of the Valle de Aburra Metropolitan Police.
In his declaration, Murillo Bejarano added that the bloque Cacique Nutibara was assigned as an anti-kidnap unit of Gaula to “assist its men in the joined forces during Operation Orion”, and said that the co-ordination of the military and the police to clear the area of FARC, ELN and the Comandos Armados del Pueblo (People´s Armed Commandos) militia was the responsibility of a man using the alias of ‘King Kong’.
These affirmations were contained in a letter sent to Judge Richard M. Berman, dated February 25th, sent by Murillo Bejarano, in which he tried to convince the judge to negate the statement of a female victim, whose son was forcefully disappeared days after Operation Orion, and to exclude this testimony and the proof in the sentencing hearing, and refute any type of economic compensation.
The process which allowed the possibility for a victim to participate in the trial of  ‘don Berna,’ which was heard on the 4th of March before a federal court, was due to the steps taken by the Corporacion Juridica Libertad, (Corporation for Judicial Freedom), which is supported by the Legal Clinic for International Human Rights of Berkeley University of California.

The woman’s representatives, who were not identified for security reasons, affirmed that their client was the victim of a drug trafficking conspiracy committed by Murillo Bejarano against the United States. According to the legal motion presented before Judge Berman on the 17th of February, and which was processed in the Court, the paramilitary boss ordered the ‘disappearance’ and execution of residents of Comuna 13, including the son of the petitioner, with the end being to control a strategic corridor for drug trafficking.

In the letter to the North American judge, ‘Don Berna’ insisted on portraying Comuna 13 as an ”area controlled mostly by the Marxist guerillas that terrorize the area through kidnappings and assassinations. ” He also asserted that, ”the Marxist guerillas had established communist policies and structures in the area of Comuna 13, and that the FARC and the ELN held total control of the zone.”

Therefore, according to ‘Don Berna’ the occupation of this sector of the city by the ‘police, army and paramilitaries was done for political motives to eliminate the guerillas from the zone, in an effort to help the community’. He insisted on arguing that it was the ‘community and the State Security Forces’ that asked the bloque Cacique Nutibara for ‘help’ in ‘freeing the zone of guerillas’.   

“As a result of the military forces in the zone,” Murillo Bejarano affirmed, “at least 20 of the people kidnapped by the guerillas were released.” While he admitted he commanded the bloque Cacique Nutibara, he said that “I did not order them to commit grave or unnecessary crimes in the zone, and only much later discovered that they had committed excessive crimes”.
This is the first time that this paramilitary boss, who held the position of Inspector General of the Auc, has spoken about Operation Orion.  In his few hearings before public prosecutors of the Unidad de Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace Unit) held in Colombia, he had never broached the subject.
In ‘Don Berna´s’ letter to Judge Berman, his defense added the newspaper article published in The Angeles Times on the 25th March 2005, which revealed the contents of a report by the North American intelligence agencies, which affirmed that ex General Montoya and a group of paramilitaries carried out Operation Orion jointly.

Everyone contributed
To refute the arguments of the North American Prosecution Agency and the representatives of the victim, which indicate that Comuna 13 was infiltrated with the objective of protecting this strategic corridor for use by drug traffickers, ‘Don Berna’ explained to Judge Berman how the incursion was financed, and by doing so, incriminated members of the business community.  However, he did not give any specific names.
According to the paramilitary boss, the finances of each Auc group depend on their own individual strategies for raising funds. In the case of the Cacique Nutibara block, he said that 70% of their funds came from gas stolen from the pipelines of Ecopetrol, which run through the rural neighborhood of San Cristobal, where the group had installed clandestine valves. The stolen gasoline was then sold in the city to transport companies.

 “The Cacique Nutibara was also financed by contributions from rich businessmen, businesses and hotels, taxes from the buses and large companies, the money from the gasoline and taxes from drug traffickers’, he clarified.
He added that the Comuna 13 was not a strategic corridor, but that the road that crossed the rural neighborhood of San Cristobal was, “the quickest way of obtaining products outside of Medellin”. He also denied that his men were in any way allied with the Colombian authorities in promoting drug trafficking activities in the area of Comuna 13.
The statements made by ‘Don Berna’ to Judge Richard Berman confirm the charges, which went ignored by authorities, repeatedly made by affected communities in Colombia and the nongovernmental human rights organizations that work with them.

