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Tuesday, September 6, 2011
The Washington Post ran a front-page story August 21, 2011 regarding the illegal wiretapping scandal involving Colombia's intelligence agency, the Department of Administrative Security (DAS). The article, "A Case of Aid Gone Bad in Colombia," summarizes how during the Uribe Administration, Colombia's main intelligence agency, charged with investigating organized crime, insurgents and drug traffickers, conducted illegal surveillance on the Supreme Court, opposition politicians and civil society leaders. See background to this issue in the Post's timeline on DAS scandals and in the LAWGEF/USOC/WOLA/CIP 2010 report, Far Worse than Watergate. The illegal activities are believed to have been ordered from the top: four of Uribe's top aides are under investigation, and his chief of staff is in jail "awaiting trial on conspiracy and other charges." The Post reports that Colombian prosecutors say "the agency was directed by the president's office to collect the banking records of magistrates, follow their families, bug their offices and analyze their court rulings." Indeed, the story cites one former DAS chief of analysis claiming that targeting the court was the priority for the DAS under Uribe. "'They hardly ever gave orders against narco-trafficking or the guerrillas.'" See also the Post's story on the DAS secret agent, known in the press as Colombia's Mata Hari, who infiltrated the courts.
The new element to this story is the Post's contention that "American cash, equipment and training, supplied to elite units of the Colombian intelligence service over the past decade to help smash cocaine-trafficking rings, were used to carry out spying operations and smear campaigns against Supreme Court justices, Uribe's political opponents, and civil society groups, according to law enforcement documents obtained by the Washington Post and interviews with prosecutors and former Colombian intelligence officials." While the U.S. government has never denied providing assistance to the DAS, State Department officials have denied that any assistance went towards illegal activities, and continued to maintain this denial after the story was published.
However, the Post article claims that two of the specific units most involved in illegal activities received U.S. support. The National and International Observation Group, which focused on illegal surveillance of the Supreme Court justices, particularly on their investigations and prosecutions of politicians' ties to paramilitaries, was "dependent on CIA resources," according to former DAS officials. The Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, which "assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists," received from the U.S. government "tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit's members regularly met with an embassy official…." "'When we were advancing on certain activities, he would go to see how we were advancing,'… a former analyst in the unit said during a court hearing." The article notes that William Romero, who oversaw infiltration of the Supreme Court, "like many of the top DAS officials in jail or facing charges, received CIA training." Romero claims that "DAS units depended on U.S.-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline." Romero asserted that "'We could have operated' without U.S. assistance, 'but not with the same effectiveness.'"
At a minimum, it is difficult to believe that the U.S. agents who related directly to the units most involved in illegal activities could have been completely unaware of their activities. And it is impossible to understand how State Department and embassy officials could say with certainty that no U.S. funding was used for criminal purposes.
Investigations and prosecutions of numerous DAS officials, as well as members of Uribe's top staff, are ongoing. President Juan Manuel Santos has promised to disband the DAS, and replace it with a new intelligence agency. However, whether this new intelligence agency will have sufficient safeguards and oversight to prevent illegal activity, and whether the substantial prosecutions underway will be successfully concluded, remain to be seen. Human rights activists report that some surveillance, as well as incidence of break-ins to their offices, continues.
In April 2010, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, announced that all funds directed to the DAS would go to Colombia's National Police. Previously, the foreign operations appropriations subcommittee had sensibly placed a ban on DAS funding, which affected only funding through the foreign operations bill.
To ensure that U.S. intelligence funding is not used to undermine democracy and the rule of law, the U.S. Congress should:
- Launch an investigation of U.S. funding for the DAS intelligence agency to determine if, how and under whose orders aid, equipment and training were used in illegal surveillance and criminal activities directed against the judiciary, human rights activists, unions, opposition politicians and journalists. Such an investigation should include recommendations to prevent similar abuses in other cases where the U.S. is providing substantial intelligence funding.
