Colombia: Campesinos Attacked by Military
Paramilitaries Continue to be a Key Arm of the Colombian Government.
November 2, 2005 -- by Pablo Serrano
North-Eastern Antioquia. “Here in the region we are living the severe violence of the military and the paramilitaries,” stated a campesino* who did not wish to give his name. He continued, “At the moment we are being harassed by the military battalion ‘Demolisher Platoon No.1, Battalion Calibio of the 14th Brigade’, which is under the command of Sergeants Setina and Blanquiceth. The Battalion presents themselves as official military and then the next minute they change their armband and are the paramilitaries. Lately they have been detaining, intimidating, torturing, and assassinating local campesinos and community leaders. ”
On August 7th, 2005 the same Battalion Calibio assassinated a known community leader, Luis Sigifredo Castaño. A member of the community remembers him, “He was a kind man. We had known him for over 15 years. He was part of CAHUCOPANA, a new campesino human rights organization. Sigifredo was not an insurgent as the military accused.” Denouncements made by a local campesino association, the ACVC, stated that, “[Sigifredo] was found dressed in camouflage, even though everyone in the region knew he was a campesino and was disabled.”
The Colombian military continuously uses the tactic of killing campesinos, dressing them in camouflage, and denouncing them as insurgency. A member of Sigifredos family stated, “The Battalion Calibio came to the house at six in the morning, they grabbed him, tied him up and demanded to know where the guerrilla camps were. But he knew nothing of the sort. he was in shorts, a t-shirt, and some rubber boots when they took him. At 8 in the morning, about 100 meters from the house we heard machinegun fire. When the military left at 4pm we saw them taking his dead body dressed in camouflage.” Members of the Battalion Calibio have been confirmed by various campesino sources to work with and actually operate as paramilitaries.
A report published in early 2005 by the High Commission for Human Rights of the United Nations in Colombia, declared that that human rights violations were still “... attributed to the direct action of public servants, particularly members of the security forces.” In a later report the Commission expressed “... serious concern at reports of cases of support, collusion or complicity on the part of state agents with paramilitary groups.”
After many years of international and national pressure to abide by international human rights, the Colombian government continues to use the military and paramilitary “death squads” as the main weapons against the civilian population and political opposition. For decades, the Colombian military and their paramilitary allies have enjoyed a high level of impunity from judicial processes. Most recently, on October 23rd the head of Colombia’s secret police (DAS), Jorge Noguera, resigned after the discovery of tapes discussing the agency's alleged plans to give intelligence information to the paramilitaries. In addition, the paramilitaries have boasted many times of how they control more than 35 percent of the Colombian congress.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the 40-year-old Colombian civil war is exacerbated by increasing military aid from the United States. Since 1999, when Plan Colombia was signed, over $4 billion U.S. dollars have been funneled into the police and military of Colombia. Meanwhile, human rights abuses by the government forces and their paramilitary allies have increased significantly. At the same time the U.S. has made Colombia the largest recipient of military aid outside of the Middle East. This has forced millions of campesinos to flee to the cities.
“As campesinos what are we going to do in the cities? We don’t have any money, we don’t have a place to stay, and there are no jobs,” stated a campesino from the north-eastern region of Antioquia. Campesino leaders told me that since the murder of Sigifredo more than 100 families have been forcibly displaced from the region by the military and paramilitary repression. Today, in Colombia, there are more than 3 million people displaced internally. In 2004 some 287,000 were displaced, an increase of 38.5 percent from the prior year.
In response, campesinos from North-Eastern Antioquia have created social organizations, such as the ACVC and CAHUCOPANA, to protect their rights, and to create socio-economic projects to help the people of the region. These organizations have set up projects dealing with housing, food, education, health, documentation of human rights violations, and protection of their communities. Since their creation, however, both of these organizations have been violently attacked by the government and the paramilitaries.
In an interview a leader of the ACVC stated, “To the citizens and social organizations of the United States we ask that you stand in solidarity with the Colombian campesino. Military, economic, and political intervention by your government has been devastating to our people. Your neo-liberal economy does nothing but take from the mouth of our children. Your helicopters, weapons, and troops support an oppressive violent government.”
*Campesino: farmer or rural worker.
**Members of the communities requested anonymity for reasons of security.