Agencia de Prensa IPC
Medellin, Colombia
(57 4) 569 84 25

Monday, March 09, 2009

Jambalo: We continue meeting in Permanent Assembly to defend our land

(Translated by Stacey Schlau, a CSN volunteer translator)

March 3, 2009, by the Indigenous Authorities of Norte del Cauca
We re-affirm our position of autonomy in relation to all armed actors, whether legal or illegal. We reject the territorial occupation that disrupts the peaceful co-existence of our community and declare the armed actors and their sympathizers responsible for any situation of threat or death, abuse or harm to our leaders, authorities, and the community in general. Therefore, we will continue with the Minga* in defense of the land, life, and the autonomy of indigenous peoples.


We declare to the community, and to national and international human rights organizations, that:

1)    As a result of the military occupation that we suffer in the interior of our lands and of the indigenous communities, the attacks and targeting by armed groups, whether they call themselves members of the national army, guerrillas, paramilitaries, or private drug trafficking groups, we continue to meet in Permanent Assembly for the defense of our lives and our land and the autonomy of the indigenous peoples.
2)   We will continue with the Minga’s work of verification and evaluation in compliance with Resolution 002, approved by the authorities and the community of Jambalo, fortified by the Declaration of the second Minga of Thought of the Association of Indigenous Councils of the Norte del Cauca ACIN (<http://www.nasaacin.org/noticias.htm?x=9599>).
3)    We again demand that the owners of “kitchens” or laboratories in our territory voluntarily leave the territory in three days time, counting from the signing and publication of this resolution.
4)    The Minga reiterates that the communities’ autonomous activities will continue to expand in response to any disruption of territorial and communal integrity by any armed actor who appears on our land.
5)    The guard booths on the access roads to the area and township of Jambalo be maintained, commanded by the indigenous guard, the town officials, and the community in general.

6)    On March 2, the first day of the permanent assembly, the participants in the community assembly were divided into 11 commissions, in order to verify and evaluate the sites of the kitchens, laboratories, anti-personnel mines, boats, and armed groups. During the survey, explosives were discovered in some houses of community members, material for making explosives, camouflage uniforms, and a large laboratory for processing alkaloids remained.
7)    When the commissions approached the site they were harassed with shots from the guerrillas, and from overhead, a plane from the Colombian Air Force. Supposed members of the army of the people EP also tried to burn the bus of the Indigenous Council of Jambalo. This action was prevented by the community.
8)    A truth-finding commission from the People’s Advocacy office, accompanied by persons from Jambalo and some journalists, were detained by an armed group of the FARC in La Despensa, in the region of San Francisco, township of Toribio. They inspected the information that they carried from the Permanent Assembly, after which they let them go.
We continue with the struggle for territorial autonomy, even when faced with threats against the authorities, indigenous guard, and community leaders.

9) On March 3, the second day of the Minga, the assembly decided to continue with the verification of the territory, divided into three commissions and made their way toward the areas of Vitoyo, Loma Gruesa, and La Esperanza. On this survey, they discovered explosive artifacts, aluminum tubes, small laboratories in a rented house and a kitchen for processing alkaloids, which was partly dismantled by the community.

10) In the running of the Permanent Assembly, sabotage by people who don’t agree and those apathetic about the process continues.

11) In the continuing activity of the Permanent Assembly, the traditional authority of the Indigenous Council of Jambalo and the advisory council of the ACIN, convened an extraordinary ad hoc governing junta for March 4 in the municipality of La Esperanza in the area of Jambalo.
We re-affirm our position of autonomy before all legal and illegal armed actors. We reject the territorial occupation that disrupts the peaceful co-existence of the community and we hold the armed actors and their sympathizers responsible for any threats, deaths, abuses, and harm to our leaders, authorities, and the community in general. Therefore we continue with the Minga in defense of our territory, the life, and the autonomy of the indigenous peoples.

Network of Communication and Exterior Relations for Truth and Life
Association of Indigenous Councils of Norte del Cauca--ACIN
Telefax: 0928 - 290958 - 293999
Email: acincauca@yahoo.es
Web: www.nasaacin.org
Address: Calle 3 No. 7A-20
Santander de Quilichao Cauca -Colombia

* Minga, originally a Quechua term referring to work done collectively by members of a community, has come to refer to a political entity in Colombia made up of different marginalized groups (indigenous, women, workers etc.) fighting for their rights.

