The Colombia Challenge: a forward from David Wilson

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Sep 3 17:10:35 MDT 1999

To: jhurd_newparty at, nyfreemedia at
Subject: jhurd_newparty: The Colombia Challenge

[I'm sending a rather lengthy excerpt from our publication, the Weekly News
Update on the Americas. I apologize for the length, but I think it's
important to get these facts out. I'm offering this as a sort of challenge
to the US media that gave such extensive coverage just a few months ago to
atrocities by Serbian paramilitaries, and to the left-liberal types who
insisted that we had to "do something" to stop the atrocities.

The problem then, for many of us, was that we couldn't see how bombing
Yugoslavia was "doing something" to help the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo.
In the case of Colombia, on the other hand, there is no problem seeing how
the US could "do something." For starters, the US could stop funding,
training and equipping the Colombian police and military, which aid and
protect the paramilitaries. But if past history is any evidence, the US
undoubtedly has much more to answer for than that; it is hard to believe
that US agencies have not been directly involved in these death squads, as
they were in Central America and Haiti. So the US could also "do something"
by helping bring the paramilitaries to justice, along with their
controllers, both in Colombia and the US.

My challenge for the media and the left-liberals is this: Will you cover
Colombian paramilitary atrocities at the same level as you covered
atrocities by the Serbian paramilitaries? Will you be just as vocal in
denouncing them? Will you work to educate people here on the situation, will
you lobby and demonstrate for the US to end its disastrous Colombia policy?
Will you call for "doing something"? And if you won't, how can you avoid the
suspicion that your concern for human rights last spring was only an effort
to support the war propaganda drive of the Clinton administration?]

             ISSUE #500, AUGUST 29, 1999
339 LAFAYETTE ST., NEW YORK, NY 10012 (212) 674-9499



Several hundred rightwing paramilitaries affiliated with the
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) killed at least 35
civilians and wounded eight on Aug. 20 and 21 in three villages
in Tibu municipality near the Venezuelan border in the oil-rich
northeastern department of Norte de Santander. In one of the
AUC's worst massacres so far this year, 21 civilians, most of
them campesinos, were killed in the community of La Gabarra,
eight in Cano Lupa, four in Petrolea and three in Campo Dos, the
office of the Defender of the People, the government human rights
office, reported on Aug. 25. Four of the victims were minors,
according to Norte de Santander Defender of the People Ivan
Villamizar. Vanguardia Liberal, a daily published in Bucaramanga
in neighboring Santander department, gave the death toll as 35.
[Reuters 8/23/99, 8/25/99; El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 8/24/99 from
AP; VL 8/27/99

The Tibu massacre was just one part of an AUC offensive in the
region that left a total of about 56 civilians dead in less than
a week and drove more than 4,000 across the border into
Venezuela. [New York Times 8/26/99] The offensive has apparently
not ended. Public Defender Villamizar told reporters on Aug. 26
that the AUC told dozens of campesinos the day before that they
had 72 hours to leave the area. According to Villamizar, the
paramilitary group is trying to dominate the region, a
traditional stronghold of leftist guerrilla organizations and an
area of coca cultivation; both guerrillas and paramilitary groups
are known to raise money from coca cultivators. More than 142
people were murdered in a similar AUC offensive in the region in
May, and some 2,500 people fled to Venezuela [see Updates #488,
489]. [Reuters 8/25/99; ED-LP 8/24/99 from AP; La Republica
(Lima) 8/27/99 from EFE] The paramilitaries typically "arrive in
a town or village, seal it off, then with a list in hand drag
suspected guerrilla sympathizers into the street, where they are
executed," according to Reuters. [Reuters 8/23/99]

In a report issued on Aug. 25, the Colombia office of the United
Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the
Colombian government for the Aug. 20-21 massacre: "Despite the
commitments taken on by the government, it has not carried out
the necessary measures and actions for guaranteeing and
protecting the lives and security of the inhabitants of this
region," the office reported. On Aug. 25 the London-based human
rights group Amnesty International issued a communique charging
that "the security forces and their paramilitary allies go on
committing serious human rights violations with almost total
impunity." Human rights groups say the security forces are
closely linked to the paramilitaries. [Reuters 8/25/99]

On Aug. 26, two days after the UN report appeared, the Colombian
Military Forces Second Division reported that two AUC members had
been killed in confrontations with the army in the Catatumba
river area in Norte de Santander earlier that day. The military
also reported that eight members of the leftist National
Liberation Army (ELN) were killed fighting with the army, in
Santa Rosa, in the northern department of Bolivar on Aug. 25. [LR
8/27/99 from EFE; VL 8/27/99]


