October 2007 Peace Presence Update
- November Advocacy Trainings
- Advocacy Skills Training and Lobby Day
- Being an Ally: Workshops at SOA Vigil
- Increase in Army Killings: Result of Plan Colombia?
- Narco Ties Unleash President Uribe’s Ire
- US Soldiers Investigated for Rape of 12-year-old
- Suffering into Courage: Thousands of Campesinos Gather in Arauca
- Letter from the Field: Finding a Home in Mulatos
November Advocacy Trainings: Register TODAY!
1. Advocacy skills training and lobby day
On Sunday and Monday, Nov. 4-5, in Washington, D.C., FOR will host an advocacy skills training for people interested or engaged in grassroots civilian diplomacy This training opportunity will feature several members of FOR's program staff as well as participants in various international peace delegations and nonviolence programs. To learn more, please download our flyer about the event (PDF) and the registration form (Word DOC). For further info about the program, contact Leila at firstname.lastname@example.org 845-358-4601 ext. 27.
2. Workshops at the School of the Americas Vigil
"Being an Ally: Transforming Militarism in the US and Colombia"
Friday, November 16, Columbus, Georgia
Join experienced Colombia activists and trainers for a series of workshops that will strengthen your capacity to be an ally to Colombia’s vibrant grassroots nonviolent movements and an advocate to transform US foreign policy.
Howard Johnson Inn – Presidential Room
9:30 – 12 Noon Protective Accompaniment in Colombia: testimony and role plays
1 pm – 3 pm Solidarity with Colombian Youth and Conscientious Objection
3:30 – 5:30 Colombia Teach-in (organized by Witness for Peace), with presentations by Lydia Lopez, representative of Colombian flower workers union, and Jeff Crosby, AFL-CIO
Convention Center Room #202
7-9 pm Launch of Advocacy Campaign: No to US Military Aid!
The workshops will be led by:
- Liza Smith, Organizer for campaign to terminate military aid to Colombia, musician
- Susana Pimiento, Co-director of FOR Colombia Program and Colombian attorney
- Alejandra Tobar, Nonviolent Youth Collective trainer
- Mireille Evans, recently returned from a year in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, puppetista
With help from special guests: Rev. Milton Mejia, Colombian Presbyterian Church, and Curt Wands, health promoter trainer in Chocó, Colombia
The Colombian armed forces committed 955 extrajudicial executions between July 2002 and June 2007, according an investigation carried out by a coalition of 11 Colombian human rights organizations and released this month by the Latin American Working Group. Of these killings only two have resulted in a judicial conviction.
The number of killings by Colombia’s armed forces represents a 65% increase over the previous five-year period from 1997 to 2002. Since the last five years represent the most intense period of US training for the Colombian military, the study raises serious questions about the reasons for such a dramatic hike in killing by the US military’s trainees. A number of the military units charged in the report with killing civilians have been “vetted” (approved) for US training and other assistance.
An international mission made up of 13 jurists, forensic anthropologists and human rights experts from Europe and the United States received testimonies from 132 of the cases throughout the country from October 4 to 10. They found consistent patterns in the testimonies: the killings occur during anti-insurgent army operations, though witnesses say there was no combat; many are taken from their homes or work places to the place where they are killed; they are reported as guerrillas killed in combat; the military doesn’t preserve the scene of the killing; in many cases there are signs of torture; and the cases are assigned to military courts. In the cases where civilian courts have assumed jurisdiction, they do very little.
“Some of the executions are reportedly being committed by military units that have received US military aid and by units operating under the guidance of US military advisers,” Amnesty International said in a statement. These units include the 12th Mobile Brigade (Meta), the 16th Brigade (Casanare), and the 18th Brigade (Arauca). According to US legislation, Colombian units that have committed gross human rights abuses are prohibited from receiving US training or other assistance. A
list of units approved for assistance released last year showed that the US aids the 12th Mobile Brigade, yet other US and Colombian military documents indicate that even more units with histories of abuse receive US assistance.
The State Department’s recently released report on foreign military training shows that units from the Army’s 17th Brigade – whose commanders and soldiers are under investigation for the February 2005 massacre and other killings in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado – and from the 4th Brigade – with jurisdiction in Medellin and eastern Antioquia, both received training at the former School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Yet neither unit is listed as approved for training in the 2006 State Department document.
President Uribe responded with a bald-faced falsehood: “In Colombia there are no extrajudicial executions,” in spite of the judicial system’s investigations into hundreds of such acts. Colombia’s Defense Minister visited Washington in the days after the release of the report and said the increase in Army killings is “puzzling.”
The explanation isn’t hard to find. The Army still measures success by body counts – number of ‘guerrillas’ killed in combat. And when those ‘guerrillas’ are civilians, members of the military are almost never held accountable, leading soldiers to continue the practice.
The international mission pointed out that the Colombian Defense Ministry claims that 8,104 “presumed guerrillas” were killed in combat between 2002 and 2006, and another 2,072 members of illegal armed groups in the last year. If those were all guerrillas, the guerrillas would have been wiped out.
US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez also took a Congressional delegation of Republicans and Democrats to Colombia as a sales job for the Free Trade Agreement last week. These included Rep. Eliot Engel who said, “Just the fact that we were able to come here and go to other places where a few years ago we couldn't
go makes us understand that this country is certainly moving in the right direction.” The delegation, however, traveled in a convoy “escorted by policemen on motorcycles who ensured that no car ventured close. When the lawmakers stepped out, guards carrying M-16s watched wearily, whispering into microphones on their sleeves.” [Washington Post]
Narco Ties Unleash President
President Álvaro Uribe’s ties to Medellín cartel drug lord Pablo Escobar surfaced again this month in the newly released autobiography of
Escobar’s former mistress and one-time TV diva Virginia Vallejo. According to Vallejo’s memoirs, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, Uribe was
central to Pablo Escobar’s success in drug trafficking. From his position as director of the Aviation National Agency, Uribe “granted dozens of licenses for landing strips and hundreds for aircraft and helicopters on which the drug trafficking infrastructure was built”. She went on to recall that when Uribe’s father was killed in a 1983 aborted kidnapping attempt by FARC in Northeastern Antioquia, Escobar lend him one of his helicopters to bring
Uribe’s brother, also wounded in the attack and the deceased father to Medellín.
The allegations were not new -- a
declassified 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency report listed him among Colombia’s top drug traffickers. But Uribe’s responded with a furious attack on journalists not related with the book at all, so intense that one of them, Miami Nuevo Herald correspondent Gonzalo Guillén, received dozens of death threats and fled into exile.
As if that weren’t enough scandal, President Uribe publicly attacked a Supreme Court prosecutor, claiming that he was victim of a conspiracy of the high tribunal to accuse him of ordering the death of a paramilitary warlord. The Supreme Court is responsible for investigating the highest ranking officials –namely
members of Congress- implicated in the parapolitica scandal.
The casualties of Uribe’s ire this month were press freedom and the independence of the judicial system. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, these episodes will have on US-Colombia relations.
From El Tiempo, October 7, 2007
On August 25, Second Sergeant Michael J. Coen and his personal security officer, César Ruiz, who are serving with Colombian forces based in Tolemaida,
evaded security protocols of the main Colombian Air Force bunker in Tolima.
According to testimonies collected by the local authorities, at 4 am on August 25 the soldiers arrived at the Air Force Combat Center 4 checkpoint, and without
getting out of their white truck, Ruiz, known as “The Mexican”, lowered his window a few centimeters, identified himself and they continued on their way. The poor car inspection, aided by the darkened truck windows, allowed the two men to enter the military complex with a 12-year-old girl whom they had met at a dance club four hours earlier in Melgar.
Ruiz is a US citizen of Mexican origin, now apparently retired from the US Army, was part of the group in charge of personal security for US personnel participating in counter-narcotics operations in Colombia. According to a confidential report, “Ruiz loaned his apartment to “Mango” (Coen’s alias) so that he could carry out the illegal conduct.”
According to the girl’s testimony, around 8 a.m. the next morning, “The Mexican” took the girl out in the same truck. During the drive he “tried to seduce her as he caressed her intimate parts, not paying any attention to her protests.” Minutes later, witnesses saw him leave her in Melgar’s main park.
Delays and Transfers
The same day, the girl traveled to Bogotá with her mother, Olga Lucía Castillo Campos, and during the trip told what had happened to her on the base. The girl’s mother, who sells artisan crafts and has been accused of allowing her young daughters to roam the streets until late at night, accused the two Americans in the middle of the street in full view of the public, but was ignored. So, she decided to resort to the authorities.
According to Paola Rueda, a psychologist with the Melgar Child Services Office who evaluated the young girl, even though the formal complaint was delayed, creating some difficulty, the thorough medical examinations “left no doubt that there had been sexual relations.”
All signs point to the fact that Sargeant Coen, protected with diplomatic immunity, has left the country. According to Colombian law, sexual relations with a minor of less than 14 years is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and the convicted person is not eligible for sentence reduction based on confession of crime.
Other Judicial Proceedings against US Soldiers:
- Pornographic Videos: Three years ago, pornographic videos starring Melgar teenagers with US soldiers and technicians from the Tolemaida base were discovered. They were selling for 5 US dollars. The young girls had to leave the area.
- Ammunition Trafficking: In May 2005, police arrested a US Sergeant and technician in the outskirts of Melgar involved in the trafficking of 32,900 cartridges that were apparently intended for guerrillas.
- Cocaine Contraband: In May 2005, 5 US soldiers, were arrested and accused of sending 16 kilos of cocaine hidden in a military plane, from the Apiay military base in Villavicencio.
Melgar: Plagued by Sexual Crimes
This case is part of a growing social problem in Melgar involving sexually exploited minors. This seems to be augmented by the presence of foreigners, especially those from the United States tied to oil and military endeavors as well as by the flow of national tourists. In the past year 23 formal complaints were filed and 13 have been filed so far this year.
by Mayra Moreno, CPP team
Located on Colombia’s mid-eastern border with Venezuela, Arauca is known as one of the most volatile departments (or states) in the country. The presence of oil companies and illegal armed groups, and its location in a geographic region that is strategic for war purposes leads to it being one of the most militarized areas of the country. The high levels of violence coincide with extremely high rates of poverty, despite Arauca’s abundance of natural resources.
Thousands of people attended a large public hearing in Saravena, Arauca on September 27. That Thursday, individuals were invited to speak out against the crimes against humanity that they either experienced firsthand or witnessed. It was also an opportunity for individuals to actually document, with the assistance of lawyers, those experiences that would otherwise remain only in their memory, separate from any judicial process. In a country with staggering levels of impunity, having an official record of a human rights violation is the first step in trying to diminish the invisibility that engulfs such abuses.
Moreover, this public hearing guaranteed the presence of a diverse group of listeners, including the Argentinean Ambassador, a representative of the Organization of American States peace process monitoring team, international observers such as FOR, Peace Brigades International and International Peace Observatory, Colombian lawyers, and a significant presence of both military and police officers. But the largest audience was composed of campesinos and humble individuals who were ready to actively witness and give voice to those experiences that often have been suppressed by the fear that has penetrated deep into the social fabric of this country.
This space may be the first step of what could be a national process of truth and reparation for Colombia’s victims and survivors. “This public hearing,” said the Social Organizations of Arauca and the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation, “was made possible to give the victims and witnesses an opportunity to denounce the various kinds of human rights violations that are a product of strategies implemented by the State.” The strategies identified by these two organizations include: judicial processes that deny social leaders their freedom; the dirty war that is manipulated by the Army and disguised as paramilitary offenses; and extrajudicial executions of civilians carried out by the armed forces.
Senator Alexander Lopez, of the Democrati cIndependent Pole political party, is vice-president of the Senate’s Human Rights Commission. Lopez politely greeted the large audience and gave an introduction condemning all the human rights violations committed against civil society and encouraging everyone to sign up to publicly denounce acts of violence and terror. His tone underscored his support for every resident of Arauca and verbally recognized the audience
for their courage - evident in the simple fact that they showed up to witness this event.
After his introduction, victims and families of victims lined up one-by-one behind a table and, with the assistance of lawyers, filled out the forms that would hold their stories. While some were in line waiting to sign their “denuncia,” others
waited to go on stage and give their testimonies. Men and women from seven different municipalities went on stage and spoke for 6-12 minutes - each one about a different experience, but all showed the same level of conviction in their words.
In six hours of testimonies, 60 individuals verbally denounced a violation, 21 provided testimonies, and 118 made an official complaint in written form. The testimonies included allegations of violations committed by the guerillas, the paramilitaries, the national police and army, and many named the Colombian State responsible for systematically enabling the conditions that allow such abuses to occur.
This extraordinary event highlighted the transformation of suffering into courage. It allowed each person present to provide a testimony of how individuals—who at one point in their life felt threatened and feared for their safety—ultimately decided that it was time to share with the world those experiences that had changed them forever.
by Amanda Jack, CPP team
“What kind of people would treat a house like this?” This was the simple question asked out loud by one of the women in the work group we had accompanied to Mulatos. The group of 17, mostly men and some women, had spent the last week making a home out of an abandoned and abused house in a far-flung corner of the district of San José de Apartadó. The land and house, belonging to a community member, is an eight-hour, muddy,
and up-mountain walk from San Josecito. It is located in an area that stands out in the collective memory of the community as the site of massive displacement and murder in the violent ‘90s and as the site of the brutal massacre in February 2005. Nevertheless, careful planning and coordination had brought this group together, along with FOR’s accompaniment, to a house that had clearly seen better days.
