SOACHA, Colombia — Julian Oviedo, a 19-year-old construction worker in this gritty patchwork of slums, told his mother on March 2 that he was going to talk to a man about a job offer. A day later, Mr. Oviedo was shot dead by army troops some 350 miles to the north. He was classified as a subversive and registered as a combat kill.
A Tale of Two Foreign Policies February 26, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Angola, Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, South Africa.
Tags: angola, apartheid, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian deaths, counterinsurgency, Cuba, farc, fidel castro, foreign policy, imperialism, jorge gaitan, matt peppe, nelson mandela, roger hollander, School of the Americas, South Africa, U.S. imperialism, w.t. whitney
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Roger’s note: here are two articles that appeared in the same online edition of http://www.counterpunch.org. They coincidentally make an excellent comparison of the foreign policies of a Goliath nation (the United States of America) and a tiny David (Cuba).
US foreign policy is characterized by overpowering military strength and aggression, and an overwhelming concern for protecting its corporate interests that is only matched by its lack of concern for human rights. Cuba, on the other hand, has shown an abiding concern for justice and human needs (cf. its sending doctors around the world).
Colombia and South Africa are only two nations among many, but the contrast in the actions of the United States and Cuba towards them can be seen as a microcosm with respect to overall foreign policy strategies. It is notable that the first foreign visit made by Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison was to Cuba to thank Castro and the Cuban people. As well, it hardly needs to be mentioned that with respect to a capacity to act for human good, the United States is the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world whereas Cuba, in addition to being a third world country historically repressed by Spain and the US, has suffered for over 50 years under the US economic blockade.
Fidel Castro and Apartheid
The Cuban Role
Until the fall of the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974, apartheid in South Africa was secure. There was no substantial resistance anywhere in southern Africa. Pretoria’s neighbors comprised a buffer zone that protected the racist regime: Namibia, their immediate neighbor which they had occupied for 60 years; white-ruled Rhodesia; and the Portuguese-ruled colonies of Angola and Mozambique. The rebels who fought against minority rule in each of these countries, operating without any safe haven to organize and train, were powerless to challenge the status quo. South Africa’s buffer would have remained intact for the foreseeable future, solidifying apartheid and preventing any significant opposition, but for one man: Fidel Castro.
In October of 1975, South Africa invaded Angola at the behest of the U.S. government to overthrow the left-wing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the soon-to-be independent country. Without Cuban assistance, the apartheid army would have easily cruised into Luanda, crushed the MPLA, and installed a puppet government friendly to the apartheid regime.
Cuba’s intervention in Angola managed to change the course of that country and reverberate throughout Africa. By ensuring independence from the white supremacists, Angola was able to preserve its own revolution and maintain its role as a base for armed resistance groups fighting for liberation in nearby countries.
In the American version of Cold War history, Cuba was carrying out aggression and acting as proxies of the Soviet Union. Were it not for one persistent and meticulous scholar, we might never have known that these are nothing more than dishonest fabrications. In his monumental books Conflicting Missions and Visions of Freedom, historian Piero Gleijeses uses thousands of documents from Cuban military archives, as well as U.S. and South African archives, to recount a dramatic, historical confrontation between tiny Cuba and Washington and its ally apartheid South Africa. Gleijeses is the only foreign scholar to have gained access to the closed Cuban archives. He obtained thousands of pages of documents, and made them available to the Wilson Center Digital Archive, which has posted the invaluable collection online.
Gleijeses’s research made possible a look behind the curtain at one of the most remarkable acts of internationalism of the century. “Internationalism – the duty to help others – was at the core of the Cuban revolution,” Gleijeses writes. “For Castro’s followers, and they were legion, this was not rhetoric… By 1975, approximately 1,000 Cuban aid workers had gone to a dozen African countries, South Yemen, and North Vietnam. In 1976-77, technical assistance was extended to Jamaica and Guyana in the Western Hemisphere; to Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia in Africa; and to Laos in Asia. The CIA noted: ‘The Cuban technicians are primarily involved in rural development and educational and public health projects – areas in which Cuba has accumulated expertise and has experienced success at home.’” 
The fight against apartheid, for the liberation of people who suffered for centuries under colonialism and racial subjugation, was truly a David versus Goliath conflict. In addition to having a strong military itself and being armed with nuclear weapons, South Africa enjoyed the diplomatic support of the United States, the world’s largest superpower. In this context, Cuba’s intervention – a poor Caribbean island under relentless attack from an unrivaled hegemon against a racist juggernaut backed by the world’s leading imperial powers – is even more remarkable.
Explaining how the significance of Cuba’s role in Angola is “without precedent,” Gleijeses writes: “No other Third World country has projected its military power beyond its immediate neighborhood.” He notes that while the Soviet Union later sent aid and weapons, they never would have become involved unless Castro had taken the lead (which he did in spite of Russian opposition). “The engine was Cuba. It was the Cubans who pushed the Soviets to help Angola. It was they who stood guard in Angola for many long years, thousands of miles from home, to prevent the South Africans from overthrowing the MPLA government.” 
White Elitism Has Suffered an Irreversible Blow
It had become clear that the left-wing People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the largest and most widely-supported of three warring groups, would prevail and gain control of the country. Afraid of having a government staunchly opposed to white domination so close to home, South Africa rushed to prevent self-determination for the Angolans. They were aided by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who believed the threat of black liberation in Africa, which would lead to local control of their own resources at the expense of foreign investors, could still be contained.
South Africa launched an invasion to topple the MPLA and install the guerilla Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the smallest and least popular of the three groups, as a puppet dictator in Angola. Savimbi, a collaborator with the Portuguese dictatorship before Angolan independence, was known for his ruthlessness, terrorism, and hunger for power. An avowed anti-communist who had already aligned with South Africa, Savimbi would have made the perfect Angolan facade for apartheid control.
Agostinho Neto, the President of Angola, appealed to Cuba to send troops to ward of the apartheid army’s invasion. On November 4, Castro agreed. Several days later the first Cuban special forces troops boarded planes for Angola, where they would launch Operation Carlota.
As the South African troops advanced inside Angola, they made remarkably easy gains through scarcely defended villages that put up little – if any – resistance. But by November 9, Cuban Special Forces had arrived and went immediately to the battlefield. In the Battle of Quifangondo, the Angolans, supported by Cuban troops, made a decisive stand. They turned back the apartheid army and prevented their easy march to Luanda, where that same day the Portuguese military left Angola and Neto declared independence.
Throughout November, the Cubans prevented further South African advances towards the Angolan capital. On November 25, the Cuban troops laid a trap for the racist army in the Battle of Ebo. As the South African Defence Force (SADF) tried to cross a bridge, Cubans hidden along the banks of the river attacked. They destroyed seven armored cars and killed upwards of 90 enemy soldiers.
Cuban troops kept pouring into Angola throughout the rest of the year. As many as 4,000 had arrived by the end of 1975, roughly the same number as South African invaders. Unable to penetrate deeper into Angolan territory, and facing a barrage of negative criticism after international media discovered SADF troops, rather than mercenaries, were behind the invasion, the South African advance ended.
The impact of the Cuban victory resonated far beyond the battlefield. More important than the strategic gain, the victory of black Cuban and Angolan troops against the whites of the South African racist army shattered the illusion of white invincibility.
A South African military analyst described the meaning of his country’s defeat: “The reality is that they have won, are winning, and are not White; and that psychological edge, that advantage the White man has enjoyed and exploited over 300 years of colonialism and empire, is slipping away. White elitism has suffered an irreversible blow in Angola, and Whites who have been there know it.” 
American officials claimed that the Soviets masterminded the operation with Cubans acting as their proxies. They couldn’t fathom Castro acting on its own, rather than as Moscow’s puppet. Such claims were repeated for years. American politicians went as far as falsely accusing Cuban troops of being mercenaries. But the record makes clear that these were in reality nothing more than slanderous lies.
The Americans were furious. “Kissinger’s response to Castro’s intervention was to throw mercenaries and weapons at the problem,” Gleijeses writes.  The Secretary of State was afraid that after their successful intervention in Angola, Cuba would put the rest of the racist regimes in the region in jeopardy. “We can’t say Rhodesia is not a danger because it is a bad case. If the Cubans are involved there, Namibia is next and after that South Africa, itself… If the Cubans move, I recommend we act vigorously. We can’t permit another move without suffering a great loss.” 
Support and Solidarity with Revolutionary Movements
Though South Africa had lost the battle, it by no means had surrendered the war. The apartheid regime still had designs on toppling the Angolan revolution and using it for its own ends. “It would be the centerpiece of the Constellation of Southern African States that they sought to create,” writes Gleijeses. “The concept had first emerged under Prime Minister Vorster, but it was PW Botha who had given it ‘a substance previously lacking.’ The constellation, the generals hoped, would stretch beyond South Africa, its Bantustans, Lesotho, Malawi, Botswana, and Swaziland, to embrace Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Zaire, and a nominally independent Namibia. The black members of the constellation would be anticommunist, tolerant of apartheid, and eager to persecute the ANC (the African National Congress in South Africa) and SWAPO (the South West Africa People’s Organization in Namibia).” 
Cuba was aware of this. “In Southern Africa Angola today, more so than a year ago, is the bastion of the fight against the racists and the unquestionable revolutionary vanguard. Imperialism knows this,” wrote Jorge Risquet, head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola to President Neto. “Imperialism has to know what Angola does for Zimbabwe, what Angola does for Namibia, what Angola does for South Africa. Angola, bravely, lends real support to the movements of Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa. In concrete terms, nothing less than training in its territory 20,000 combatants from those three countries oppressed by the racists.” 
With the omnipresent threat against Angola, Cuba maintained a large contingent of around 30,000 troops at the behest of the MPLA to prevent another invasion. In a letter to the political bureau of the MPLA after Neto’s death, Fidel wrote of the sacrifice Cuba was willing to make.
“Cuba cannot keep indefinitely carrying out a military cooperation effort of the magnitude it currently is in Angola, which limits our possibilities of support and solidarity with the revolutionary movement in other parts of the world and defense of our own country,” Fidel wrote. But he made clear that Cuba had no plans to abandon Angola: “I want to assure you, above all, that in these bitter and difficult circumstances, Cuba will be unconditionally at your side.” 
