COLOMBIA: URIBE THREATENS PEACE ACTIVISTS AS MASSACRES ESCALATE
by Bill Weinberg
As atrocities by all sides continue to escalate in Colombia's civil war,
the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez is pursuing a "peace
dialogue" with the right-wing paramilitary group responsible for the
majority of the war crimes and massacres over the past ten years.
Meanwhile, the president has warned that arrest orders could be imminent
against leaders of Colombia's self-proclaimed "peace
communities"--autonomous peasant villages which refuse to collaborate with
any armed factions.
SAN JOSE DE APARTADO PEACE COMMUNITY: UNDER THREAT
On May 27, President Uribe issued a statement threatening leaders of the
Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, in the northern Uraba region, with
arrest for "obstructing justice." Uribe cited a complaint by the Fiscalia,
investigative arm of national government, alleging that the community
leaders do not permit residents to testify to Fiscalia personnel. Uribe
also said that San Jose de Apartado "continues to be a corridor for the
FARC," the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Such accusations
have made the Peace Community a target for military and paramilitary
violence in the past. Uribe also made statements threatening international
volunteers with arrest and deportation for supporting the Peace Community
by serving as rights observers.
Just days after Uribe's statement, on June 2, Army and National Police
agents entered San Jose de Apartado, demanding the papers of members of
Peace Brigades International stationed at the village as observers. The
agents announced that a permanent National Police station would be
established at the village, according to a statement on the incident by
Peace Community leaders. The agents also reportedly asked for two community
leaders by name, and inquired about when the community meets and what it
discusses. Although the Peace Community forbids selling goods to any armed
groups, soldiers forced local merchants to sell them goods, reportedly
saying, "Just like you sell to the guerrillas, you also have to sell to
us." The Peace Community statement warns that if the security forces occupy
the village, it would entangle their community in the war and the civilian
population would be forced to relocate.
Uribe's statements came in the context of a "security council" meeting with
local military and civilian authorities after a bomb blast at a discotheque
in the nearby city of Apartado killed seven people and injured over 100 on
May 22. Uribe also announced that a new US-trained "mobile brigade" of the
Colombian Army will be deployed to the Uraba region.
San Jose de Apartado, some twenty miles from Apartado city, declared itself
Peace Community in 1997, after repeated incursions by army, paramilitary
and guerilla forces had left several villagers dead. In a May 24 statement,
the Peace Community condemned the Apartado disco bombing as a "demented act
against the civilian population, which demonstrates how destructive and
unjust the war is." The statement also protested the ongoing atmosphere of
impunity, in which numerous violent attacks on San Jose community leaders
have gone uninvestigated. The Interamerican Court of Human Rights has
officially called on the Colombian government to address the threats and
violence faced by Peace Community leaders.
Uribe's statements were published on the official presidential website as a
press release under the title "Uribe Velez: 'In Colombia Nobody Can
Obstruct Justice.'" Ironically, Uribe called his threats against the Peace
Community leaders part of his "struggle against impunity." He warned that
"In Colombia there cannot be one centimeter of territory without the
presence of the [government] institutions. When I began this government, I
expressed clearly that in San Jose de Apartado and everywhere else in the
Fatherland there must be the presence of the Army, the Police, to accompany
the Fiscalia when they take the decision to have a presence... We are
ready to support the Fiscalia with our Army, with our Police, so that the
Fiscalia can administer justice in San Jose Apartado, which continues to be
a corridor for the FARC."
"PEACE TALKS" WITH PARAS--DESPITE NEW ABDUCTIONS
As peace activists are threatened with arrest, the Colombian government
continues a "peace dialogue" with the outlawed right-wing
paramilitaries--despite one para leader being banned from the talks after
he abducted a former senator and eight others. Jose Gnecco remains missing
after being kidnapped June 28, though his family and chauffeur have been
freed. In response to the abductions, the government stripped Rodrigo Tovar
Pupo--alias "Jorge 40"--of immunity from arrest during pending talks.
the family was kidnapped as they drove along the coastal
highway between the cities of Santa Marta and Riohacha in the conflicted
region of La Guajira. All except ex-senator Gnecco were picked up in the
foothills of the nearby Sierra Nevada the following morning. Reports say
their release followed an army operation. A local army general reported
that Gnecco's wife, Laura Giraldo, and one of their children had received
A statement by President Uribe's office said there were "strong signs "
that the abductions were carried out by paramilitaries from the United
Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). The statement said new arrest orders
had been issued for Tovar and fellow AUC commander Hernan Giraldo Serna.
Arrest warrants against the leaders were suspended on June 15 provided they
remain within a 368-square-km safe haven set up in the municipality of
Tierralta, Cordoba department. The peace talks aim to demobilize the AUC's
13,000 fighters by 2006. In return, the group seeks guarantees of safe
conduct and protection against extradition to the US on drug trafficking
charges. Of the ten paramilitary negotiators, five have outstanding US
extradition warrants, and another three, including Tovar, are under
Partially in protest of the immunity being afforded para leaders, another
armed group, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), on July 10
officially rejected a cease-fire offer. In a letter to Mexican mediator
Andres Valencia, the ELN said lenient treatment of the paras proved the
government's offer was "improvised" and insincere. The ELN had appointed
Francisco Galan, now held in a top security prison, as their main peace
negotiator, DPA reported.
FARC NAMED IN MASSACRE OF COCA GROWERS
In another signal that Colombia's civil war has degenerated into a struggle
over control of the country's lucrative cocaine trade, BBC reported June 16
that armed men massacred 34 peasant coca growers in the village of Rio
Chiquita, Norte de Santander department. Regional police commander Lt Col
William Montezuma told the BBC that 50 gunmen rounded up the peasants and
summarily shot them. Officials said the gunmen were from the FARC, and the
coca farm was under the control of right-wing paramilitaries.
The cocaleros were reportedly sleeping in hammocks when the gunmen arrived
at dawn. Bound hand and foot with ropes, they were then shot with automatic
weapons. "We saved ourselves by running toward the mountain," said Jesus
Bayona, 45, who survived after being shot in the foot.
The attack comes at a bad time for the FARC, which is attempting to portray
a recent change in leadership as signaling a tilt away from a military
emphasis towards one of civil political struggle. BBC reported June 12
the FARC's long-time leader Manuel Marulanda had died or is near death of
prostate cancer. The FARC's new leader is named as Alfonso Cano--reportedly
an alias for Guillermo Leon Saenz--who has long been ideological head of
the guerrilla army.
Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, July 10, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution