Raul Arboleda / AFP/Getty Images
While growing up in Peru in the 1980's and 90's I was detained by Peruvian police and incarcerated more than once just because I "looked Indigenous and poor" while walking around fluent neighborhoods of Lima or traveling by the Andean little towns. Being young and non-white made me a suspect of being a guerrilla member.
So I relate very well to the injustice that Colombians are facing today, although some of them were not as lucky as myself to survive and tell the story.
LA Times reports today:
- Extrajudicial slayings on rise in Colombia
Soldiers, under pressure to show progress in a U.S.-funded war, allegedly are killing civilians and passing them off as rebels.
By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 21, 2008
GRANADA, COLOMBIA -- Street vendor Israel Rodriguez went fishing last month and never came back. Two days later, his family found his body buried in a plastic bag, classified by the Colombian army as a guerrilla fighter killed in battle.
Human rights activists say the Feb. 17 death is part of a deadly phenomenon called "false positives" in which the armed forces allegedly kill civilians, usually peasants or unemployed youths, and brand them as leftist guerrillas.
A macabre facet of a general increase in "extrajudicial killings" by the military, "false positives" are a result of intense pressure to show progress in Colombia's U.S.-funded war against leftist insurgents, the activists say.
Rodriguez's sister Adelaida said he had served three years in the army and was neither a guerrilla nor a sympathizer. "He never made any trouble for anyone," she said, adding that she believed the army killed her brother to "gain points."
Such killings have spread terror here in the central state of Meta. Last year the state led Colombia in documented cases of extrajudicial killings, with 287 civilians allegedly slain by the military, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, a human rights group. That's a 10% increase from the previous year
Although there appear to be no official -- or unofficial -- tallies of "false positives," human rights activists say they believe such incidents are on the rise, along with the overall increase in killings by the military, based on their discussions with victims' families and analyses of circumstances surrounding individual cases.
"It's quite likely, because the same scenario appears over and over again in the cases I review," said John Lindsay-Poland of the New York-based Fellowship of Reconciliation. "Victims last seen alive in civilian clothing later are found dead dressed in camouflage and claimed as guerrilla casualties."
The killings have increased in recent years amid an emphasis on rebel death tolls as the leading indicator of military success, the human rights groups say. Even Colombian officials acknowledge that soldiers and their commanders have been given cash and promotions for upping their units' body counts.
Since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, the military has scored notable successes in winning back territory from leftist rebel groups and improving security, buoyed by billions of dollars in military aid from the United States under Plan Colombia, the program that fights drug trafficking and terrorism.
But at the same time, the military's human rights record is getting worse, charged a coalition of Colombian and international human rights groups.
And new research by two U.S. peace groups into the killings raises serious questions about whether the United States is doing enough, as required by law, to bar U.S. funding to Colombian military units that have elicited allegations of killings and other human rights violations.
Amnesty International USA and the Fellowship of Reconciliation have found that the U.S. government "vetted" or approved military assistance to at least 11 Colombian armed forces units last year despite "credible allegations regarding killings, disappearances and collaboration with outlawed paramilitary forces," Renata Rendon of Amnesty International USA said in Washington this month.
"It's outrageous this is happening. It's up to the [U.S. government] to ensure that we are not providing aid to abusive units," Rendon said.
While not responding specifically to the claims, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota said this month that Colombian armed forces' killings of civilians were a "serious problem, a serious concern."
"It's something we take very seriously. If you're going to win a war like this, a big part is establishing rule of law and winning the people's confidence in your legitimacy and commitment to legal institutions," said the official, who was not authorized to speak for attribution. He defended the vetting process but said it was complicated by the fact that allegations of human rights abuses often were "not sufficiently specific or verifiable."
To address the issue of impunity, Colombia's attorney general last year set up special investigative teams in Meta and Antioquia states, which had the highest numbers of alleged abuses by the military. In November, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos sent a directive to military commanders ordering major changes, including giving civil courts more jurisdiction in investigating incidents.
But the killings are still spreading terror here in Meta state. Ramiro Orjuela Aguilar, a Bogota human rights attorney representing 20 families of suspected "false positive" victims in Meta, blamed the military's use of paid informants or demobilized guerrillas for many of the killings.
"They have an incentive to name people as rebels because they are paid for information whether it's correct or not," Orjuela said.
Several of the Meta victims last year were youths living in and around Granada, the hub of a cattle and farming region that has been fiercely contested in recent years by leftist guerrillas, the armed forces and right-wing paramilitary troops. It is also home to the army's 12th Mobile Brigade, a unit that Orjuela says is implicated in many of the killings.
Orjuela alleges that the army is engaging in "social cleansing" in Meta, home to four of the five municipalities that made up the so-called neutral zone occupied by Colombian guerrillas from 1998 to 2002. Killings and mass displacements of residents here are efforts to deprive guerrillas of sympathizers, Orjuela said.
"They are trying to deprive the fish of its water," he said.
Kidnapped on an outing to the Ariari River, Rodriguez, the street vendor, may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, relatives theorize, caught by a band of police officers or soldiers who were on a "fishing trip" of their own for victims.