Meanwhile, South African aggression was relentless. In 1983, the SADF bombed Angolan towns and pushed nearly 90 miles into Angolan territory. When the UN moved to condemn the invasion, the United States made sure the censure would not include sanctions, as they had done for more than a decade.
The apartheid regime used Washington’s diplomatic shield to keep its dreams of a Constellation of Southern African States alive. The International Court of Justice had decisively rejected the continued presence of South Africa in Namibia in a 1971 Advisory Opinion as “illegal.” The court declared that “South Africa is under obligation to withdraw its administration from Namibia immediately and thus put an end to its occupation of the territory.” Seven years later, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 435 reiterating its objective of “the withdrawal of South Africa’s illegal administration from Namibia and the transfer of power to the people of Namibia.”
Washington’s support enabled South Africa to ignore the ICJ and UN Security Council. The apartheid government, understanding that free elections would mean a SWAPO victory, refused to comply. “The South Africans took advantage of U.S. goodwill to further their foreign policy aims,” Gleijeses writes. 
In 1978, a South African massacre against a refugee camp in Cassinga killed more than 600 Namibians. The U.S. opposed sanctions in the Security Council. President Carter took the excuses of the apartheid regime at face value: “They’ve claimed to have withdrawn and have not left any South African troops in Angola. So we hope it’s just a transient strike in retaliation, and we hope it’s all over.” Even after Angolans foiled an attack by South African commandos against Gulf Oil pipelines inside Angola in 1985, which would have killed U.S. citizens, the U.S. government continued protecting their racist allies.
The Whole World is Against Apartheid
As international opinion turned, Castro sensed that apartheid in South Africa would not be able to last much longer. Despite the growing cost to Cuba of maintaining about 30,000 troops in Angola, Castro was confident that he would be able to wait out the inevitable downfall of the racist regime.
“Today they are totally on the defensive in the political arena, in the international arena, they have a very serious economic crisis,” Castro said in a conversation with Angolan President José Eduardo Dos Santos in 1985. “I can’t say how this is going to end, what the end result of it all will be; but in my opinion, South Africa won’t recover from this crisis.” Castro said that the situation facing South Africa did not occur by chance, but that it was a result of the collective action of the people in many parts of Southern Africa fighting for their independence. “All these factors, common struggles, common sacrifices, have contributed to create this crisis for apartheid, that wasn’t created in one day, it was created over many years,” Castro said. 
Nevertheless, the apartheid government kept up its relentless fight for survival. Throughout the 1980s, Angola was subjected to various incursions and invasions by South Africa. At the same time, the Angolan Armed Forces (FAPLA) fought against former Portuguese collaborator Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA army, who was backed by South Africa and the United States. Savimbi sought to roll back MPLA rule and form an alliance with the apartheid regime.
The confrontations climaxed in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in late 1987. After a forward offensive to attack UNITA stalled, Angolan and Cuban troops managed to defend the town. They then turned to the Southwest where they attempted to drive the SADF out of the country once and for all. As the Cubans asserted supremacy with their air force, they were able to take the lead on the battlefield.
With the military confrontation raging, talks started between Angola, Cuba and South Africa, with the United States moderating, in London in early 1988. In instructions to the Cuban delegation, Castro reflected on the South Africans and American mindset.
“The fact they have accepted this meeting in London at such a high level shows that they are looking for a way out because they have seen our advance and are saying, ‘How is it that Cuba has converted itself into the liquidator of Apartheid and the liberator of Africa?’ That’s what is worrying the Americans, they’re going to say: ‘They’re going to defeat South Africa!” Castro said. 
Castro also told his delegation that the goal was not to pursue a war or military victory, but to achieve negotiations over SADF from Angola and implementation of Resolution 435, which would grant independence to Namibia. “They should know that we are not playing games, that our position is serious and that our objective is peace,” he said. 
The Cuban Commander-in-Chief’s instructions to his negotiating team show that he fully understood that Cuba stood firmly on the right side of history.
The negotiations would continue throughout the year and lead to the New York agreements in December 1988, which Gleijeses says “led to the independence of Namibia and the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola.” 
This was the beginning of the end of apartheid.
“By the time Namibia became independent, in March 1990, apartheid was in its death throes,” Gleijeses writes. “A month earlier, Frederick de Klerk, who had replaced the ailing PW Botha as South Africa’s president, legalized the ANC and the South African Communist Party, and he freed Nelson Mandela. The apartheid government engaged in protracted and difficult negotiations that led in April 1994 to the first elections in the country’s history based on universal franchise.” 
The Contribution of the Cuban Internationalists
No one was more grateful for Cuba’s role in the defeat of apartheid and the liberation of blacks in Africa than Nelson Mandela. In July 1991, during a visit to Cuba to mark the 38th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Mandela spoke of his gratitude for the Cuban role in Southern Africa.
“The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character,” Mandela said. “We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.”
Many years later, after the passing of Nelson Mandela, Castro would wonder why after so many years the enablers of apartheid still could not admit the truth.
“Why try to hide the fact that the apartheid regime, which made the people of Africa suffer so much and incensed the vast majority of all the nations in the world,”Castro wrote, “was the fruit of European colonialism and was converted into a nuclear power by the United States and Israel, which Cuba, a country who supported the Portuguese colonies in Africa that fought for their independence, condemned openly?”
Since the success of the Cuban revolution of 1959, American policy has always been reflexive opposition to anything Cuba did. Shortly after Mandela’s funeral, Gleijeses wrote an open letter to President Obama that described the actual course of events in Africa during the Cold War: “While Cubans were fighting for the liberation of the people of South Africa, successive American governments did everything they could to stop them.”
Gleijeses wrote that Obama must have noticed the reception of Cuban President Raúl Castro in South Africa, and implored him to reconsider the disconnect between the two countries. “Perhaps, Mr. President, what you saw in South Africa may inspire you to bridge the chasm and understand that in the quarrel between Cuba and the United States the United States is not the victim,” he wrote.
But Obama has not been able to learn this lesson. On December 17, when he announced a change in the U.S.’s Cuban policy, Obama claimed that the current policy “has been rooted in the best of intentions.” This is a gross misrepresentation that suppresses the policy of unrelenting economic war, which has caused unimaginable pain and suffering to millions of Cubans; a covert terrorist campaign against the island carried out first directly by the U.S. government then later sanctioned and outsourced to reactionary terrorists provided safe haven in the United States; and collaboration with the apartheid regime to punish Cuba for helping fight for the liberation of black Africa.
American officials would, no doubt, prefer that Cuba’s heroic role in defeating apartheid and the U.S.’s shameful role in enabling it be relegated to the ash heap of history. But the historical and documentary record speaks for itself, despite Washington’s attempts to bury it. Like Castro, one has to wonder: why keep hiding the truth?
 Gleijeses, Piero. Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (Envisioning Cuba). The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.http://www.amazon.com/Conflicting-Missions-Washington-1959-1976-Envisioning-ebook/dp/B004P1JTGG/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1423430995&sr=8-1&keywords=conflicting+missions
 “NSC Meeting, 4/7/1976” of the National Security Adviser’s NSC Meeting File at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. (pg. 21)http://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/document/0312/1552402.pdf
 Jorge Risquet to Agostinho Neto,” February, 1978, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archives of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. Obtained and contributed to CWIHP by Piero Gleijeses and included in CWIHP e-Dossier No. 44. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/117933 (pg. 8-9)
 “Fidel Castro to Political Bureau of the MPLA,” September 15, 1979, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archive of the Cuban Armed Forces. Obtained and contributed to CWIHP by Piero Gleijeses and included in CWIHP e-Dossier No. 44. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/117946 (pg. 2-3)
 Memorandum of Conversation between Fidel Castro and José Eduardo dos Santos,” October 25, 1985, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archives of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. Obtained and contributed to CWIHP by Piero Gleijeses and included in CWIHP e-Dossier No. 44. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/118021 (pg. 31-33)
 Instructions to the Cuban Delegation for the London Meeting, ‘Indicaciones concretas del Comandante en Jefe que guiarán la actuación de la delegación cubana a las conversaciones de Luanda y las negociaciones de Londres (22-4-88)’
http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/118133.pdf (pg. 11)
 Instructions to the Cuban Delegation for the London Meeting, ‘Indicaciones concretas del Comandante en Jefe que guiarán la actuación de la delegación cubana a las conversaciones de Luanda y las negociaciones de Londres (23-4-88)’,” April 23, 1988, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archive of the Cuban Armed Forces. Obtained and contributed to CWIHP by Piero Gleijeses and included in CWIHP e-Dossier No. 44. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/118134 (pg. 5)
Colombia is seemingly a “no-go” zone for most U. S. media and even for many critics of U.S. overseas misadventures. Yet the United States was in the thick of things in Colombia while hundreds of thousands were being killed, millions were forced off land, and political repression was the rule.
Bogota university professor and historian Renán Vega Cantor has authored a study of U.S. involvement in Colombia. He records words and deeds delineating U.S. intervention there over the past century. The impact of Vega’s historical report, released on February 11, stems from a detailing of facts. Communicating them to English-language readers will perhaps stir some to learn more and to act.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government have been at war for half a century. Vega’s study appears within the context of negotiations in Cuba to end that conflict. Negotiators on both sides agreed in August, 2014 to form a “Historical Commission on Conflict and its Victims” to enhance discussions on victims of conflict. The Commission explored “multiple causes” of the conflict, “the principal factors and conditions facilitating or contributing to its persistence,” and consequences. Commission members sought “clarification of the truth” and establishment of responsibilities. On February 11 the Commission released an 809 – page report offering a diversity of wide-ranging conclusions. Vega was one of 12 analysts contributing individual studies to the report.
Having looked into “links between imperialist meddling and both counterinsurgency and state terrorism,” he claims the United States “is no mere outside influence, but is a direct actor in the conflict owing to prolonged involvement.” And, “U. S. actions exist in a framework of a relationship of subordination. … [T]he block in power had an active role in reproducing subordination, because, (Vega quotes Colombia Internacional, vol 65), ‘there existed for more than 100 years a pact among the national elites for whom subordination led to economic and political gains.’” As a result, “Not only in the international sphere, but in the domestic one too, the United States, generally, has the last word.”
In 1903, after 50 years of minor interventions, the United States secured Panama’s independence from Colombia as a prelude to building its canal there. As a sop to wounded Colombian feelings and to secure oil- extraction rights, the United States paid $25 million to Colombia under the Urrutia-Thompson Treaty of 1921. Colombia that year sent 72 percent of its exports to the United States, thanks mostly to U.S. banana and oil producers and U.S. lenders.
Vega highlights Colombia’s “native” brand of counterinsurgency. Under the flag of anti-communism, the Colombian Army violently suppressed striking oil, dock and railroad workers. On December 6, 1929 at the behest of the U.S. United Fruit Company, that Army murdered well over 1000 striking banana workers near Santa Marta. According to Minister of War Ignacio Rengifo, whom Vega quotes, Colombia faced a “new and terrible danger … The ominous seed of communism is being sprinkled on Colombian beaches [which] now begin to germinate in our soil and produce fruits of decomposition and revolt.” Having investigated those events, Representative Jorge Eliécer Gaitán told Colombia’s Congress in 1929 that, “It was a question of resolving a problem of wages by means of bullets from government machine gunners, because the workers were Colombian and the Company was American. [After all,] the government has murderous shrapnel for Colombians and a trembling knee on the ground before American gold.”
From the late 1930’s on, Gaitán and the left wing of the Liberal Party were leading mobilizations for agrarian and labor rights. With the advent of Conservative Party rule in 1946, repression with anti-communist overtones led to thousands of killings. By then U.S. military missions and instructors were operating in Colombia. U.S. military units no longer needed specific permission to enter Colombia. Colombia and other Latin American nations in 1947 signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a military security agreement. Then on April 9, 1948, Gaitán was assassinated.
Colombian cities erupted in destruction and chaos. Within two weeks, 3000 died. Prompted by U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the Colombian government blamed communists for Gaitán’s killing. Marshall was in Bogota that day presiding over a hemisphere-wide meeting at which, for cold war purposes, the Pan-American Union became the Organization of American States. Over the next ten years, war between the Colombian Army and peasant insurgents took nearly 200,000 lives. Most insurgents were affiliated with the Liberal Party but were labelled as communists.
The two nations signed a military assistance agreement in 1952 in response to an alleged “communist conspiracy.” Colombia was the only Latin American nation to send troops to the Korean War. Returning home, “Korea Battalion” veterans attacked insurgents and strikers. Colombia established its “School of Lancers” in 1955, modeled on and facilitated by the U.S. Army Ranger School. That year, with U.S. advisers on hand, Colombian troops used napalm in an unsuccessful effort to eradicate peasant insurgents in Tolima department. In 1959 U.S. military advisers secured President Alberto Lleras Camargo’s approval for a helicopter-equipped, 1500 – person counter-insurgency unit. A “secret CIA team” visited military detachments and inspected security archives to expand counterinsurgency and psychological warfare capabilities.
Yet rural uprisings continued, and, increasingly, insurgents were identifying themselves as communist. In response U.S. General William Yarborough and a U.S. Special Forces team visited four Colombian army brigades in 1962. They were there “to evaluate the ‘effectiveness of counterinsurgency operations’” and plan U.S. assistance. The U.S. army soon stepped up training and technical assistance, and provided new equipment, especially helicopters. Significantly, the Yarborough report, in a “Secret Supplement,” proposed that the “Colombian state organize paramilitary groups in order to ‘execute paramilitary activities like sabotage and/or terrorism against known partisans of communism. [The report emphasized that,] The United States must support this.’” It recommended new “interrogation techniques for ‘softening up’ prisoners.”
The FARC did not yet exist. In 1964, however, the Colombian army sent 16,000 Colombian troops into small-farmer communities in the Marquetalia region of southern Tolima. The U.S. government provided $500,000, and U.S. advisers were on hand as soldiers descended upon a relative handful of rebels. They escaped and within weeks established themselves as the FARC.
Continuing, Vega details:
* The subsequent flow of U.S. equipment and funding to the Colombian military
* Training of 10,446 Colombian soldiers – torture techniques included – at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas between 1946 and 2004 (5239 between 1999 and 2012).
* S. launching of Colombia’s FBI-like police and intelligence agency known as the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) in 1960
* Military and police assistance costing $10.7 billion between 1999 and 2007 under U.S. Plan Colombia. Its implementation caused the FARC in 2002 to end peace negotiations with the government.
* Use of the U.S. “drug war” as a new pretext for military aid, beginning with the Reagan administration
* Collusion between CIA teams and Colombian drug lords
* Deployment of U.S. soldiers and military contractors in Colombia
* Impunity for U.S. personnel accused of civilian killings and anti-women violence
* Establishment of seven U.S. military bases in Colombia in 2009
* S. use of Colombian personnel to train security forces in U.S. client states throughout the world
*High – technology intelligence equipment supplied for targeting FARC detachments and leaders, often with direct U.S. participation
The U. S. protégée DAS monitored opposition politicians, journalists, unionists and government officials, including Supreme Court justices. Adverse publicity led to its dissolution in 2011. The DAS had used paramilitaries to murder many of those under surveillance. Vega says U.S. embassy officials identified civilians for DAS targeting.
Vega reports on the 5000 or so civilians whom soldiers killed and then dressed in FARC uniforms to make them look like casualties of war. The scandal of the so-called “false positives” broke in 2008. It came about in part because extra U.S. funding was available to military units demonstrating effectiveness. The way to do that was to exhibit a high number of FARC casualties.
Vega quotes from the U.S. Institute of Policy Studies: “Everything indicates that support from the CIA or U.S. Special Forces to paramilitaries was the tool allowing them to be consolidated like never before.” He cites a “quantitative study” of municipalities showing that proximity to military bases receiving U.S. military assistance was associated with increased numbers of paramilitary attacks against civilians. From the bases, paramilitaries secured armaments, logistics, and intelligence, plus access to “helicopters or airplanes acquired from the United States.”
Having reported on what happened between the United States and Colombia, Vega then drew conclusions. Their essentials appear below in translation:
“During much of the twentieth century, Colombian governments and dominant classes continued a strategic alliance with the United States that was mutually beneficial to both sides …”
“A native counterinsurgency exists in Colombia nurtured on anti-communism that preceded the advent of the counterinsurgency doctrine. Anti-communism was renewed and integrated with the latter for the sake of U.S. geo-political interests during the cold war.”
“U. S. interference in the social and armed conflict in our country has been constant and direct since the end of the 1940’s …”
“Successive U.S. governments of the last seven decades are directly responsible for the perpetuation of armed conflict in Colombia. They have promoted counterinsurgency in all its manifestations and stimulated and trained the armed forces in their methods of torture and elimination of those seen as internal enemies …”
“The Yarborough mission of 1962 was directly responsible for the consolidation of paramilitarism in Colombia … “
“The United States has contributed to militarization of Colombian society through financing and support of the Colombian state and its armed forces …”
“The United States shares direct responsibility for thousands of assassinations committed by the armed forces and paramilitaries … It sponsored military brigades dedicated to that type of crime and backed private groups of assassins.”
“Direct U. S. control of DAS from the time of its formation to its recent dissolution makes that country responsible in part for the numerous crimes committed by that security organism against the population, [especially] unionists and social leaders …”
“In promoting the so-called drug war, the United States in a direct way participated in the destruction of the small-farmer and indigenous economy all over Colombia …”
“By virtue of agreements between the United States and Colombia, privatization of war promoted by Plan Colombia and the new counterinsurgency encourages utilization of mercenaries in our country’s internal war. They commit crimes … with full impunity. This encourages the “culture of impunity” characterizing the Colombian armed forces.”
“Since the late 1940’s state terrorism in Colombia has been promoted not only through military and financial support from the United States but also by our own dominant classes intent upon preserving their power and wealth and rejecting basic economic and social reforms of a re-distributive nature.”
“Some firms based on U. S. capital, like Chiquita Brands, having financed and sponsored paramilitary groups, are directly responsibility for hundreds of crimes …”
Reflections from a northern vantage point are in order. First, it’s not clear that the U. S. government, a force for war in Colombia, will accept a peace settlement reflecting FARC ideas of peace with social justice. Surely the time is now for fair-minded North Americans to pay attention to and get involved with solidarity efforts on behalf of the peace process and justice itself in Colombia. Secondly, while the thrust of Professor Vega’s study should be understandable by one and all, appreciation of the Colombian conflict as struggle between social classes will help with a full understanding and with movement toward action.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.
Source: http://www.rebelion.org/docs/195465.pdf (The author translated.)
Tags: Colombia, colombia abuses, Colombia atrocities, colombia human rights, colombia military, colombian army, foreign policy, human rights, Latin America, latin america poitics, military bases, moira birss, obama administration, plan colombia, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, u.s. military bases, uribe
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by Moira Birss
In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady laments an apparent shift left in the Obama administration’s Latin America policy. Clearly, O’Grady hasn’t been keeping up to date with current events. If she had been, she would have heard about negotiations underway between the U.S. and Colombia to establish at least seven U.S. military bases in Colombia. Last I heard, folks on the left tend to oppose increased militarization; it’s tough to see seven new military bases as a move to the left.
Why is the Obama administration pushing for these bases, despite having previously criticized Colombia’s human rights record?
The Administration’s goals for the military facilities are “filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia,” according to sources in Washington and Bogotá. The proposed bases, replacements for the soon-to-closed U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador, would serve to expand the U.S. military’s counter-narcotic operations in the region, deepen involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency war, and combat “other international crimes,” according to Colombia’s Foreign Minister.
Despite these hints at the intention of the bases, many serious questions remain. In fact, even the Colombian Congress has yet to receive detailed information from the Uribe administration, despite repeated official requests. Nonetheless, on Tuesday Uribe began a South America tour to convince his regional counterparts of the plan, despite not having briefed his own Congress.
Such secrecy is worrisome. Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Lindsay Poland, who has spent years studying U.S. military bases around the world, writes, “the locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic – supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao – and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions ‘beyond Colombia’s borders’ are U.S. planners contemplating?”
Even if we had answers to these questions, however, there exist plenty more reasons to be wary of the bases.
In cooperating with the Colombian army, the U.S. would be demonstrating support for an institution with an atrocious human rights record. More than 1,000 civilians have been murdered by the Colombian army in recent years, in a criminal attempt to portray them as guerrillas in order to raise the number of guerrillas killed in combat. Proposing these seven bases unmasks Obama’s previous statements calling for the improvement of Colombian’s human rights record as merely lip service.
Colombian forces aren’t the only ones to worry about: U.S. military forces will be not be bound by Colombian law and will potentially get away with all kinds crimes. US negotiators have made it known that “even if they won’t interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia’s borders.” And there is precedent that validates these concerns. In 2007 two U.S. soldiers carrying out a Plan Colombia mission in the small town of Melgar raped a 12-year-old girl, and have yet to be punished. When confronted by the girl’s mother, the soldiers were quoted as saying, “Yeah, we raped her, so what? We are in Colombia, the law doesn’t affect us.” An all too accurate depiction of the US military’s mentality in Colombia.
These bases would lack oversight in the financial arena as well. While Plan Colombia funding has been open for Congressional debate, funding for US military activities has not. Congress would therefore exercise little to no control over the funding – and therefore the actions – of the bases in Colombia.
The many unanswered questions and ominous possibilities that come with seven new US bases have raised alarms among Colombia’s neighbors, fueling serious regional tensions. Venezuela has frozen diplomatic relations, and Ecuador has threatened “increased military tensions” over their concerns about the increased U.S. presence in the region. Brazil’s President Lula said last week he was “not happy” at even one base being handed over for U.S. operations.
Many Colombians are opposed as well, backed up by the fact that such an agreement would bypass Article 173 of the Colombian Constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign troops except in transit, and then only after legislative approval. Multiple protests have been held in downtown Bogota, and a national day of action is being planned for August 7 – the national holiday celebrating the Colombian armed forces – as opposition to these military bases grows.
The bases agreement has not yet been signed; there is still time to convince Colombian and U.S. leaders to scrap the idea. The Fellowship of Reconciliation has compiled a bilingual (English and Spanish) resource page for those opposing the bases: www.forcolombia.org/bases, and asks that you call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) today to say NO to military bases in Colombia.
Two Colombian Generals Face Charges June 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, colombia drugs, colombia human rights, colombia military, colombia palm oil, colombia paramilitary, colombian farmers, Colombian generals, fort benning, human rights, human rights abuses, nation magazine, patrick leahy, plan colombia, roger hollander, School of the Americas, sherwood ross, soa, USAID
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June 8, 2009
Two Colombian generals, both of whom received training at the U.S. Army’s “School of The Americas”(SOA) at Ft. Benning, Ga., have been accused by authorities there of crimes involving narcotics and collaborating with criminal paramilitary groups, according to a report in the June 15th issue of The Nation magazine.
Brig. Gen. Pauxelino Latorre has been charged “with laundering millions of dollars for a paramilitary drug ring, and prosecutors say they are looking into his activities as head of the Seventeenth Brigade,” investigative journalist Teo Ballve reports, noting that criminal probes repeatedly linked Latorre’s unit “to illegal paramilitary groups that had brutally killed thousands” of Colombian farmers in an effort to seize their land for palm oil production.
Another general, Rito Alejo Del Rio, former Seventeenth Brigade leader, is in jail on charges of collaborating with paramilitaries, gangs that have been responsible for widespread atrocities. He also received training at SOA.
Various firms engaged in palm oil development since 2002 apparently have received $75 million in U.S. Agency for International Development money under “Plan Colombia,” Ballve writes. And some of the firms appear to be tied to narco-traffickers, “in possible violation of federal law.” The writer notes Colombia’s paramilitaries are on the State Department’s list of foreign “terrorist” organizations.
“Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money,” The Nation quotes Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, as saying. “The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers.”
President Alvaro Uribe has urged Colombians to increase palm production from 750,000 to 15 million acres to cash in on the expected boom in biofuels.
“Oil palm, or African palm, is one of the few aid-funded crops whose profits can match coca profits,” Ballve notes. But human rights groups have long accused palm companies, notably Urapalma, of cultivating stolen lands, he adds.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has attached an amendment to this year’s Plan Colombia funding (for 2010) to ban palm projects that “cause the forced displacement of local people” but in the bill’s current draft, Ballve says, Leahy’s amendment is marked for deletion.
Urapalma submitted a grant application to the Bogota, Colombia, offices of ARD Inc., a rural development contractor based in Burlington, Vermont, which The Nation reports does business in 43 countries and has received $330 million in revenue from USAID.
In January, 2003, ARD began administering $41.5 million for USAID’s Colombia Agribusiness Partnership Program and Urapalma was one of its beneficiaries. Urapalma has been accused of taking land illegally from Colombian peasants.
In July, 2003, just before Urapalma’s USAID application, Colombia’s national daily El Tiempo reported that “the African palm projects in the southern banana region of Uraba are dripping with blood, misery, and corruption.” The region is where Urapalma is active.
The Nation article goes on to report that in 2003, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights singled out Urapalma for collusion with paramilitaries in these words: “Since 2001, the company Urapalma SA has initiated cultivation of the oil palm on approximately 1,500 hectares of the collective land of these communities, with the help of ‘the perimetric and concentric armed protection of the Army’s Seventeenth Brigade and armed civilians'”, i.e., paras.
All of the above, of course, has gone on by fleecing American taxpayers, courtesy of SOA and USAID.
Sherwood Ross formerly worked for The Chicago Daily News and other major dailies and as a columnist for wire services. He currently runs a public relations firm for “worthy causes”-. Reach him at email@example.com.
Colombia: Secret Documents Show US Aware of Army Killings in 1990s January 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, cia, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian casualties, Colombia civilian killings, Colombia Human Rights Violations, colombia paramilitary, Colombian military, constanza vieira, death squad, extrajudicial executions colombia, extrajudicial killings, human rights, International law, nsa, roger hollander, us ambassadors colombia, war on drugs
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|Written by Constanza Vieira
|Thursday, 15 January 2009
|(IPS) – Declassified U.S. documents show that the CIA and former U.S. ambassadors were fully aware, as far back as 1990, that the military in Colombia — the third largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel and Egypt — were committing extrajudicial killings as part of “death squad tactics.”
They also knew that senior Colombian officers encouraged a “body count” mentality to demonstrate progress in the fight against left-wing guerrillas. In an undetermined number of cases, the bodies presented as casualties in the counterinsurgency war were actually civilians who had nothing to do with the country’s decades-old armed conflict.
Since at least 1990, U.S. diplomats were reporting a connection between the Colombian security forces and far-right drug-running paramilitary groups, according to the Washington-based National Security Archive (NSA).
In the meantime, the U.S. State Department continued to regularly certify Colombia’s human rights record and to heavily finance its “war on drugs.”
The declassified documents were published Jan. 7 by the NSA, a non-governmental research and archival institution located at the George Washington University that collects, archives and publishes declassified U.S. government documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
NSA’s Colombia Project identifies and secures the release of documents from secret government archives on U.S. policy in Colombia regarding issues like security assistance, human rights, impunity and counternarcotics programmes.
“These records shed light on a policy — recently examined in a still-undisclosed Colombian Army report — that influenced the behaviour of Colombian military officers for years, leading to extrajudicial executions and collaboration with paramilitary drug traffickers,” says the NSA report released last week.
The secret army report mentioned by the NSA led in late 2008 to the dismissal of 30 army officers and the resignation of Gen. Mario Montoya, the Colombian army chief who long “promoted the idea of using body counts to measure progress against the guerrillas,” writes the author of the NSA report, Michael Evans.
In one of the declassified documents obtained by the NSA, then U.S. Ambassador Myles Frechette complained in 1994 about the “body count mentalities” among Colombian army officers seeking to climb through the ranks.
“Field officers who cannot show track records of aggressive anti-guerrilla activity (wherein the majority of the military’s human rights abuses occur) disadvantage themselves at promotion time,” said Frechette.
Evans, director of the NSA Colombia Project, states in his report that “the documents raise important questions about the historical and legal responsibilities the Army has to come clean about what appears to be a longstanding, institutional incentive to commit murder.”
“But the manner in which the investigation was conducted — in absolute secrecy and with little or no legal consequences for those implicated — raises a number of important questions,” says Evans, who asks “when, if ever, will the Colombian Army divulge the contents of its internal report?”
The question of extrajudicial killings by the army made the international headlines and drew the attention of the United Nations after a scandal broke out in the Colombian media in September 2008 over the bodies of young men reported by the armed forces as dead guerrillas or paramilitaries.
It turned out that the men had gone missing from their homes in slum neighbourhoods on the southside of Bogotá and that their corpses had turned up two or three days later in morgues hundreds of kilometres away.
Since then, scores of cases of “body count” killings by the army, also known as “false positives,” have emerged.
Although the government expressed shock and indignation, evidence soon began to emerge of a pattern that dated back years.
As defence minister under current President Álvaro Uribe, Camilo Ospina, who is now Colombia’s ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), signed a 15-page secret ministerial directive in 2005 that provided for rewards for the capture or killing of leaders of illegal armed groups, for military information and war materiel, and for successful counterdrug actions.
According to the W Radio station, which reported on the secret directive in late October, it could have encouraged extrajudicial killings under a new system, which may include “a mafia of bounty-hunters allied with members of the military.”
But in the view of Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), “this is not about an infiltration of organised crime in the armed forces, nor about people who have broken the law. As the NSA report shows, this is an institutional practice that has been followed for decades.”
The Defence Ministry directive encouraged the phenomenon by creating a system of incentives that rewards “results” in the form of battlefield casualties, “discounting accepted methods and controls and the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law,” he said.
Cepeda also maintained that the activities of far-right death squads and the army’s “body count” killings were connected, and that the military used the paramilitaries to show results.
“The paramilitaries delivered to the army the bodies of people who were supposed members of the guerrillas but who were actually people selectively killed by those (paramilitary) groups,” he told IPS.
When the killings became more and more widespread, the armed forces themselves asked the paramilitaries to hide the remains, to keep the country’s homicide rate from soaring any further, paramilitaries who took part in a demobilisation process negotiated with the right-wing Uribe administration have confessed.
The declassified documents demonstrate “that the U.S. military as well as U.S. diplomats and governments have taken a complacent stance towards this kind of practice,” said Cepeda.
The declassified records are in line with the results of “Colombia nunca más” (Colombia never again), a monumental effort to document human rights abuses carried out by 17 organisations since 1995.
“’Colombia nunca más’ has created a databank on 45,000 (human rights) violations, including around 25,000 extrajudicial executions and 10,000 forced disappearances, committed between 1966 and 1998,” said Cepeda. Colombia’s two insurgent groups emerged in 1964 and the paramilitaries in 1982, although the latter launched a lethal offensive beginning in 1997.
Cepeda told IPS that in the next few months, MOVICE would begin to organise the families of victims of extrajudicial killings, which would culminate in a national meeting to discuss “what routes of documenting the truth and obtaining justice can be followed in an organised manner by the families of the victims of this practice.”
The earliest of the declassified documents obtained by the NSA is a 1990 cable signed by then U.S. Ambassador Thomas McNamara, addressed to the State Department and copied to the Defence Department, the U.S. army Southern Command, and the U.S. embassies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
The cable, whose subject line reads “human rights in Colombia — widespread allegations of abuses by the army,” cites reports that an army major “personally directed the torture of 11 detainees and their subsequent execution…carried out by cutting of the limbs and heads of the still living victims with a chain saw.”
Referring to the connection between army officers and the paramilitaries, the ambassador stated that many “officers continue to discount virtually all allegations of military abuses as part of a leftist inspired plot to discredit the military as an institution.”
In addition, the cable mentions “strong evidence linking members of the army and police to a number of disappearances and murders which took place earlier this year in Trujillo, Valle de Cauca department.”
McNamara also mentioned “an apparent June 7 incident of extra-judicial executions.”
“The military reported to the press that, on that date, it killed 9 guerrillas in combat in El Ramal, Santander department. The investigation by Instruccion Criminal and the Procuraduria (legal authorities) strongly suggests, however, that the nine were executed by the army and then dressed in military fatigues. A military judge who arrived on the scene apparently realised that there were no bullet holes in the military uniforms to match the wounds in the victims’ bodies, and ordered the uniforms burned,” said the ambassador.
As sources told the ambassador, “all of the victims were part of the same family, and one of them, said by the army to have been a guerrilla, was 87 years old.”
Bush Tarnishes Medal of Freedom by Bestowing It on Uribe January 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, George W. Bush, Latin America.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, Colombia civilian killings, colombian paramilitaries, death squad, extrajucicial killings, George Bush, human rights, matthew rothschild, medal of freedom, roger hollander
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President George W. Bush places the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. (Photo: AFP)
www.truthout.org, January 15, 2009
Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive
Bush keeps outdoing himself on his way out the door.
On Tuesday, he gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Alvaro Uribe, the head of Colombia.
Uribe has had close ties with rightwing paramilitary squads. And his government is a notorious human rights abuser.
“In recent years there has been a substantial rise in the number of extrajudicial killings of civilians attributed to the Colombian Army,” says Human Rights Watch.
“Army members apparently take civilians from their homes or workplaces, kill them, and then dress them up to claim they were combatants killed in action.”
Colombia also has the dubious distinction of leading the world in the murders of trade unionists. More than 2,600 labor leaders have been slain down there in the last couple of decades, and more than 400 while Uribe has been president, according to Human Rights Watch.
Virtually none of the murderers have been brought to justice.
Bush’s support for Colombia is typical of U.S. foreign policy. Bill Clinton before him lavished aid on the Colombian government, despite knowledge of that government’s bloody hands.
“The CIA and senior U.S. diplomats were aware as early as 1994 that U.S.-backed Colombian security forces engaged in ‘death squad tactics,’ cooperated with drug-running paramilitary groups, and encouraged a ‘body count syndrome,’ ” said the National Security Archive, which recently posted documents backing up this point.
“Personally, I have a hard time figuring out who is more audacious, President Bush for giving the human rights award, or President Uribe for receiving it,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
This is the same medal that Bill Clinton awarded to Nelson Mandela. (Bush previously gave the medal to former CIA director George Tenet and Paul Bremer, the bungling viceroy of Iraq.)
When he gave Uribe the award, Bush said, “President Uribe has reawakened the hopes of his countrymen and shown a model of leadership to a watching world. . . . The future will always be bright in a country that produces such men as President Alvaro Uribe.”
One last Orwellian award, courtesy of our shameless President.
Chesa Boudin on Colombia’s Civil War December 26, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America, War.
Tags: aerial fumigations, Alvaro Uribe, auc, beond begota, chesa boudin, coca, cocaine, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian deaths, convivir, farc, gary leech, guerrilla, human rights, ingrid betancourt, Latin America, neoliberal, paramilitaries, paramilitary, plan colombia, refugees, right wing terrorists, roger hollander, us military aid
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Posted on Dec 26, 2008, www.truthdig.com
By Chesa Boudin
In February 2007 I visited Colombia’s Chocó region as a guest of local Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that had previously suffered forcible eviction from their communal lands. The phenomenon, known as forced migration or internal displacement, is so widespread across Colombia that the country trails only Iraq and Sudan in its number of internally displaced people. The communities that hosted me in Curvarado and Cacarica had recently returned to their homes after years of abuse at the hands of illegal paramilitary organizations intent on controlling their ancestral lands. Thanks to their determined efforts and support from a local NGO, Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace), my hosts had been able to obtain legal title to their communal lands, an anomaly in a country where most forcibly displaced people lack the necessary resources or connections to navigate the legal bureaucracy. Despite their title to the land these communities remained frightened about threats from armed groups, so Justicia y Paz stationed observers to help document trespassing or attacks.
The farmers who hosted me, and countless more farmers across Colombia, are caught in the midst of a conflict more complicated than most. Fueled by cocaine profits and U.S. military aid, it has raged for decades, pitting the government security forces and illegal paramilitary groups against various Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements. It is in this broader national context that fundamental human rights and self-determination of peoples come into constant, direct conflict with global economic growth and wealth accumulation in Colombia’s northwest Chocó region. The narrow isthmus, covered in mountainous tropical forests and dense swamplands, is increasingly the target site for potential development projects, including the completion of the Pan-American Highway, a pipeline to carry Venezuelan oil to Pacific ports, and an alternative shipping channel to the Panama Canal. In 1996, the price of land doubled following then-President Ernesto Samper’s announcement of a plan for a new inter-oceanic highway link connecting the Pacific and Atlantic. The Chocó has also attracted agriculture, timber, coal and mining interests both from Colombia and abroad. Peasants who happen to live on resource-rich territory suffer from a violent form of land speculation. In Colombia, neoliberal economic policies have gone hand in hand with militarization of a historic conflict.
“Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia,” Gary Leech’s new book on Colombia, provides an engaging firsthand account of the country’s drug war. The book is structured around an 11-hour detention ordeal Leech underwent at the hands of the largest guerrilla group in the country, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in August 2006. Each of the 11 chapters in the book corresponds to one of the hours during which he was held at gunpoint on a coca farm in rural Colombia while the FARC higher-ups decided his fate. As Leech anxiously waits out his detention, he reflects back on his first trips to Latin America and his years reporting on Colombia’s drug war. The literary device succeeds; suspense and drama remain present throughout the book, and he provides an easy-to-follow background to the country’s civil strife, mostly narrated through first-person accounts. Luckily for Leech and his readers, he safely made it home to tell the tale. He writes with the raw passion and vivid energy of a wartime correspondent who regularly risks his life to cover stories ignored by major international media outlets. While most writers on Colombia only talk abstractly about policy, Leech goes into villages, speaks with people on the front lines and peels back the skin.
Demonstrating considerable courage and persistence, Leech managed to visit the hottest areas of Colombia’s conflict, survive shootouts and detentions, interview high-ranking leaders of the FARC and the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and visit coca farms and cocaine labs. He describes all this with compelling narrative and evocative characters, taking the reader with him on his investigative adventures. While his descriptive ability makes the reading enjoyable, it is his conclusions that leave the strongest impression.
President Alvaro Uribe, currently in his second term, is a darling of the U.S. State Department and has funneled billions in U.S. aid into a military strategy for solving the country’s problems. Meanwhile, he implements neoliberal economic policies that exacerbate the very wealth disparities that Leech sees as the root of the ongoing violence. As governor of the province of Antioquia, Uribe was instrumental in establishing a civilian vigilante organization, CONVIVIR, that quickly became a right-wing paramilitary network fighting a vicious war against the country’s leftist guerrillas and anyone accused of sympathizing with them. Uribe’s own father was killed by the FARC in a botched kidnapping attempt, blurring the line between the political and the personal in his support for those fighting against the guerrillas. As Leech reports, the paramilitaries that grew out of Uribe’s CONVIVIR are widely believed to be responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and human rights abuses in Colombia. Like the FARC and sectors of the state military apparatus, the paramilitaries became involved in drug trafficking and use cocaine profits to fund their arms purchases and operations. The FARC taxes growers in the regions it controls, and Leech suggests that the paramilitaries and military are actively involved in the more lucrative processing and trafficking as well.
Leech explains how, after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military aid to Colombia under the heading “Plan Colombia” rapidly shifted from anti-drug trafficking to combating “narco-terrorism.” The FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the national paramilitary organization AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) appeared on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. While Leech is quick to condemn all of the armed groups in the conflict, much of his criticism is reserved for U.S. policy in the region. “There was also plenty of anti-American sentiment in Colombia, particularly in the rural regions targeted by Plan Colombia’s fumigations [of illegal coca crops]. Again, this anger wasn’t rooted in a hatred for U.S. freedoms; it resulted from U.S. government policies that destroyed the livelihoods of Colombian peasants without offering them any viable alternatives.” “Beyond Bogotá” gives voice to people whose opinions and perspectives are rarely included in mainstream media reports.
Leech investigates a peasant massacre and finds that “U.S. military aid was being used as much to wage a war of terror as to fight a war against terror. At best, it appeared to be funding a selective war on terror—one that targeted civilians seen as suspected leftist terrorists, yet supported a military responsible for perpetrating state terrorism and maintaining close ties to right-wing terrorists.”
Moreover, according to Leech, the U.S.-led aerial fumigations of coca crops throughout Colombia have backfired; there is now a “super herbicide-resistant strain” of coca that is capable of yielding four times as many leaves from the same acreage. Thus, “although the U.S. and Colombian governments claimed that Plan Colombia was working because the fumigations were reducing the number of acres under cultivation … in reality coca production had remained relatively stable.” Meanwhile, Leech tells us, “Not only do coca farmers earn the least amount of profit among all those engaged in the production, trafficking, and sale of cocaine, but they are also the most vulnerable link in the chain because of their poverty and lack of mobility. Even with the widespread cultivation of coca, 85 percent of rural Colombians live in poverty. And at the close of the twentieth century, those poor farmers became the principal target in the U.S. war on drugs.”
President Uribe, a willing partner in the war on drugs, has succeeded in improving Colombia’s image in the international business community and increasing urban security. Yet the government presence in many rural areas is limited to military incursions without meaningful investment in development or economic and social infrastructure. Leech shows us the divide between rural and urban Colombia, narrating multiple political perspectives throughout. In one scene that takes place over a three-hour period, he interacts with pro-FARC rural peasants, then with nonaligned, pro-peace small-town residents, and finally with right-wing pro-Uribe urbanites.
Leech clearly knows Colombia intimately, and this makes the book. One area where “Beyond Bogotá” falls short, however, is that it lacks regional context. Colombia is just one country in a fascinating and rapidly changing region. In many ways Colombia is an outlier among its neighbors: While Colombia is still a close ally of the U.S. and an adherent to the Washington Consensus, Andean neighbors Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, for example, have elected left-wing, anti-neoliberal, populist presidents, including Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales. Uribe appears to represent the old guard of Latin American governments, while Chavez’s 1999 election was the vanguard of a wave of progressive democratic victories across the region. This regional context has shaped U.S. aid to Colombia, as well as Uribe’s domestic policies, but is largely absent from the book. Also missing are recommendations for how Colombia might find its way out of its quagmire, or how the international community can help it do so.
Latin America is a rapidly changing region, and perhaps no country illustrates this better than Colombia. Writers focusing on current events there inevitably face the pitfall that nothing remains current for long. While this book is one of the most recent, most up to date on Colombia available today, crucial developments occurred after “Beyond Bogotá” went to press. Several of the key FARC leaders Leech writes about or interviewed for this book, including Simón Trinidad, Raúl Reyes and Manuel Marulanda, are no longer on the field of battle: Trinidad was caught and extradited to the U.S., where he is currently in prison; Reyes was killed by the Colombian military; and Marulanda died of natural causes. Moreover, the FARC’s most valuable hostages, among them one-time Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and several American civilian contractors, were rescued last summer in a daring raid coordinated by the Colombian military. What implications these developments have for the FARC’s viability as a national rebel army remain to be seen. For those interested, as I am, in Leech’s ongoing analysis of these issues and future developments in Colombia, it should be noted that he is the editor of a regularly updated Web site called Colombia Journal [under construction as this review is published].
As I was finishing reading “Beyond Bogotá”, I received an e-mail from Justicia y Paz, detailing threats and kidnappings of its members working in the communities in Curvarado. A series of anonymous phone calls had preceded the kidnapping of a human rights worker based in one of the formerly displaced communities I visited in 2007. Throughout Colombia, paramilitary groups are engaged in ongoing assaults on poor communities living on resource-rich land. U.S. military aid continues unabated, even as the Colombian military is complicit with these illegal attacks or simply looks the other way. This book is an excellent way to familiarize oneself with a multifaceted conflict that sadly shows no sign of letting up soon.
Chesa Boudin is the author of “Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America,” forthcoming from Scribner. He studied forced migration and public policy in Latin America at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and is currently enrolled in the Yale Law School.
Colombia Confirms It Cannot Meet Necessary FTA Prerequisites; Death Squads on Rise December 20, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: anti-union, chiquita banana, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian casualties, Colombia Human Rights Violations, colombia violence, Colombian military, dan kovalik, Free Trade, fta, human rights, massacre, nestle, oas, paramilitary, pelosi, plan colombia, roger hollander, trade unionists, workers
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Dan Kovalik, December 4, 2008
(UPDATED) In his final debate with John McCain, President-elect Barack Obama made it clear why he opposed passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – because of the problem with union assassinations in Colombia (still the highest in the world) and because the Colombian government has failed to investigate and prosecute those killings. This statement echoed Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, just last year, set forth the yard marks which were necessary for consideration for the Colombia FTA – namely, “concrete and sustained” results in dealing with continued violence against trade unionists, impunity and the role of paramilitary groups in that violence.
Fernando Botero, “Masacre”
On the issue of impunity, the Colombian government has successfully investigated and prosecuted around only 3% of the almost 2700 union killings since 1986, resulting in an impunity rate of 97%. And, recently, the Colombian Office of the Attorney General confirmed that this impunity rate will not be appreciably lowered.
Indeed, as Human Rights Watch recently explained in a letter to Nancy Pelosi, Congressman George Miller and Congressman Charles Rangel, “[t]he Office of the Attorney General reports that as of October 20, the specialized prosecutors unit is only reviewing a total of 1,272 cases involving anti-union violence – including both threats and killings (even though nearly all of the 2,685 reported killings and more than 3,700 threats remain unresolved).” (emphasis added).
In short, impunity will not decrease very much in Colombia because the Colombian government, by its own admission, is not even looking into the vast majority of anti-union violence cases. This is an incredible admission by the Colombian government given its continued full-court press for passage of the Colombia FTA. This admission should finally end Colombia’s chances at passage of the FTA, at least so long as Barack Obama is President and Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House.
What’s more, the other key issue blocking passage of the FTA – ongoing anti-union violence – continues to be a big problem. As Human Rights Watch noted in its same letter, “[a]fter dropping to 39 last year, the number of killings has increased once again in 2008. Through October, 41 trade unionists have been reported killed, compared with 33 through October 2007. More than 150 unionists have reported being threatened so far this year.”
Addressing Speaker Pelosi’s third concern about continued paramilitary violence in Colombia, particularly against trade unionists, Human Rights Watch makes it clear that this problem remains grim and is actually getting worse. Indeed, as Human Rights Watch noted, while there was some temporary abating of paramilitary violence as a result of the demobilization which accompanied the “Justice and Peace” process, the paramilitaries are now re-mobilizing. As Human Rights Watch explained, “new armed groups often led by mid-level paramilitary commanders have cropped up all over the country. The Organization of American States (OAS) Mission verifying the demobilizations has identified 22 such groups, totaling thousands of members. The groups are actively recruiting new troops and are committing widespread abuses, including extortion, killings, and forced displacement.”
These conclusions about the paramilitary resurgence in Colombia were just reinforced by a Dec. 5, 2008, L.A. Times article by Chris Kraul, entitled, “Paramilitary groups still spread terror among Colombia’s people.” This article concluded that, in spite of President Uribe’s denial of the existence of any paramilitarism in Colombia, there are as many as 100 new paramilitary “gangs” in Colombia, “including as many as 10,000 fighters.” As this article reports, the rise of these new death squads is “creating an enormous catastrophe” with massive new displacements of people, adding to the already almost 4 million internal refugees — the second largest in the world. According to the L.A. Times, the hyper-violent Black Eagles “may account for half of the newly emerged fighters.”
The strong re-emergence of the paramilitary death squads does not bode well for trade unionists, for as Colombia’s Office of the Attorney General reported in March of 2008, of all the persons convicted of killing unionists, 73% belonged to paramilitary groups.
Finally, the Colombian government continues to turn a blind eye to the participation of government officials and major corporations in the murder of unionists. As Human Rights Watch explained, the Colombian government has done little to investigate the credible allegation that Jorge Noguera, the former chief of Colombia’s DAS (the analogue of the FBI which has actually received U.S. monies to protect unionists) passed a hit list with the names of trade unionists to the paramilitaries with the intent that the paramilitaries carry out the assassination of said unionists.
Further, Human Rights Watch noted that the Colombian government has failed to abide by the order of a well-respected judge to investigate the role played by the Nestle Corporation in the murder of union leader Luciano Romero. The issue of such corporate responsibility in the murder of trade unionists continues even as Colombia, on December 6, commemorates the 80th anniversary of the massacre of striking banana workers in the town of Cienaga, Colombia at the behest of then United Fruit Company (now, Chiquita Banana, a company which has continued to fund atrocities in Colombia). This event inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s portrayal of the murder of banana workers in One Hundred Years of Solitude – a book I am told is the very favorite of none other than Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Sadly, this history of anti-union violence at the hands of elites in Colombia is repeated today on a regular basis. And, to put an end to this, Congress must continue its refusal to consider passage of the Colombia FTA.
Colombia: A Day That Will Live in Infamy (Once Again) December 19, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: assassination, bogota, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian killings, colombia extrajudicial killings, colombia paramilitary, colombian army, Colombian generals, Colombian military, cric, edwin legarda, human rights, mario murilo, massacre, minga, roger hollander, trade union
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|Written by Mario A. Murillo|
|Wednesday, 17 December 2008|
|Army’s Killing of CRIC Member Tragically Marks 17th Anniversary of Nilo Massacre. Episode Coincides with Latest Act of Sabotage Against Nasa Community Radio Station in Northern Cauca.
December 16th is supposed to be a special day for most Colombians.
It’s the day that marks the start of what is called “La Novena,” the traditional nine-day countdown to Christmas.
For families around the country, rich and poor, urban and rural, “Las Novenas” are supposed to be a time of celebration, ritual gatherings with friends and loved ones. They are filled with community sing-alongs, of old-school holiday songs that take just about everybody back to their childhood.
But this December 16th will not be one of joy for Aida Quilcué and her family. Indeed, December 16th is once again being marked as a day of violence and terror for the indigenous communities of Cauca, and for the entire country.
This morning, at about 4:00am, on the road between Inzá, Tierradentro, and Totoró, on indigenous territory, the official car of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, was shot at 19 times by a column of the Third Division of the Army, fatally wounding the driver, Edwin Legarda Vázquez, Quilcué’s husband. Quilcué is the Chief Counsel of CRIC, and one of the most visible leaders of the recent Indigenous and Popular Minga that began on October 11th, culminating in a massive march and rally in downtown Bogotá on November 21st.
Three bullets penetrated Legarda, who did not survive the emergency surgery he was given after being rushed to San José Hospital in Popayán, the departmental capital.
But most people close toCRIC believe the bullets were really meant for his wife, who apparently was just returning from Geneva where she had been participating in the United Nations Human Rights Commission sessions on Colombia. She was not in the car when the attack occurred.