Where I saw a barely-standing house that appeared to have little to offer in the way of actual shelter, my friend had seen a telltale sign of abuse and neglect: a basic refusal to honor the simplicity of shelter, a rejection of the simple needs required by the humble life of the countryside. The kinds of people that would treat a house like this were the obvious armed groups: Colombian military, paramilitary and guerrilla forces. The house was a map of the cruelty suffered by the people it once sheltered. This family had fled to escape the violence, but the house endured, used by armed groups
roaming the zone; the house told the story of the conflict. The sturdy walls made from earth and manure still bore some of the whitewash, though it was flaking off, and absolutely absent in places where the walls had been used for grenade practice. It had become a canvas of sorts, the backdrop for any and all armed groups to etch their names, their creeds, their propaganda onto its humble but strong walls. Soon after the family was displaced almost 15 years ago, paramilitaries had torched the roof, burning a sizable hole into the middle of the largest room in the house. This meant that the consistent rain also resulted in indoor rain, creating indoor puddles that nourished the trees that had begun growing from the earthen floor.
Now, people were looking to the house again to meet the basic need for shelter from the cold and rainy nights. Our hammocks were tied close to other hammocks, and in our case, around a window hole and then through the hole left by a grenade. This setup only added to the surreal experience of accompanying this work group as they set out to prepare the long-neglected land for planting, in hopes that little by little they might re-open the space for what the community hopes will be a permanent return of civilians. Here we were settling in just down the river from the site of the horrendous 2005 machete massacre of eight people including Community co-founder Luis Eduardo Guerra and three children. And here were the friends, neighbors and family of those killed performing the humble and ordinary task of clearing land, cobbling together shelter and planting the soil-rich fields.
The concept of return is a central theme in the Peace Community’s current resistance strategy. Really, the idea of returning to land that communities were displaced from is essential to any campesino movement in Colombia, not to mention the struggles of Afro-Colombian communities and Indigenous communities. With over three million internally displaced Colombians, going back is the ultimate dream. The hope of return is implicit in the despair of displacement. And despite the fact that the violence has not always drastically abated in the lands they were forced to leave, communities continue to organize returns and continue to find success among the enormous risks.
Last October, as FOR volunteers have recounted in this space, a small number of families returned to another far-flung area of the zone, La Esperanza. Despite hardships and threats of violence, those families continue to work that land with the hope that more families will join them and the thriving community that was destroyed by rampant violence will slowly be realized
once again. Their daily work in their fields opens up space for more people to make the journey back to these lands. During one of our recent trips to La Esperanza, we were invited into the end of an organizing meeting to introduce our work as accompaniers. Held in a wooden church building, the meeting was dimly lit by a flickering, gas-fed candle giving it the revolutionary
aura that stirred something powerful and lasting within me. The light played on the faces of people who had walked hours from all over the area to discuss progress and setbacks and plans for reintroducing elementary education and health centers to the remote area. We were in the company of understated and determined resistance to long-suffered oppression. This was hope realized, the return a year later. A people still far from fully reclaiming that which limitless violence stole from them, but nonetheless bound together in the daily struggle.
The day after that community meeting we continued on from La Esperanza to Mulatos, in order to provide continued accompaniment for the group there and to check in and see how things were progressing. The first thing I noticed as we finally rounded the bend and saw the house was how much it now looked like a home. The new kitchen had been completed and looked warmly used, plastic sheeting had been put up to cover some of the holes left by fires set to the roof. Tree trunks and palm branches were used as shelving or seating and the once-dense jungle that had all but overtaken the structure had been cleared allowing sunlight to stream in and light up the graffiti that suddenly seemed less prominent. Everyone was out in the fields planting, save the cooks who were preparing freshly caught fish for lunch. But, without doubt, the once-neglected and abused house was full of life again, was back in the hands of people who knew how to treat a house, who saw care for the home as an extension of care for one another. And even though this work group is simply preparing the way for what is hoped to be a February ‘08 return of families to Mulatos, it was clear to me that the return had already begun in earnest. Years of abuse and neglect had, in only a week’s time, been replaced by the warmth and courage and humility of these people as they dared to opt for hope, as they dared to open the space for a return.