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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Memories of War and Dignity: Report on victims of Colombia's conflict

This post was written by CIP intern Victor Salcedo

On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years. The 431-page document was the result of a five-year investigation that revealed some alarming statistics about kidnappings, deaths, and massacres carried out during the past five decades. The report, “¡Basta ya! Colombia: memorias de guerra y de dignidad,” (“Enough Already! Memories of War and Dignity”) can be download on the Historical Memory Center’s website."

This reports comes in the midst of ongoing peace negotiations with the FARC. Upon receiving the report, President Santos said it was a “first window towards the truth that we owe to the victims of this country.”

Some key findings from the report:

  • The report found that in total, 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013. Of that number, 176,000 were civilians -- a ratio of eight civilians for every ten deaths, or about 80 percent.
  • Since 1981, paramilitaries have been the biggest perpetrators of violence. In the past three decades, there were 1,983 massacres, which have cost the lives of more than 400 children. The paramilitaries were responsible in 59% of the cases, the guerrillas in 17%, and state officials in 8% of the cases. Victims were 60% farmers, 10% workers, and 30% traders.
  • Between 1985 and 2012, 26 people were displaced per hour. The number of people displaced by the fighting – 4.7 million — represents almost the entire population of Ireland, Costa Rica or Lebanon.
  • There were 23,154 assassinations between 1981 and 2012. In 16.8% of the cases the guerrillas were the ones responsible, while in 10% of the cases the police force carried out the assassinations.
  • The majority of kidnappings, around 27,000, between 1970 and 2010, were carried out by the FARC. Between 1996 and 2002, there were 16,040 kidnappings. Of those, the FARC were responsible for 8,578 and the ELN for 7,462. Kidnappings have occurred in 919 municipalities across the country.
  • Colombia has the second-highest number of landmine victims in the world, after Afghanistan: 10,189.
  • 5,000 reported cases of forced disappearances. Out of that number, only 689 cases were solved.
  • As Colombia Reports noted, Gonzalo Sánchez, director of the Historical Memory Center said in an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo:

    “We propose that the State take the lead. The State says it would not recognize anything until the crime is proven in the highest appeal. But if we are reconstructing what has happened and if we believe the victims, we must ask for forgiveness. This is a mechanism that facilitates the peace process.”

    He added that the “biggest sin of the State” was to “fight the war without fighting the causes.”

    The El Tiempo interview can be found here, an El Espectador article expanding on the report’s findings can be found here, and an English summary of the report can be found on the Colombia Reports website. Colombian magazine Semana has a selection of quotes organized by topic and an accompanying article.

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Colombia Elections 2011: Importance of the local level

    Colombia has seen remarkable declines in levels of violence and improvements in security over the past decade. Yet, in the past few years, security trends have shown noted deterioration. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has received heavy criticism for changing the government's security plan to one focusing more on social progress and addressing key issues such as poverty, urban violence and land reform. Analysts are looking at the upcoming municipal elections on October 30th as a critical test of the Santos presidency, especially by the threat of illegal armed actors looking to regain influence in rural areas.

    While there are several important factors that make these local elections important, one in particular has caught the attention of the international press - the violence. The campaign season has already led to 159 ‘violent incidents’ including 41 murders, 23 attempted murders, 7 kidnappings and 88 death threats, according to the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE). Even though there is some dispute over these numbers compared with the government's records, the problem of the violence itself cannot be denied.

    Responding to the high violence, the central government claims to have been putting more effort into protecting candidates and guaranteeing election-day security than ever before. According to Minister of the Interior Germán Vargas Lleras, "Never has there been such a definite strategy against violence and electoral crime." At least 72 candidates who directly complained of threats were provided with bodyguards, in addition to increased numbers of military and police deployed around the country. Yet, this is not enough to protect the 100,000 some-odd candidates who are up for election this year. In fact, for the next few days Vargas and the new Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Pinzón, will be touring 22 departments in order to evaluate electoral security risks and to order measures taken to void them.

    Local elections are generally more violent than national elections because illegal armed groups and criminal networks require local political compliance in order to better their own consolidation of power. Once a group "acquires" a political office, they are better suited to arrange for their own protection, and to aid their business. At an event on Colombia's elections and consolidation plan, held at the Brookings Institution last week, Claudia López, a Colombian political analyst, highlighted one facet of this relationship - greater chances for open opportunities to launder money, especially through governmental contracts. Local influence and protection gives one armed group a strategic advantage over the others.

    How the rearrangement of local power will affect national level security, implementation of laws such as the Ley de Tierras, and development programs is still to be determined.

    This blog was written by CIP Intern Jessica Lippman.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Public Security News from Mexico

    Chihuahua

    • The municipal police commander for the downtown district of Ciudad Juárez was killed by unidentified gunmen. An officer accompanying him as his bodyguard was seriously injured.

    Distrito Federal

    • Police arrested Oscar Osvaldo Garcia Montoya, leader of a criminal gang nicknamed "The Hand with Eyes." García Montoya, a former Guatemalan soldier, is linked to 900 murders.

    Entire Country

    • In a sign of the United States' widening role in Mexico's drug war, a small team of C.I.A. operatives and American military employees has been posted at a military base in Mexico in the past few weeks. The United States aims to provide technical support and to work together with Mexican law enforcement and justice officials to gather intelligence on the cartels.
    • The Mexican government suspended over $100 million in federal law enforcement grants to 172 of the country’s most violent municipalities because they haven't "[demonstrated] advances" in areas such as police salaries.
    • According to a new report from the Mexican government, kidnappings have increased 300% over the past five years. On average 3.72 kidnappings are reported every day throughout the country.

    Sinaloa

    • Four teenagers and a 24-year-old were gunned down while at a roadside food stand in Culiacán.

    Veracruz

    • Five presumed criminals were killed during two confrontations between gangs and the Armed Forces.

    Zacatecas

    • The Army repelled an attack and confiscated two grenades, 13 cartridges, and a vehicle in Guadelupe.

    This blog was written by CIP intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Recent Violence in Colombia

    Antioquía

    • A key leader of the criminal gang "Los Rastrojos," Angel de Jesus Pacheco, better known by his alias "Sebastian, was killed by his own bodyguards. His killers later turned themselves in, confessing to the killings and providing information that links public figures to "Los Rastrojos." Authorities say that Pacheco, a former member of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), was likely directly responsible for around 300 deaths. Elyssa Pachico at InSight Crime reports that Pacheco's death will be a "game changer" in Colombia.
    • The army killed two guerrillas from the FARC's 36th front who were installing anti-personnel mines in the district of Santa María.
    • Police rescued a merchant who had been kidnapped by gang members west of Medellín.
    • A firefight between gang members and police in La Ceja left one person dead and four injured, including a child.

    Arauca

    • Five oil workers were freed after being kidnapped two days earlier by FARC guerrillas.

    Caquetá

    • The vice president condemned a deadly mine attack in Puerto Rico. One person was killed and five peopled injured when a bus passed over a minefield.

    Chocó

    • The minister of defense announced the creation of a "zone of intervention" against criminal bands in the south of Chocó. This is the third such zone created in Colombia, with the goal of protecting the populating, capturing gang members, and disrupting drug trafficking.

    Entire Country

    • Last week Colombia's Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) announced that 20 candidates in the local elections to be held in October have been killed so far in 2011. Seven have survived assassination attempts, four have been abducted, and at least 32 have received deaths threats or experienced some form of intimidation. The department of Antioquía is by far the worst affected.

    Norte de Santander

    • Police captured the FARC medic who attended to guerrillas leaders Iván Marquez and 'Conrado' in Venezuela. Authorities report that Miguel Ángel Aríñez Troche, who was captured in an internet cafe in Cucutá, is very close to many guerrilla leaders and has been a member of the FARC for more than 15 years.

    This blog was written by CIP intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey

    Friday, July 29, 2011

    Public Security News from Mexico

    Map of homicides per 100,000 people in Mexico, by state (Map made by Adam Isacson).

    Chihuahua

    • Following numerous attacks of police officers, law enforcement officials in Ciudad Juárez have begun receiving training from police from San Diego, California. The Mexican officers will receive training from their American counterparts in evading and defending against attacks and ambushes by organized crime.

    • More than 1,000 people were arrested in Ciudad Juárez in a massive crackdown on human trafficking. Authorities reported that they also rescued a number of underage girls.
    • 17 people were killed when fighting broke out in a prison in Ciudad Juárez. State prosecutors are investigating allegations that prisoners smuggled in weapons and women into the prison and that jail guards attended a party held by the inmates prior to the riot. According to the Chihuahua state Attorney General's office, both the killers and the victims were inmates, not prison officials. In addition to shedding light on the corruption inside prisons in Mexico, the incident highlighted the tensions between local and federal authorities in Ciudad Juárez. Juárez Police Chief Julian Leyzaola said that at least 20 federal police officers fired on his vehicle when he and his bodyguards arrived at the scene of the prison riot. Federal police insist that Leyzaola breached the security perimeter they had established without identifying himself.

    Coahuila

    • A group of unidentified assailants, armed with automatic weapons and bulletproof vests and vehicles, attacked the Municipal Director of Public Security's convoy in Torreón. The authorities managed to repel the attack, killing two assailants and capturing three trucks.

    Distrito Federal

    • InSight Crime reports that the narcoviolence terrorizing the north of Mexico could soon spread to Mexico City. While local authorities maintain that there are no major cartel operations in the capital city, federal officials worry that the enormous, uncontrolled market and the ease of money laundering in Mexico City may tempt the cartels to move in and establish more organized networks.

    Entire Country

    • According to a study by Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography, homicides in Mexico rose 23% in 2010. Last year there were 22 homicides per every 100,000 people in Mexico. The states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa had the highest murder rates in the country, with 4,747 and 2,505 killings last year respectively.

    • According to an Excelsior poll, around two-thirds of the Mexican public believe that the military's record with respect to human rights is satisfactory. Although the Mexican Supreme Court ruled last week that members of the military accused of human rights violations must be tried in the civilian courts, only 22% of poll respondents say that they consider civilian courts better than military courts.

    Nuevo León

    • 10 people were killed in two firefights between armed men and members of the Army.

    • The municipality of Guadalupe announced that it has fired more than 570 police officers in the past two years and that it will substitute them with former members of the military. The mayor reported that while the town suffers from a deficit of around 250 police officers, 120 ex-soldiers are currently being trained to work in law enforcement.

    Veracruz

    • A video appeared online announcing the formation of a new group called the "Matazetas." In the video, 30 masked men, presumed to be members of the New Generation Jalisco Cartel, appear brandishing automatic weapons while a voice is heard naming members of the Zetas who were allegedly involved in the recent assassination of two journalists in Veracruz. The unidentified speaker also praised the governor of Veracruz for fighting the Zetas.

    • The body of Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, a police reporter for Veracruz's largest newspaper, Notiver, was found decapitated, two days after the journalist was abducted from her home. Only a month earlier another Notiver reporter, Miguel Angel López Velasco, was killed along with his wife and son. A note left on Ordaz's body allegedly connects the two murders. Veracruz state Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar denied that Ordaz was killed because of her work and alleged that the reporter had connections with organized crime. The editors of Notiver vigorously defended their slain colleague, calling the accusations "unjust, irresponsible and foolish" and demanding Escobar's resignation. Paris-based NGO Reporters without Borders has urged Mexican authorities to do more to protect journalists in Veracruz, where 77 reporters have been killed since 2000.

    This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Recent Violence in Colombia

    Arauca

    • The air force bombed a FARC arms factory near the border with Venezuela. Four rebels were killed in the attack and two were captured.

    Caqueta

    • President Santos has offered a reward of up to 500 million pesos for information regarding FARC leaders in the province where Chinese oil workers and their translator were kidnapped in June 8.

    • The FARC set off a "donkey bomb" in San Vicente del Caguán. The bomb exploded near an army outpost, although the animal's intended final destination was the town square.

    Cauca

    • The towns of Toribio and Corinto have declared a state of emergency following multiple FARC attacks in the past few months. Along with police stations, churches, and schools, almost 500 houses have been destroyed by FARC bombings. The cost of rebuilding both towns is well over 1000 million pesos.

    • The FARC released a communique blaming the government for the death and destruction caused by the guerrilla attacks in Toribío, Corinto y Caldon. The FARC claims that the state is at fault for placing military and police buildings and personnel among the civilian population.

    Cordoba

    • Four people, including a 13-year-old, were shot to death by unidentified gunmen during an attack on a hair salon in Cereté. The attack brings the total number of violent deaths in Cordoba for the month of July up to 28.

    • A joint operation of the Army, the National Police, and the DAS led to the capture of one leader and eight members of the criminal gang "Urabeños." The leader, known only under the alias "28," is reportedly responsible for coordinating the attacks against the "Paisas" criminal gang that led to the displacement of farmers in Tierralta y Valencia.

    Huila

    • Two FARC guerrillas from the "Marquetalia" column were killed and one injured during a confrontation with the armed forces in the north of Huila. Intelligence sources have reported that the column's mission is to open a corridor for weapons and supply trafficking through Tolima, Huila y Meta.

    Magdalena

    • One person was killed and two were injured in a bomb attack in Santa Marta. According to authorities, the attack was directed at the house of two lawyers.

    Meta

    • Protestors blocked oil production in the Llanos Basin following the firing of 1,100 oil contractors by Cepcolsa. At least 10,000 oil workers went on strike in solidarity with the fired workers.

    Narino

    • Two Liberal politicians were freed from captivity after being kidnapped as they traveled from Tumaco to Salahonda 5 days earlier. According to an official, the two men were abducted by mistake.

    Santander

    • Authorities apprehended FARC leader Hugo Alberto Campo Moreno, known as "Diomedes" or "el Gato," in Bucaramanga.

    This blog entry was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Public Security News from Mexico

    Chihuahua

    • 3 young people were gunned down in Chihuahua by a gang of unidentified armed men. The city is currently hosting the National Convention on Public Security (CONAGO). The 19 participating governors are ensconced in the Governor's Palace, which has been converted into a "bunker" for the duration of the event.
    • 21 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez on Tuesday, July 12, making it the city's deadliest day on record this year. Juarez is trapped in an ongoing battle between the Jaurez and the Sinaloa cartels for control of the entrypoint into the U.S. market for drugs.
    • Four men were convicted in the January 2010 massacre of 15 young people at a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez. The attack horrified the nation and sparked a national outcry when President Calderon referred to the slain teenagers as cartel members. Prosecutors are seeking sentences of more than 100 years for each convicted man.

    Distrito Federal

    • Federal police detained four men in connection with the murder of the son of poet and civil society leader Javier Sicilia. The federal prosecutor's office reported that they are now holding 23 suspects in the abduction and murder of 7 young people at a bar in Cuernavaca.
    • Federal police also captured U.S.-born Armando Villareal Heredia, member of the Tijuana cartel who is wanted on both sides of the border for drug trafficking, kidnapping, murder, racketeering, and other crimes. The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed Villareal's U.S. citizenship, but declined to comment on the possibility of an extradition request.

    Entire Country

    • Mexican NGO the Council for Law and Human Rights (CLDH) reported that 45 people are kidnapped every day in Mexico. This rate is up from last year's average of 37 per day. CLDH also reported that even as kidnapping gets worse in Mexico, Mexicans are increasingly unlikely to file an official complaint with the police. In 2008 2 out of every 10 kidnappings were reported to the police, but in 2011 only 1 out of 10 abductions resulted in the filing of an official complaint.