Ernesto Parafán, the lawyer for CRIC, believes it was a deliberate act committed against the organization, and specifically an attempt on Quilcués life by the government’s security apparatus. According to the indigenous leadership, Quilcué, along with other prominent leaders, has received numerous death threats in recent months, especially during the six weeks of mobilization and protests that captured the attention of both national and international public opinion.
General Justo Eliceo Peña, commander of the Army’s Third Division in Cauca, acknowledged on Caracol Radio that various members of the Army did indeed fire at CRIC’s car, a vehicle recognized throughout the area for its tinted windows, and for its countless trips throughout the mountainous terrain regularly carrying the movement’s leadership, particularly Quilcué. According to the General, his troops fired because the car did not stop at the military roadblock set up in the area. General Peña later expressed regrets for the attack, recognizing that even if they had not obeyed orders to stop, the excessive volley of bullets was not appropriate, and violated the Army’s protocol.
But the indigenous movement is not accepting these words at face value, and is demanding a full, independent investigation into the incident, given the recent wave of threats against Quilcué and other leaders.
“I think the attack was for me,” Quilcué later told Caracol Radio, in reference to her role in the MINGA social.The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, pointed out on its website that the area where Legarda was killed was near the Finca San Miguel in the village of Gabriel López in Totoró, “a property where there is a permanent presence of the National Army,” making it highly unlikely that the soldiers did not recognize the vehicle as being that of CRIC, one of the most prominent social organizations in the country.
Meanwhile, Perafán was quoted in El Tiempo saying that if the military does not thoroughly investigate, capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice, the Indigenous Guard of the community will do so “because these crimes were carried out within the territory of the (indigenous) community.”
Alvaro Mejía, a spokesperson for CRIC, added “we demand that this crime does not remain in impunity.”
December 16th: A Day that Lives in Infamy
On Dec. 16, 1991, 20 indigenous people from the Huellas-Caloto community, including five women and four children, were murdered as they met to discuss a struggle over land rights in the estate ofEl Nilo in northern Cauca. Some 60 hooded gunmen stormed into the building where the community was meeting and opened fire. Initial news reports indicated that the gunmen were drug traffickers who had been seizing land in the region to grow opium poppies to produce heroin, but it soon became apparent that the culprits of the massacre were much more than simple narco-traffickers operating outside of the law. The killings had followed a relentless pattern of harassment and threats against the indigenous community by gunmen loyal to local landowners who were disputing the indigenous community’s claim to ownership of the land. In many ways, it was a massacre foretold.
According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Special Investigations Unit of the Office of the Attorney General, which handled the first stages of the investigation into the massacre, uncovered evidence of the involvement of members of the National Police, both before and during the execution of these horrific events. They were working hand in hand with drug traffickers and wealthy landowners, who were not comfortable with the organizing and mobilizing capacity of CRIC and the local communities.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights established that the Colombian state should hand back their land as part of the integral reparation to victims of the massacre committed by those ruthless death squads in collaboration with the police. In 1998, President Ernesto Samper acknowledged the responsibility of state actors in the massacre of El Nilo, and on behalf of the Colombian state, he apologized to the families of the victims and to the Nasa community of Northern Cauca, making promises to the relatives of the victims and the communities, to implement the recommendations of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in the matter of Justice and Individual and Collective Reparations.
To this day, only a small portion of the land has been returned to any of the family members of the Huellas community, this despite repeated promises from various governments to do so. The issue of recuperation of the lands in the northern Cauca region continues to be a major point of contention between the government of Alvaro Uribe and the indigenous movement, and has sparked repeated mobilizations by the community in the last 17 years.
The Social and Community Minga that was initially launched in September 2004, but was re-initiated this year with the above-mentioned six-week mobilization, made the government’s fulfillment of its pledges to the community one of its five main rallying points, although it was not the only issue on their agenda of protest. The organizers of the Minga recognize that the failure of the government to come clean on its pledges to the community is just one manifestation of a much larger strategy of pushing back the indigenous movement’s national, broad-based call for social transformation on several different platforms. This platform of resistance includes a rejection of the government’s counter-reform measures that negate protections afforded to indigenous peoples across the country, measures that have opened the way for free trade agreements that in essence will rob the communities of their territories and the resources within. And it is a platform that is openly calling for an end to the government’s militarization of their territories, what President Uribe calls “Democratic Security,” but in the end results in the kinds of state-sponsored violence that took the life of Edwin Legarda Vázquez in the early morning hours of December 16th.
Aida Quilcué has been one of the most eloquent voices promoting this agenda. Are we jumping to premature conclusions in assuming those bullets were meant for her?
Will there be justice in this latest case of violence against the Nasa people, or will it be as slow in coming as it was (and still is) for the many victims of the Nilo massacre?
Silencing the Truth in Northern Cauca
Over the weekend, the station’s transmitter equipment, and antenna were severely damaged in an act of sabotage by as of yet unnamed actors, although the community refers to the perpetrators as the same forces of terror that continue to try to silence the indigenous movement with acts of violence. ACIN has denounced the latest assault on their primary communication vehicle on its website, stating that it is part of an ongoing process of intimidation and fear:
“Not coincidentally, these prior acts of sabotage have occurred at the precise time that our communities were initiating major mobilizations and important actions against the armed actors that constantly provoke war in our territories. Therefore, the assault against our community radio station is not an isolated incident, but is part of a deliberate strategy of silencing the indigenous movement of northern Cauca, because the radio station is the most important medium within the community. It allows us to listen to one another, to discuss important issues, reflect on them, make decisions in the interest of the community, and take actions collectively in defense of life and of our territory.”
It is understood by most observers that the indigenous communities that have been most successful over the years at confronting the myriad threats to their autonomy throughout the country, are those with the strongest organizational structures, legitimized by being in a constant dialogue with the base. These are the same communities that continue to play the role of interlocutor with other, non-indigenous actors, be they state institutions, different social sectors like the peasant or trade union movements, and international solidarity organizations.
And not surprisingly, many of these communities, like the cabildos that make up ACIN, maintain their own, independent media channels as essential components of their collective resistance. These community media channels spring from a long tradition of grassroots, independent, citizens’ media projects that have emerged throughout Colombia over the past 35 years, and that coalesced alongside broad based social movements with the rewriting of the Constitution in 1991. Naturally, these community-based media are only as effective as their organizations’ capacity to successfully confront the destructive, militarist, and undemocratic models that surround them. In the long run, strong organizational bases make them more secure and protect them from the inevitable, reactionary backlash, given the high levels of violence that has always been directed towards independent voices in Colombia. But sometimes that high level of organizing is not enough to prevent the kind of sabotage that occurred over the weekend.
“Those who carried out this act of sabotage knew what they were doing,” said Dora Muñoz, Coordinator of the Radio station. She added “all of this points to a systematic wave of terror. I’m afraid we’re only just beginning to see what may come in the coming days and weeks, directed against us.”
The Nasa communities of Cauca, with their long trajectory of mobilization spearheaded by CRIC and ACIN, in the spirit of constructing sustainable, democratic alternatives, are working alongside truly revolutionary, transformative practices in communication. Radio Pa’yumat happens to be one of the national models of these transformative communication practices, rooted in indigenous traditions of bottom-up consultation and community reflection. However, it is not supported in any way by state institutions.
“If there were some state communication policies that were in defense of the rights of the people, the immediate reaction of the government would have been to repudiate these acts of sabotage and provide some resources to support the radio station’s efforts, efforts that we depend on for our security and well being while we are under constant attack,” said Ezequiel Vitonás, a member of the council of chiefs of ACIN.
Today, December 16th, 2008, on the 17th anniversary of the massacre of 20 Nasa on the Nilo estate, on the same day that the husband of CRIC’s chief spokesperson was killed by a fusillade of Army bullets, ACIN’s radio station remains off the air due to ruthless acts of sabotage.
Is this all a tragic coincidence?
And perhaps these are the same individuals who ultimately should be held accountable for the criminal act of violence perpetrated this morning against Legarda Vázquez.
So in his memory, and in the memory of Jairo Secué, Domingo Calis, Daniel Peté, Adán Mestízo, Darío Coicué, Feliciano Otelo, Calicio Chilhueso, Mario Juliqué, Edegar Mestizo, Jesús Peté, Julio Dagua, Carolina Tombé, Ofelia Tombé, Jose Elías Tombé, Foresmiro Viscué, Leonidas Casamchín, and José Elías Ulcué, and all the other victims of state-sponsored terror in Colombia, let’s not be silent today.
In the spirit of Manuel Quintín Lame!
Let our voices of rage be the megaphones projecting through the heroic signal of Radio Pa’yumat, temporarily silenced by reactionary forces. Let’s shout out collectively, in order to drown out the tacky melodies that will be sung throughout the country on this first night of the Christmas novena, in the spirit of resistance.
So that the tears of Aida Quilcué can be converted into the fire of a people that will not be silenced!
Tags: Add new tag, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian casualties, Colombia civilian deaths, Colombia civilian killings, colombia extrajudicial killings, Colombia Human Rights Violations, Colombian generals, Colombian military, counterinsurgency, human rights, Mario Montoya, roger hollander, School of the Americas, SOAC
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Colombian Army commander Mario Montoya resigned today, in the wake of a scandal over army killings of civilians that a United Nations official on Saturday called ” systematic and widespread.” A protégé of the United States, Montoya received training at the notorious U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) and has also taught other soldiers as an instructor at the SOA. Montoya was an architect of the “body count” counterinsurgency strategy that many analysts believe led to the systematic civilian killings. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced the dismissal of 27 military officers on October 29, including three generals and 11 colonels and lieutenant colonels, for human rights abuses. The abuses include involvement in the killings of dozens of youths who were recruited in Bogotá slums and shortly after were reported as killed in combat by the army, hundreds of miles away.
The dismissal is a positive action, which we applaud. Officers responsible for killing civilians must face consequences, or the killing will continue.
Human rights organizations have documented more than 500 reported extrajudicial killings by the army since the beginning of last year. This week, Amnesty International issued a scathing report on worsening conditions in Colombia, including massive displacement of internal refugees, increased extrajudicial killings, and attacks on human rights defenders. A New York Times front-page story on October 30 also highlighted the problem, and cited FOR’s research on extrajudicial executions, as did a Los Angeles Times story. But it was the report that poor Bogota youths whose families said they had disappeared, had been recruited by the army or others, then reported as dead in combat, that detonated the issue. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos admitted that the army still harbors “holdouts who are demanding bodies for results.” The dismissal of officers also demonstrates extensive U.S. complicity with the abuses. The United States gave military training directly or assisted the units of nearly all of the officers implicated in the killings. At least eleven of the officers, including Brigadier Generals Paulino Coronado Gamez and José Cortes Franco, were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, and Cortes even served as an instructor at the school in 1994. Most of the officers commanded units that had been ‘vetted’ by U.S. officials for human rights abuses and approved to receive assistance in 2008, or received training for some officers, in spite of extensive reports that their units had carried out murders of civilians.
Yet the dismissal, which focuses on officers operating in a northeastern region of Colombia where the disappeared youths were found, addresses only a small number of the army units responsible for civilian killings. In the oil-rich Casanare and Arauca departments, the U.S.-trained 16th and 18th Brigades have reportedly committed dozens of killings, as has the U.S.-supported 9th Brigade in the coffee-growing department of Huila. In southeastern Valle and Cauca, the Third Brigade’s Codazzi Batallion receives U.S. support and reportedly committed at least nine killings of civilians last year, as may be implicated in firing on peaceful indigenous protesters this month. In southern Meta and Guaviare departments, the United States supports multiple mobile brigades in areas where the army has committed a large number of civilian killings. Army chief Montoya is replaced by Major General Gilberto Rocha Ayala. In 2003-04, Rocha commanded the army’s Second Brigade in northeastern Colombia. Under his command, Colonel Hernán Mejia, then commander of the La Popa Battalion, is under investigation by the Colombian Prosecutor General for reportedly engineering the killing of paramilitaries and passing them off as guerrillas. Rocha also commanded the army’s Ninth Brigade in 2002-03, with jurisdiction in Huila province, where human rights groups report some six extrajudicial executions occurring during his command. Rocha Ayala was an instructor at the School of the Americas in 1995.
In addition, most of the army’s current leadership – including 17 of 24 brigade commanders – were trained by the United States at the School of the Americas, on top of U.S. training provided to Colombian officers at dozens of other military schools and in Colombia. Washington is involved in the army’s human rights problem through and through, and journalists, activists, and Congressional staff ought to ask when the United States will stop financing such murderous criminal operations. We believe the time is now.
By John Lindsay-Poland.
Colombia Killings Cast Doubt on War Against Insurgents October 29, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, Amnesty International, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian deaths, Colombia civilian killings, Colombia FARC, Colombia Human Rights Violations, Colombian disappeared, Colombian generals, General Montoya, Latin America military, Latin America politics government, roger hollander, U.S. military support to Colombia
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Colombia’s government, the Bush administration’s top ally in Latin America, has been buffeted by the disappearance of Mr. Oviedo and dozens of other young, impoverished men and women whose cases have come to light in recent weeks. Some were vagrants, others street vendors and manual laborers. But their fates were often the same: being catalogued as insurgents or criminal gang members and killed by the armed forces.
Prosecutors and human rights researchers are investigating hundreds of such deaths and disappearances, contending that Colombia’s security forces are increasingly murdering civilians and making it look as if they were killed in combat, often by planting weapons by the bodies or dressing the corpses in guerrilla fatigues.
With soldiers under intense pressure in recent years to register combat kills to earn promotions and benefits like time off and extra pay, reports of civilian killings are climbing, prosecutors and researchers say, pointing to a grisly facet of Colombia’s long internal war against leftist insurgencies.
The deaths have called into question the depth of Colombia’s recent strides against the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and have begun to haunt the nation’s military hierarchy.
On Wednesday, President Álvaro Uribe’s government announced that it had fired more than two dozen officers and soldiers — including three generals — in connection with the deaths of Mr. Oviedo and 10 other young men from Soacha, whose bodies were recently discovered in unmarked graves in a distant combat zone. The purge came after an initial shake-up last Friday, when the army command relieved three colonels from their duties.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Uribe said an internal military investigation appeared to have uncovered “crimes that in some regions had the goal of killing innocents, to make it seem as if criminals were being confronted.”
“The armed forces of Colombia have well-earned prestige,” Mr. Uribe said. “When there are violations of human rights, that prestige is muddled.”
The wave of recent killings has also heightened focus on the American Embassy here, which is responsible for vetting Colombian military units for human rights abuses before they can receive aid. A study of civilian killings by Amnesty International and Fellowship of Reconciliation, two human rights groups, found that 47 percent of the reported cases in 2007 involved Colombian units financed by the United States.
“If the responsibility of the army is to protect us from harm, how could they have killed my son this way?” asked Blanca Monroy, 49, Mr. Oviedo’s mother, in an interview in her cinderblock hovel here. “The official explanation is absurd, if he was here just a day earlier living a normal life. The irony of it all is that my son dreamed of being a soldier” for the government.
Even before the most recent disappearances and killings, prosecutors and human rights groups were examining a steady increase in the reports of civilian killings since 2002, when commanders intensified a counterinsurgency financed in no small part by more than $500 million a year in American security aid.
But more than 100 claims of civilians deaths at the hands of security forces have emerged in recent weeks alone, from nine different parts of Colombia. Cases have included the killing of a homeless man, a young man who suffered epileptic seizures and a veteran who had left the army after his left arm was amputated.
In some cases, victims’ families spoke of middlemen who recruited poor men and women with vague promises of jobs elsewhere, only to deliver them hours or days later to war zones where they were shot dead by soldiers.
“We are witnessing a method of social cleansing in which rogue military units operate beyond the law,” said Monica Sánchez, a lawyer at the Judicial Freedom Corporation, a human rights group in Medellín. The group says it has documented more than 60 “false positives” — the chilling term for cases of civilians who are killed and then presented as guerrillas, with weapons or fatigues — in the department, or province, of Antioquia.
Researchers have also obtained thorough descriptions of some killings in the small number of cases – less than 50 — that have resulted in convictions this decade.
One April morning in 2004, for instance, soldiers approached the home of Juan de Jesús Rendón, a 33-year-old peasant farmer in Antioquia, and shot him in front of his son, Juan Estéban, who was 10 at the time. The soldiers placed a two-way radio and a gun near Mr. Rendón’s body, court records show, and told his son that his siblings would suffer the same fate unless he said his father had fired at the soldiers.
“I still fear this can happen again,” Vilma Garcia, 35, Mr. Rendón’s wife, said in an interview in Medellín, where she and her children fled after her husband was killed. The five soldiers involved were recently convicted on charges of homicide and torture, in connection with the threats to her son. “The soldiers think we are poor and worthless,” she said, “so nobody will care how we are killed.”
The civilian killings have increasingly opened the United States to criticism because it is required to make sure Colombian military units have not engaged in human rights violations before supplying them with aid.
“If we are receiving aid and vetting from a government in Washington that validates torture, then what kind of results can one expect?” asked Liliana Uribe, a human rights lawyer in Medellín who represents victims’ families.
A senior official at the American embassy in Bogotá said the reports of civilian killings, both in past years and in recent months, were a matter of concern. “If the facts in some cases do show that parts of the armed forces were taking part in murder, then there should be mechanisms to prevent this from happening and mechanisms to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The official said the units involved in the most recent killings, of the 11 men from Soacha, did not receive aid, since they had previously been deemed not credible to receive it.
But the official neither confirmed nor denied the contention that almost half of the reports of civilian killings in 2007 involved units that received American aid, explaining that a case-by-case review of the episodes had not been carried out by two American contractors hired by the State Department to help vet Colombian military units for human rights abuses.
Reports of civilian killings rose to 287 during the 12-month period from mid-2006 to mid-2007, up from 267 in the same period a year earlier and 218 the year before that, said the Colombian Commission of Jurists, a Bogotá human rights group.
Altogether, the attorney general’s office in Bogotá said it was investigating the killings of 1,015 civilians by security forces in 558 separate episodes unrelated to combat. Prosecutors said the number of new cases under investigation climbed to 245 in 2007 from 122 a year earlier.
The increase in reports of civilian killings spurred the defense ministry to issue a directive last year explicitly prioritizing the capture of rebels above combat kills. In an interview, Gen. Freddy Padilla, the top commander of Colombia’s armed forces, said the policy shift, while largely intended to prevent human rights abuses, also had strategic objectives.
“A terrorist captured alive is a treasure, while a dead terrorist is just one-day news,” General Padilla said, citing the example of Nelly Ávila, a FARC commander who surrendered this year and began collaborating with her captors. “A terrorist converted into an informant is useful as long as he or she lives.”
Until the latest wave of killings, it appeared the new policy was starting to work. The Center for Research and Popular Education, a Jesuit-led group in Bogotá that maintains a database on human rights violations, documented 87 reports of so-called false positives in the second half of 2007, a 34 percent drop from the first six months of that year.
But the emergence of cases in Soacha and elsewhere suggests that the problem may be more systemic than once thought.
Some human rights researchers contend the killings are tolerated by some senior officers in the Colombian army who chafe at greater scrutiny at a time when security forces have made significant gains against guerrillas, including the killing or capture of several top FARC commanders this year.
One case involves the commander of Colombia’s army, Gen. Mario Montoya. In March of 2002, the Army’s 4th Brigade, then under General Montoya’s command, killed five people in their vehicle and presented them as guerrillas, their corpses dressed in combat fatigues.
But the driver, Parmenio de Jesús Usme, testified earlier this year that none of the five was a guerrilla. According to a report by Cambio, a news magazine, Mr. Usme, a former figure in a right-wing paramilitary group that opposed the guerrillas, said two of the victims were teenagers, Érika Castañeda, 13, and Johana Carmona, 14, whom he was driving to a party when they picked up three other people.
Mr. Usme said they were fired upon, killing everyone in the vehicle but him. According to the report, General Montoya called the hospital where the bodies were taken and said that they should be turned over only to someone in his confidence, after which the corpses were later presented to the media in fatigues at a nearby building.
General Montoya did not respond to requests for comment. But when asked specifically about the case, General Padilla, the armed forces commander, said, “There are preliminary investigations in which the different declarations are being verified.”