Friday, March 06, 2009

INDIGENOUS-COLOMBIA: the Awas lose their paradise

(Translated by Kevin Funk, a CSN volunteer translator)
By Constanza Viera*
BOGOTA, Feb. 19 (IPS) – A local apparatus of the FARC insurgents recognized that it had killed eight indigenous Awa people, which it accused of being informants of the Colombian army. For the indigenous activist Hector Mondragon, “the nonsense” of this guerrilla force is to treat this case “as a problem of individuals.”
The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) specified that the killing was committed on February 6 at Rio Bravo, in the municipality of Barbacoas, of the southwestern department of Narinio, bordering Ecuador and along the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
The army maintains that just 10 days later, on Monday, it found a body in an advanced stage of decomposition in the rural district of Tangaral, in Barbacoas.
According to General Leonardo Barrero, commander of the army’s Brigade 27, the body was behind a fence of “more than 50 interconnected mines, with the objective of causing harm to the indigenous population that was looking for it to bury it.”
Local sources received unconfirmed reports about 35 deaths, while authorities from the Awa people estimate a minimum of 17, in at least two episodes.
For the “Mariscal Antonio Jose de Sucre” Column of the FARC, the eight Awas “gathered, by groups, information about us in order to then give it to the military patrols that carry out operations in the area.”
This irregular force alleged that the civilians “carried out explorations, located the guerrilla forces and then went to the military patrols for them to strike us,” and that “they have worked with the army in this task for two years.”
The FARC Column added in a declaration revealed on Tuesday that the killing “was not against the indigenous,” but rather against people who “accepted money and put themselves to the service of the army in an area that is the subject of a military operation.”
The United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Craig Johnstone, visited in the small community of Narinio called El Diviso, some 300 Awas who fled after the killing in the collective territory of Tortugania-Telembi, a two-day walk from El Diviso.
After hearing the story of the displaced, the second-in-command at UNHCR on Tuesday condemned “strongly the grave infractions of international law reported.”
“It is not true that the security forces are using the indigenous as informants,” said the Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, denying that the Awa form a part of the “Informants Network,” one of the most publicized programs of the security policies of the government of this country which is living a half-century of conflict.
Whether the accusations of the Sucre Column of the FARC are true or not, the fact is that in the lives and the territories of this pacific people, war has embedded itself, beginning in 1946 and with a partial truce between 1957 and 1964.
“The Awas are victims of a genocide whose course can be followed event-by-event in the last years,” the indigenous activist Mondragon told IPS.
“Those who assume that they are fighting the enemy ‘without regards to ethnicity’ come into a collision course with the indigenous and end up contributing to the ethnocide,” he warned.
Of the 41.5 million inhabitants of Colombia, 1.4 million are indigenous, which belong to 102 different ethnic groups.
In its July 2008 sentence, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (TPP) verified “the imminent danger of physical and cultural extinction of 28 indigenous peoples,” and classified the situation as “genocide,” although it did not apply this legal term to the Awas.
The TPP looks into cases of massive violations of human rights in the world and is the successor to what was called the Russell Tribunal, which tried crimes from the Vietnam War (1965-1975) and those committed by dictatorships in Latin America.
The TPP’s sentences have an ethical and non-binding character, but are based on international law and jurisprudence, and take into account the authority of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Its definition of impunity was adopted by the Organization of the United Nations.
In the case of Colombia, the TPP examined what benefits 27 multinational corporations and six domestic industries with wide links to foreign companies obtain from the war.
According to Mondragon, the Awa territory “is yearned for by the traditional speculative large-estate holdings, because it will become more valuable due to the IIRSA megaproject,” the acronym for the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America
In that zone, the IIRSA plans to connect the Pacific coast with the Putumayo River and make the tributary to the Amazon River navigable, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
Additionally, “Kedahda (a subsidiary of the multinational AngloGold Ashanti) is going after the gold, and the palm-tree growers are going after the land,” he added, in reference to international mining investments, on one hand, and to narcotrafficking and paramilitary groups that harvest palm oil, on the other.
For Mondragon, the war expels the indigenous, Afro-Colombians, and peasants “from economically strategic areas,” which “has brought about a lucrative business for those who are winning the war taking away lands and rights.”
“If we don’t see things from this strategic perspective, we’re collaborating with the dispossession,” he added.
*This article is one of a three-part series about the massacre of at least 17 indigenous Awa people, in February. The FARC recognized having killed eight. (END/2009)



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