- Insist on the establishment of safeguards to ensure no U.S. funding, equipment, training or intelligence sharing with any Colombian intelligence agency (not only the DAS, but its successor agency, and military and police intelligence units) is used for illegal surveillance or other criminal activities;
- Prohibit any funding for the DAS, not only via the foreign operations bill, but via defense and intelligence bills;
- Urge the Colombian government to ensure that prosecutions are effectively conducted, including of those who ordered illegal surveillance; and
- Urge the Colombian government to ensure a new intelligence agency has adequate safeguards to prevent future abuses. This should include strong congressional and Inspector General oversight, screening out of agents who were engaged in illegal activities, and removing the capacity of the President to order operations without oversight.
The Los Angeles Times, noting that the Colombian Attorney General has been investigating the scandal, editorialized: "Now it's up to the United States to move quickly to determine how much aid was provided to the agency and what it was used for." Congress, we're waiting.
This post is cross-posted with the Latin America Working Group's LAWG Blog. It was written by Lisa Haugaard.
Friday, August 26, 2011
In the News
- In what Mexican President Felipe Calderon called a "true terrorist" act, 53 people were killed and dozens injured after gunmen torched the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico. Hundred of soldiers are currently hunting those responsible, while the President has declared three days of mourning for the victims, who were mostly women. This is thought to be the single deadliest attack in the history of Mexico's drug war.
- According to the Washington Post, U.S. aid and possibly some U.S. officials may be linked to Colombia's DAS wiretapping scandal, in which the country's security service used spying operations and smear campaigns against former president Uribe’s political opponents and civil society groups. Both the United States Embassy and former president Uribe have denied the allegations.
- A Brazilian leader of landless workers, Valdemar Oliveira Barbosa, was shot to death in the state of Para. He is the fourth person involved in environmental or land rights to be murdered since May.
- Peru's new president Ollanta Humala enjoyed two political victories this week. First, in an attempt to mitigate social conflict in Peru's rural areas, the Peruvian Congress unanimously passed a law requiring companies to consult with indigenous communities before building mines or drilling for oil on their lands. Second, the Peruvian government negotiated a deal with mining companies that creates a new windfall tax that could raise around $1 billion in revenue a year.
- Colombia's Supreme Court decriminalized the carrying of small doses of drugs for personal use. The ruling overturned legislation passed in 2009 that penalized the carrying of all amounts of illegal drugs.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez signed into law the nationalization of the country's gold industry. Chávez also announced his plans to repatriate the nation's gold reserves from European and American banks.
- A 16 year old boy died after being shot in the chest during the latest round of massive student and labor protests in Chile. During the two day strike over 1,300 people were arrested and two police officers were shot and wounded.
- Mary Luz Avendaño, a journalist for Colombian newspaper El Espectador in the city of Medellín, was forced to flee Colombia after receiving death threats.
- The Peruvian government resumed coca eradication in the Upper Huallaga Valley after temporarily suspending it last week.
- Honduran farm workers' leader Secundino Ruíz was murdered in the Bajo Aguan valley, only a week after eleven people were killed in clashes between land owners and farmers.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that over 100,000 acres of land have been acquired illicitly in the northwest region of Uraba. This brings the total amount of illegally obtained land in Colombia up to almost one million acres.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sat down for an interview with the Washington Post's Lally Weymouth.
- On the Just the Facts Blog, Andrew Carpenter of the Latin America Working Group reports on the fact that Mexican asylum seekers, including human rights defenders and law enforcement officers, are disproportionately rejected by the United States.
- Shannon O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations has a piece in the Atlantic titled "Myths and Realities of U.S.-Mexico Border Spillover Effects."
- Patrick Corcoran of InSight Crime reports on how the recent history of Torreon, the small Mexican city where gunfire interrupted a soccer game earlier this week, serves as a microcosm for the nation's drug war.
- Patrick Corcoran also has an article in the Christian Science Monitor on the increase in drug violence in Mexican tourist city Acapulco.
U.S. Southern Command Updates
- The Continuing Promise 2011 (CP11) mission team, embarked aboard USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), was forced to temporarily suspend its mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti due to hurricane Irene. The team returned three days later to resume medical, dental, veterinary and engineering operations.
