Cauca

May Day mining disaster in Colombia

An unknown number of miners—perhaps as many as 40—were buried alive as an illegal gold mine collapsed late on the night of April 30 at El Palmar, in Colombia's southern department of Cauca. Local campesinos spent May Day volunteering with Santander de Quilichao municipal brigades in a desperate effort to unearth the victims—none of whom are believed to survive. Thus far, only three bodies have been recovered, according to local Red Cross workers. Local residents said the "owners" of the mine were able to escape, but it is still unlcear exactly who they are.

Colombia: kingpin named in Trujillo Massacre

The Fiscalía, Colombia's public prosecutor, on Dec. 9 formally charged a notorious drug kingpin for masterminding several massacres between 1988 and 1994 in which hundreds of people were killed. The crimes, dubbed the Massacre of Trujillo after the town where they were committed in Valle del Cauca department, resulted in the deaths of up to 342 people. Among the victims were unionists, alleged guerrilla supporters, and a priest. Some of the victims were tortured and dismembered as a warning to rebel groups FARC and ELN, and their sympathizers. Diego Montoya AKA "Don Diego" is accused of conspiring with members of the army, police, regional politicians and paramilitary groups aligned to the infamous Cali Cartel. Several members of the security forces have also been charged for their alleged role in the killings.

Colombia: Cauca campesino leader assassinated

Sergio Úlcue Perdomo, a campesino leader representing veredas (hamlets) in the municipality of Caloto, in Colombia's southwestern Cauca department, was killed by unknown gunmen in civilian clothes who invaded his family's shelter in vereda Marañón on Nov. 17. Family members, including children, looked on as he was slain. The family has been living in the improvised shelter since November 2011, when they were forced by paramilitary threats to abandon their traditional lands and home in vereda El Pedregal. In 2009, Úlcue Perdomo led an effort to document rights abuses by the Colombian army and allied paramilitaries at the veredas of El Pedregal and El Vergel, bringing a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) on behalf of some 175 families. The CIDH issued a "Precuationary Measure," MC-97-10, calling on the Colombian government to guarantee the safety of the threatened families. (Corporación Justicia y Dignidad via Rebelión, Nov. 19)

Colombia: mine opponents assassinated

Cesar García, a campesino leader who opposed the mining operations of AngloGold Ashanti at La Colosa in the central Colombian department of Tolima, was assassinated Nov. 2 by an unknown gunman as he worked his small farm at the vereda (hamlet) of Cajón la Leona. Supporters said he had been targeted for his work with the Environmental Campesino Committee of Cajamarca, the local municipality. In a statement, the Network of Tolima Environmental and Campesino Committees said the Cajamarca group had been "stigmatized as enemies of progress in the region," and falsely linked to the guerilla movement. The statement noted a growing climate of fear in the area.

Colombia: gains seen as peasants end strike

Colombian campesinos on Sept. 10 ended their national strike after more than two weeks, and lifted the road blockades they were still maintaining, chiefly in Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo and elsewhere in the south of the country. The organization coordinating the strike in this region, the National Agricultural and Popular Table of Dialogue and Accord (MIA), agreed to recognize a pact already won in talks between the government and campesino organizations in Boyacá, Cundinamarca and elsewhere in the central region of the country. United Nations observers who had been brought in for the dialogue process confirmed that all protest roadblocks had been dismantled. (EFE, Sept. 11; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Sept. 7)

Colombia: indigenous to open dialogue with FARC

Indigenous leaders in Colombia's Cauca department last month exchanged letters with FARC commander Rodrigo Londono AKA "Timochenko" AKA "Timoleón Jiménez" to discuss a face-to-face dialogue over guerilla aggression against native peoples. "Timochenko" wrote to indigenous leaders on May 13, appealing to them "to reach understandings that will allow us satisfactorily to advance towards our mutual goals of peace and social justice." He denied recent accusations by native leaders that  the FARC is complicit in the "genocide of the indigenous" of Cauca, and broached a personal meeting. The indigenous leaders reponded on May 16 with an open letter accepting the invitation to direct dialogue, but adding: "However, our communities want to see the dialogue does represent changes to our conditions; that you stop killing, accusing and dividing us." The letter protested the FARC's accusation that the indigenous leadership are a "counterinsurgency force."

Bogotá, FARC reach deal on land reform

Negotiators from Colombia's government and the FARC rebels on May 26 signed an agreement on agrarian reform, the first and reportedly the hardest of three issues that must be tackled before a final deal to end nearly 50 years of civil war. In a joint press conference, the two negotiating teams said they had reached full agreement on points including "access and use of land," "non-productive lands," "formalization of property," and the "agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones." Accords were also announced on technical assistance and credit for poor farmers. The pact calls for creation of a "Lands for Peace Fund" into which millions of illegally held or underused hectares will be placed for eventual redistribution to landless peasants and displaced populations. The negotiators said the deal will lead to "radical transformations of Colombia's rural and agrarian reality with equality and democracy." The remaining two issues are political participation and drug trafficking. (Colombia Reports, LAT, El Colombiano, Colprensa, May 26)

Colombia: peace talks advance amid violence

"Pablo Catatumbo," commander of the FARC guerillas' feared Western Bloc, was picked up by a Red Cross helicopter in Colombia's southwestern town of Palmira April 6 to join fellow guerrilla leaders who are in Cuba meeting with the government to negotiate peace, according to local media. Neither the government nor the FARC have either confirmed or denied Catatumbo's trip. With the arrival of Catatumbo, the FARC delegation in Havana now includes three of the guerillas' seven-man secretariat. To allow the safe arrival of Catatumbo and five other rebel leaders in Palmira, the army temporarily suspended military operations in the department of Valle de Cauca, military intelligence sources told Caracol Radio. (Vanguardia Liberal, Bucaramanga, April 7; Colombia Reports, RCN Radio, April 6)

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