    Michoacan

    • Federal police captured the Knights Templar gang's top hitman, Javier Beltran Arco. Beltran, known as "El Chivo," allegedly oversaw murders for the cult-like meth-trafficking cartel.

    Nuevo Leon

    • The armed forces arrested a man suspected of participating in the 2010 killing of Edelmiro Cavazo Leal, the Mayor of Santiago.
    • Soldiers freed 20 kidnapping victims in Monterrey. The hostages reported that they had been held for over a week and asked to pay up to $50,000 pesos in ransom.
    • 41 police from the municipalities of Zuazua and Pesqueria are being investigated for ties with organized crime and in connection with various kidnappings and homicides.
    • 11 people were killed in a series of incidents on Tuesday, July 12 in Monterrey. Narcoviolence has claimed the lives of more than 900 people this year alone in Mexico's second richest city. The violence is the result of an ongoing territorial dispute between the Gulf Cartel and their former enforcers the Zetas.

    This post was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Recent Violence in Colombia

    Antioquía

    • Five members of two indigenous communities in Bajo Cauca, including several minors, were killed by criminal gangs. Neither the police nor indigenous groups in the communities of El 18 and La Unión-El Pato have yet reported any definite leads on who is behind the killings.
    • At least three people were injured in an attack by the FARC's 36th front. The guerrillas incinerated a truck and two buses on the highway that connects Medellín and Caucasía Antioquía.
    • Senior police officer Maj Jaimes was killed by a FARC explosive while on his way to help evacuate victims of the FARC highway attack. Two officers accompanying him were also injured.
    • Luis Eduardo Gómez , investigative journalist and witness in the "para-politics" investigation, was shot and killed by unknown assailants in the town of Arboletes. He is the latest witness involved in the case to be murdered or forcibly disappeared, although it is still unclear whether was he was killed for his involvement in the case or for his work as a journalist investigating the murder of his son.

    Cauca

    • Two civilians were injured and multiple house were destroyed by explosive devices in what was descibed as FARC "harassment" of the village of Jambaló. The village is located about 50 miles from Popayan, where the Armed Forces have launched a new phase of their offensive against FARC leader Alfonso Cano.
    • The massacre of 8 people in a pool hall in Nariño on June 25 has led authorities in Nariño and Cauca to believe that the ELN is rearming in the region. While authorities have not confirmed that the guerrilla group was behind the attacks, an official from Nariño said that increasingly the evidence points to the ELN.
    • Police captured eight men who served as bodyguards for the bosses of the Rastrojos criminal gang. The men reportedly provided security for the gang leaders known as "El Zarco", "El Sobrino, and "Bray."
    • One soldier was killed and three more injured in a FARC ambush in the Vereda district.

    Choco

    • An intelligence officer for the National Police who spent years working undercover among the FARC released a tape that shows FARC guerrillas training minors, including some young adolescents, how to shoot weapons.

    La Guajira

    • The father of the Town Councillor of Uribia was kidnapped on his way home by three unidentified armed men. This is the third kidnapping in as many months in La Guajira.

    Tolima

    • Head of the National Police Oscar Naranjo has assured the public that FARC leader Alfonso Cano's "weeks are numbered." The Armed Forces recently embarked on an aggressive new operation to capture Cano.

    This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Public Security News from Mexico

    Distrito Federal

    • Journalist and women's rights activist Lydia Cacho has reported receiving death threats for her work in exposing sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution. Cacho has previously been the victim of torture and police abuse for revealing the names of public officials and well-known businessmen involved in illicit activities.

    Nuevo Leon

    • The police chief of Santa Catarina was murdered inside his office by armed men wearing police-style badges. Authorities are currently investigating 7 police officers, including the chief's bodyguards, for allegedly doing nothing to stop the attack.
    • 11 people were killed over the weekend in Ciudad Juárez. The victims include two transit police officers, who were shot while issuing a traffic citation.