- The PANAMAX joint military exercises ended today in Panama. This large-scale U.S. Southern Command- and U.S. Army South-sponsored "Fuerzas Aliadas" event allowed forces from 16 countries to participate in exercises emphasizing the defense of the Panama Canal.
This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey
Friday, August 19, 2011
In the News
- In a move that took the United States by surprise, Peru's new government under President Ollanta Humala announced the temporary suspension of coca eradication in the Upper Huallaga Valley until the government can "evaluate the policies". While the eradication program has only been in place since January and the government has said the suspension is only temporary, the decision seems to demonstrate President Humala's willingness to "shake up" Peru's drug policy.
- Hugo Chávez returned to Venezuela after receiving his second round of chemotherapy in Cuba. He assured his followers that while the treatment has weakened him, his cancer has not spread.
- Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner trounced competitors in the primary election, putting her on track to win re-election in October.
- 11 people were killed in clashes over land in northeastern Honduras, leading the government to deploy additional police and soldiers to the region.
- Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe testified in front of the House of Representatives' Accusations Commission regarding his alleged involvement in the DAS wiretapping scandal. Uribe denied both his involvement in the wiretapping and his alleged links to paramilitaries, claiming that he is a "victim of criminal vengeance."
- The Honduran government proposed establishing a no-fly zone over Honduras' northeastern departments of Colón and Yoro, in an attempt to stop drug traffickers from flying "narcoavionetas" across Honduran airspace while transporting drugs from South America.
- The Colombian offshoot of hacker group Anonymous attacked multiple Colombian government websites in protest of Colombia's education policies. The websites of the presidency, the Senate, and the Ministries of Education and Defense were all hit in the cyber attack.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Chile and to Argentina to improve bilateral economic ties between Colombia and both countries. This was the first official visit of a Colombian president to Argentina in over a decade, and represents an attempt by Santos to improve a relationship that grew strained under his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.
- Brazil's agriculture minister, Wagner Rossi, resigned this week amid a corruption scandal, making him the fourth official in President Dilma Rousseff's cabinet to step down this year.
- After taking criticism for deporting a record number of undocumented immigrants, the Obama administration postponed the deportation of illegal immigrants without criminal records in order to shift resources to high priority cases. Human rights groups praised the decision to stop "clogging the system" with low priority cases.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced his plans to nationalize Venezuela's gold industry and take its gold reserves out of Western countries.
- Three oil contractors were kidnapped in the Santander province of Colombia. Colombian armed forces have indicated that they believe common criminals, rather than rebels, are behind the kidnapping.
- Damien Cave of the New York Times reports on the "feminization" of Mexico's drug war.
- The International Crisis Group released a report on politics and violence in Venezuela, warning that the 2012 elections may bring violent social conflict regardless of whether current President Hugo Chávez stays on or a transition of power occurs.
- On the Just the Facts Blog, Abigail Poe has a new piece on the U.S. Department of Defense's extension of a five-year $15 billion global counternarcotics program that includes Colombia and Mexico.
- The Council on Hemispheric Affairs released a report titled "Drug Trafficking: Central America’s Dark Shadow."
- Nathan Jones of InSight Crime investigates why the United States does not have large Mexico-style drug cartels.
- Also at InSight Crime, Steven Dudley questions the strategy of using the armed forces to fight organized crime.
U.S. Southern Command Updates
- Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort departed Costa Rica after providing medical care and technical support as part of U.S. Southern Command's Continuing Promise 2011 humanitarian tour.
- The PANAMAX joint military exercises began this week in Panama. This large-scale U.S. Southern Command- and U.S. Army South-sponsored "Fuerzas Aliadas" event will allow forces from 17 countries to participate in exercises emphasizing the defense of the Panama Canal. Members of the maritime task force began training on Monday. Before the commencement of the exercises, soldiers from Multi-National Forces South provided assistance to a local school.
This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey
Friday, August 5, 2011
- 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.