Colombia's office of the Defender of the People reports that 847
civilians were massacred in the first six months of 1999, a 44%
increase over the 588 massacre victims reported for the same
period in 1998; the office defines a massacre as "an action in
which four or more defenseless persons are intentionally
murdered, in the same place and at the same time, through armed
or other violent means." The main perpetrators of massacres are
the paramilitaries and armed groups financed by drug traffickers
and large landowners. Antioquia continues to be the department
with the highest number of cases and victims, followed by Valle
del Cauca, Putumayo and Caqueta. [Translation of Office of the
Defender of the People report, undated, posted on Colombia
Support Network website <>; ED-LP 8/24/99
from AP]

Paramilitary violence is continuing unchecked in the Colombian
countryside. At least 24 people were killed by AUC-affiliated
paramilitaries between Aug. 15 and 17 in rural areas of Zambrano
and El Carmen municipalities, in Bolivar department. The attacks
forced some 500 people to leave their homes and take refuge in
the center of Zambrano. [El Colombiano (Medellin) 8/18/99, some
from EFE; AFP 8/17/99] Speaking to several radio stations on the
condition of anonymity, a campesino who escaped with his wife and
three children said paramilitaries killed seven of his relatives
in the village of Capaca, in Zambrano municipality. He said the
paramilitaries gave residents of the village two days to abandon
their land. A communique released on Aug. 18 by the leftist
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said the massacres
around Zambrano were committed by paramilitary units "with the
support of Marine Battalion number three and troops of the First
Army Brigade." [Inter Press Service 8/19/99]

In Curumani, in the northeastern department of Cesar, eight
people were killed on Aug. 18 by an AUC commando. Seven bodies,
belonging to members of one family, were pulled out of a river on
Aug. 18 in the town of Morelia, in the southern department of
Caqueta. [IPS 8/19/99] At least eight campesinos were killed on
Aug. 18 in the village of San Roque, Antioquia department, in
what police said was a suspected rightwing paramilitary attack.
[AFP 8/18/99] Early on Aug. 8, 11 people were murdered by
presumed rightwing paramilitaries in three attacks in Colombia's
coffee-growing region: five people were killed in Genova, Quindio
department; and six people were killed in two attacks in La
Dorada, Caldas department. [LR 8/9/99 from EFE]


The General Prosecutor's Office has charged three officers and
two junior officers of the Colombian Army with facilitating the
murder and disappearance of dozens of people in a July 1997
paramilitary massacre in three villages in Mapiripan
municipality, Meta department [see Updates #391, 442; and Update
supplement "US-Funded Troops Back Paramilitary Massacres,
3/22/98]. The officers were identified as Lt. Col. Lino Hernandez
Sanchez Prado; Lt. Col. Carlos Eduardo Avila Beltran; Maj. Arbey
Garcia Narvaez; 2nd Sgt. Juan Carlos Gamarra Polo; and 1st Cpl.
Leonardo Montoya Rubiano.

In the massacre, paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense
Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU) flew fully armed in two planes
from Necocli (in Uraba, in northern Antioquia department), to the
airport in San Jose de Guaviare, in the southern department of
Guaviare. Lt. Col. Hernandez, who was then interim commander of
an army mobile brigade, facilitated the paramilitaries' arrival
in Guaviare and provided them with vehicles, weapons and someone
to act as a guide. Gamarra reportedly helped with information,
uniforms, and weapons transport. The massacre is also being
investigated by the National Human Rights Unit of the Attorney
General's office. Others arrested in connection with the case
include several crew members of the aircraft that transported the
paramilitaries to Guaviare. [Hoy (NY) 8/13/99 from EFE]

The Washington Post reports, without giving a date, that the
Attorney General's office has ordered dishonorable discharges for
three military officers and suspensions for five police agents
for failing to halt the massacres of 36 civilians from the city
of Barrancabermeja in Santander department in May 1998. [WP
8/29/99] [Troops and police reportedly set up checkpoints and
carried out sweeps before and during the massacres, which they
made no effort to stop; see Updates #434, 436.]

Weekly News Update on the Americas * Nicaragua Solidarity Network of NY
339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012  *  212-674-9499 fax: 212-674-9139   *    wnu at

David L. Wilson  *  212-674-9499  * <nicadlw at>
     If you can't spell it, don't bomb it! -- Anonymous

Louis Proyect

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