    Oaxaca

    • Alejandro Solalinde, a priest who aids migrants passing through Oaxaca, reported that anywhere from 60 to 80 migrants, including women and children, were kidnapped while aboard a train bound for the U.S. border. According to Solalinde, armed men stopped the train and forced the migrants into trucks. Authorities have attributed the kidnappings to the Zeta cartel, which has executed similar mass abductions of migrants in the past. Solalinde and other human rights defenders fear that the victims will meet the same fate as other abducted migrants: held for random, forced to serve as drug mules, or killed. Last month President Calderon introduced a new law to protect Central American migrants coming to or passing through Mexico, but undocumented migrants remain vulnerable to abuse by organized crime. On Thursday, June 30, an official reported that the government has been unable to find evidence to confirm Solalinde's testimony.

    Sinaloa

    • A confrontation between the Army and several armed men left one gunman dead and two soldiers wounded.

    Veracruz

    • Federal Police captured Albert González Peña in Veracruz on Monday, June 27. Peña, known as "The Tiger," was the Zetas' plaza boss for the state of Veracruz. He is known for selecting his own friends and acquaintances as kidnapping victims to make collecting ransom easier.

    Tamaulipas

    • A captured Zeta member has revealed why the Zetas pulled dozens of men off of buses in Tamaulipas before killing them and leaving their bodies in mass graves. The Zetas reportedly stopped the men because they suspected them of working for the rival Gulf Cartel.

    This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    Recent Violence in Colombia

    Arauca

    • The indigenous organization Ascatidar is suing the Armed Forces for the death of Humberto Peroza, a student who was killed during a fight between the Army and FARC guerillas in a rural zone in Arauca. A lawyer for the group has stated that the group considers Peroza's death to be a "false positive," or an extrajudicial execution in which the victim is falsely presented as a guerrilla fighter or paramilitary.

    Bogotá

    • The Centro de Recursos para el Análisis de Conflictos (Cerac) reported that 36% of the 644 murders committed in Bogotá between January and May were vengeance killings by criminal gangs.

    Caquetá

    • A FARC attack on an army checkpoint in Puerto Rico left 2 civilians dead and 7 people gravely injured. According to General Fabricio Cabrera, the attack was an attempt on behalf of the FARC to regain control of the Guayas River, a strategic point for trafficking arms and supplies. Authorities believe the attack was orchestrated by the same FARC commander that kidnapped three Chinese oil workers earlier this month. Authorities also report that the attacks indicate a change in strategy for the FARC, who since the launch of PLAN 2010 have expanded their use of landmines and engaged in more hit and run attacks.

    Huila

    • FARC guerrillas attacked a dwelling in Huila, firing upon a house inhabited by both children and adults. A 12-year-old child was injured and had to be airlifted to a hospital in Neiva.

    Meta

    • Edward Castellanos Benjumea, a mayoral candidate in San Juan de Arama, was kidnapped by FARC guerrilas while campaigning in a rural area. Five people who had been accompanying Castellanos were also taken kidnapped, but were released soon after. The Santos administration has struggled to provide protection for the estimated 170,000 candidates currently running for local or national office in Colombia. Colombia's Mission of Electoral Observation (MOE) reported that 14 candidates have been assassinated this year.

    Nariño

    • A bomb attack on a police station Iscaundé left one child dead and 10 people injured.
    • 15 people were injured when unknown assailants threw a fragmentation grenade at the mayor of El Charco. The attach occurred nearly simultaneously with the attack in Iscaundé. While the mayor escaped unarmed, the grenade hit a church in the main square.

    Norte de Santander

    • A firefight between the Army's 30th Bridage and the "Hector Collective" front of the ELN left three soldiers and four guerillas dead. According to the Armed Forces, the guerrillas were planting land mines when the soldiers found them.

    Valle del Cauca

    • Authorities stopped a car loaded with explosives that was bound for Popayan's main square. The bomb detonated, killing one and wounding 16, but police officers reported that if the car had reached its intended destination, it would have killed dozens of people. The driver of the car told police he was a member of the ELN. This is the first car bomb attack in Colombia since August.
    • Two police officers were killed by FARC snipers while driving on the department's main highway.

    This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire McCleskey