- Five oil workers were freed after being kidnapped two days earlier by FARC guerrillas.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
ELN guerrilla leaders pose in an area near the Venezuelan border, in a photo from a captured guerrilla computer revealed last week
Colombia’s armed-forces chief and defense minister contradicted each other yesterday on the question of FARC guerrilla activity in Venezuela.
Admiral Édgar Cely, head of Colombia’s armed forces, told Colombia’s Caracol radio:
“The truth is that what was shown at the end of the government of President Uribe holds.”
The Admiral referred to former President Álvaro Uribe’s government’s denunciations of Venezuela before the OAS [PDF] in July 2010, made just before Uribe left office. The outgoing president accused Venezuela’s government of harboring FARC leaders and guerrilla encampments in its territory.
Since taking office a year ago, Uribe’s successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, has sought to patch things up with Venezuela. Hugo Chávez’s government has extradited, or may soon extradite, some mid-ranking guerrillas to Colombia, and President Santos has said that the FARC rebel camps in Venezuela no longer exist.
Admiral Cely clearly disagrees. He was quickly contradicted, though, by Colombia’s civilian defense minister, Rodrigo Rivera. According to Rivera, who before taking his current job was an ardent Uribe supporter and critic of Venezuela:
“The relationship with Venezuela has changed substantially and positively during the past year with regard to security and cooperation to confront all transnational crime phenomena at the border. … We have received repeated public and private expressions from the highest levels of the Venezuelan government, in the sense that they don’t tolerate the presence of criminals from Colombia in their territory.”
Possible new revelations of guerrilla presence in Venezuela, like the ELN photos released by Colombia’s police last week, are the greatest threat to President Santos’s attempted rapprochement with Caracas. The Santos government is thus determined to downplay concerns about guerrilla activity on the Venezuelan side of the border. Admiral Cely apparently didn’t get that memo.
Friday, July 29, 2011
In the News
- Ollanta Humala was inaugurated as President of Peru on July 28, the country's 190th anniversary of independence. In his remarks before Congress, the new president, who is already being tentatively hailed as the "Lula of the Andes," promised that "Peru's peasants and the poor in the countryside in general will be the priority." Humala angered supporters of Peru's former dictator, Alberto Fujimori, by pledging to rule in the spirit of the 1979 constitution rather than remain loyal to the one passed under Fujimori in 1993. While the Peruvian economy is growing steadily, President Humala faces a number of challenges, from rampant social unrest stemming from unequal development in the rural departments to a suspicious elite and upper-middle class in Lima. On the Just the Facts blog, Adam Isacson has the full list of Humala's cabinet appointees.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned to Caracas from Cuba, where he received treatment for cancer, to celebrate his 57th birthday this week. Despite joking that his chemotherapy treatments will soon leave him bald like Yul Brenner, Chavez told a crowd of supporters “I had said I’d leave in 2021. Well, I’m not going away in 2021 or anything. Maybe in 2031."
- InSight Crime reports that as coca production rises in Bolivia, the department of Santa Cruz is rapidly becoming a hub for narcotics trafficking, with 20 drug-related shootings so far this year.
- Angel de Jesus Pacheco, commander of the Colombian criminal gang "Los Rastrojos," was killed by his own bodyguards in Antioquía.
- More than 1,000 people were arrested in Ciudad Juárez in a massive crackdown on human trafficking.
- Four former Guatemalan soldiers are finally standing trial for the massacre of more than 250 people during the civil war in the 1980s. The trial is a victory for the families of the victims, who have campaigned for justice for 17 years.
- According to a study by Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography, homicides in Mexico rose 23% in 2010.
- Mexican federal police announced that they will leave Ciudad Juárez in September, having determined that the city is "under control."
- Ricard Marosi of the Los Angeles times has a four-part series investigating the Sinaloa Cartel's distribution network in California.
- On the Just the Facts Blog, Lucila Santos has a new piece on the debate over illegal immigration titled "Perception vs Reality: Illegal Migration in Decline."
- Elyssa Pachico of InSight Crime reports that the death of the leader of "Los Rastrojos" will be a "game changer" in Colombia.
- José Rubén Zamora of Guatemala's El Periódico alleges that Guatemalan military leaders allowed drug traffickers to obtain U.S.-donated firearms.
U.S. Southern Command Updates
- The USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and the Continuing Promise 2011 (CP11) mission team departed El Salvador on July 24 and will now continue on to Costa Rica and Haiti. The medical team treated 8,257 patients at three sites in El Salvador, while the engineering and construction team completed projects at two schools.
- Undersecretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal arrived in Honduras to begin a week long tour of Central and South America. In addition to touring bases and meeting with American service members, Undersecretary Westphal will meet with diplomatic and military leaders in each country he visits.
- The State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee marked up draft legislation that would make fiscal 2012 appropriations for department, agencies, and programs under its jurisdiction. A summary of the bill's most important provisions is available here, and a subcommittee draft text of the FY 2012 State and Foreign Operations Bill is available for download as a PDF. The opening statement of Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas), in which she expresses her support for continued aid to Mexico, is available here.
This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey
Friday, July 22, 2011
- The air force bombed a FARC arms factory near the border with Venezuela. Four rebels were killed in the attack and two were captured.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
The aftermath of the explosion in Toribío, Cauca. (Courtesy Asociación Minga)
This is a guest post from WOLA Program Assistant Anthony Dest.
A bus filled with explosives was detonated on the morning of July 9 at 10:30 a.m. in front of a police station in Toribío, Cauca. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s oldest and largest guerrilla group, were responsible for the attack.
Instead of destroying the police station, the explosion wiped out the homes surrounding it and injured several bystanders. The Toribío explosion was the first of a series of attacks in at least five municipalities of northern Cauca, including Corinto, Caldono, Santander de Quilichao and Jambaló. In Toribío alone over 124 people were injured, 3 killed, and 474 homes destroyed as a result of the armed combat between the FARC and the military (see video). The FARC’s indiscriminate attacks clearly violate international humanitarian law and are emblematic of the constant targeting of northern Cauca’s mostly indigenous civilian population.
As armed combat between the Colombian military and the FARC continued throughout the week, local indigenous and human rights organizations reported that both sides utilized civilians’ homes as shields. This blatant disregard for international humanitarian law put many families at serious risk. At one point, the Colombian government considered the possibility of tearing down the homes where FARC attacks allegedly originated. The human rights group Asociación Minga reported that the government decided not to destroy the homes due to heavy criticism from Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman and local organizations. Nevertheless, Asociación Minga said that the military might use ‘eminent domain’ to take over these homes “which is absolutely illegal.”
The Nasa indigenous people have been disproportionately affected by this wave of violence. A statement by the Association of Northern Cauca’s Indigenous Cabildos (ACIN), Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), and the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Caldono–NASA CXHAB (ICC-NC) rejects the recent violence as an “attack on our life plans (planes de vida), our autonomy, our peaceful existence in the territory, and our survival as indigenous peoples.” Despite indigenous peoples’ legal right to hold collective titles to more than 31 million hectares of land, 66 of Colombia’s 102 indigenous peoples are at risk of extinction. Official Colombian government statistics show that murders of indigenous people between January and May of 2011 have increased 38% compared to the same timeframe in 2010. The situation in northern Cauca is replicated in many other regions of the country where indigenous peoples have lived for hundreds of years.
Many families in Toribío and nearby municipalities are at risk of displacement. Reports from WOLA’s partners in larger towns and cities reveal that many of the transition homes (casas de paso) run by the ACIN are filling up. These transition homes are available for indigenous people who arrive in cities seeking medical attention or fleeing violence. However, in Cali and Santander de Quilichao these transition homes are filled beyond capacity. As of Wednesday evening, no humanitarian aid was available for the affected civilians in Toribío. Colombia’s internally displaced population of over five million people is likely to grow as the attacks continue.
The attacks in Cauca by the FARC’s 6th Front and “Jacobo Arenas” column come as a response to the Colombian military’s dogged pursuit of the FARC’s leader, ‘Alfonso Cano,’ in a mountainous region about 20 miles east of Toribío. The FARC is eager to demonstrate its strength after losing several of its leaders in the last three years. These attacks are reminiscent of the FARC’s traditional strategy of guerilla warfare (guerra de guerrillas), a far cry from its ability to control towns and sub-regions when its strength was at its late 1990s peak. Nevertheless, the FARC’s continual adaptation to the nature of the conflict continues to threaten and alienate the civilian population while eliciting a strong-handed response from the Colombian government.
The indigenous people of northern Cauca demand their right to autonomy so that they may live peacefully in their collective territories. However, armed combat continuously undermines this right. The continuation of Colombia’s internal armed conflict threatens the survival of Colombia’s indigenous peoples, and their experience is shared by the millions of other Colombians affected by the conflict. According to the ACIN, CRIC, and ICC-NC, “there will not be peace for Colombians, if there is not peace for the indigenous peoples; there will not be peace for the indigenous peoples, if there is not peace in Colombia.”
Friday, July 8, 2011
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
The steps up to the conference room were plastered with faces. Faces of the missing fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, mothers and wives. They looked out at us, some faded, torn photographs, others as real as if they could be ready to pick up their child, eat dinner with their family, head off to work, today. Gathered in this hotel conference room in Bogotá were the women and men who had lost a part of themselves when their loved one was taken away in "the perfect crime": forced disappearance.
We had been asked by the associations of relatives of the disappeared, LAWGEF and our partner USOC, to present our report, Breaking the Silence, at this national conference on forced disappearances. We were not telling these relatives of the disappeared anything new; they have valiantly labored for years, sometimes for decades, to pull an ounce of truth or a hope of justice from reluctant authorities. But we were there to stand by their side as they called for justice.
I talked to people who were still afraid. They spoke of paramilitaries who came to their little village, picked people out who were never seen again. One person told how the paramilitaries used chain saws to cut people into pieces. They spoke of landowners who used paramilitaries to disappear and displace their campesino neighbors. Guerrillas also disappeared people, along with their cruel practice of kidnapping. Paramilitary successor groups are carrying out disappearances right now, today. This is not a historic problem, a problem of the past.
I spoke to one feisty woman who represented forty families from the Caribbean coast whose sons, just like in Soacha, were lured from their homes with promises of work and then killed by soldiers and claimed as guerrillas killed in combat: disappearances just to up their body counts, disappearances for profit.
As the conference's final declaration says, the associations of the disappeared and human rights groups called on the government to acknowledge the full, massive extent of disappearances in Colombia (see our analysis, here); make far more effective the "search mechanisms" and National Search Plan to which the Colombian government has committed; and identify the thousands of NN, or no name, identified bodies in cemeteries and graves throughout the countryside. The declaration acknowledged the creation of a new unit for forced disappearances in the Attorney General's office, but called for real progress in bringing these cases, 99 percent of which remain in impunity, to justice.
What you can't fully hear in the declaration is what I heard from the relatives of the disappeared and saw in their faces: a painful longing to have the Colombian government and society acknowledge the loss of their loved one, admit what had happened, see them as victims, and share their pain. The recently passed victims' law should provide some compensation to relatives of the disappeared, which is a significant step. But it does not provide for a full truth-telling, accounting, and justice, which these relatives of the disappeared long to see.
You can hear this pain and longing in this song, by the group Nuestro Tiempo, who put to music the words of children of the Vereda La Esperanza in Antioquia. "Dónde estarán nuestros abuelos, nuestros padres... Dónde quedó la justicia? Tantos años de tristeza y soledad, esperando la verdad... adónde se los llevaron, o las torturaron?, digan dónde están." "Where are our grandparents, our parents... Where has justice gone? So many years of sadness and loneliness, waiting for the truth... Where did they take them, did they torture them? Tell us where they are."
See their memory gallery here, where the children of La Esperanza tell of their parents and other loved ones. "My dad, I remember him as the best in the world." And learn more about the victims' lives and their relatives' quest for justice in "Por lo menos sus nombres," "At least their names."
Where did they take them? Tell us where they are.
This is cross-posted from the Latin America Working Group's blog, the LAWG Blog. It was written by Lisa Haugaard.