Orjuela said cases involving alleged "false positives" seemed to decline after the Colombian army issued the November directive to all commanders ordering that officers and the rank and file be made aware that the most important standards of success are demobilizations and captures of guerrillas, and then body counts. But he said he had noticed a resurgence lately, noting the Rodriguez killing.
Adelaida Rodriguez said that despite the government's initiatives, she and her family were reluctant to press for an investigation. Referring to her brother, she said, "If we make noise, we'll end up like him."
Your money is in Colombia my friends
While the US economy is entering recession, Bush keeps sending your money to Colombia. And they don't even bother to tell you.
Map by Alice Kreit, NPR
By March 1, Colombian military forces invaded Ecuador and killed 16 members of the Colombian leftist guerrilla FARC, and 4 Mexican college students who were taking part of a clandestine research trip.
NPR reported last week:
- Tensions Ensue in Andean Conflict
NPR - March 14, 2008. Just weeks ago, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe's sent commandos nearly a mile into Ecuador to attack an anti-government rebel encampment. The raid, which was accompanied by a bombing campaign, succeeded in killing a top commander of the rebels, known as FARC.
But the raid also set off a diplomatic confrontation with neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela, who not only broke diplomatic ties with Colombia, but mobilized troops along the border. Although the rhetoric has since cooled, the raid exacerbated existing tensions in the region. The activity has also attracted the attention of the U.S., an ally of Colombia and a frequent critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
NPR correspondent Juan Forero, stationed in Bogota, Colombia, is joined by Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, to discuss the conflict.
Listen Now [12 min 24 sec]
The US government waited 2 days to express its position on this conflict, and asked Ecuador and Colombia to resolve it bilaterally or through the OAS. The State Department asked Venezuela to stay away from the problem. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Colombian "can take care of themselves" in a possible conflict.
Gates knew well what he meant by saying that, but he didn't bother to mention the US participation on the attack to the FARC camp as some sources say it was done from the US military base in Manta, Ecuador.
Colombia is the second country in the world that receives most military funds from the US, after Israel. The Bush administration has sent over $ 750 million dollars every year to support the Colombian government in their 50-year old armed conflict and to fight drug trafficking. But instead of spreading peace, more violence and clandestine deaths are occurring, paramilitary groups are getting stronger, union leaders are being tortured and killed, people are being displaced and drug production is not only at high levels, but its influence in Colombian politics and official institutions is more powerful than ever.
Read the following article:
Uribe, U.S. Should Step Up Hostage-Release Efforts, Groups Say
Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the U.S. government should step up efforts to win the release of hostages held by the country's biggest rebel group, advocacy organizations and the mother of one of the captives said today.
The U.S. could leverage its aid to Colombia to press for more action on the approximately 750 people held captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said Gimena Sanchez, a senior associate with the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group.
An exchange of hostages for two members of the Marxist FARC group held in the U.S. is another option, said Jo Rosano, whose son, Marc Gonsalves, has been held with two coworkers by the rebel group since 2003.
"The United States says they hold the FARC responsible for the fate of the Americans,'' said Rosano, who was brought by Sanchez's group from her home in Bristol, Connecticut, for a news conference in Washington today. ``I hold the United States responsible for the fate of all the hostages.''
The U.S. organizations, working with Colombian opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba, are seeking to intensify pressure on Uribe after videos seized Nov. 29 from three guerrilla members in Bogota showed at least some of the hostages, including three American contractors, are alive. The groups are critical of Uribe's decision last month to end support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's efforts to win the captives' freedom.
The TransAfrica Forum, a Washington-based social justice advocacy group, is sending a letter to Colombia to praise Cordoba's role and to Chavez to applaud his efforts, said Joseph Jordan, a professor at the University of North Carolina.
Cordoba "played a pivotal role in moving things forward at a point in time when things seemed to be at a standstill,'' Jordan said. The organization's advocacy work includes a focus on the rights of Afro-Colombians.
Rosano choked up as she showed photos of her son and read a letter from a friend referring to the video segment of him in a jungle setting.
"My world consists of depression, sorrow, of panic attacks, anxiety attacks, sleepless nights,'' Rosano said. "I wonder either when my son can come home or will my life ever be normal.''
Uribe's government would contribute to an effort to end the internal conflict by going beyond an agreement on a demilitarized zone, Sanchez said in an interview after news conference.
"The Colombian government can show good will,'' Sanchez said. "But more than that, they need to stop the rhetoric. They need to stop saying negative things about anyone who is trying to push this process forward.''
The U.S. Congress also can help by exerting political pressure, she said.
"The U.S. has given more than $700 million to Colombia each year for the past six years, and the majority of that money has been military aid,'' Sanchez said. "That has not resolved the conflict in Colombia.''
In order to hide what really is going on and to fake a successful use of the funds received, the Colombian military is killing just about any innocent person they run into.
Contact your Congress member and ask about their position on the Colombia armed conflict and why is your tax-money funding this kind of abuses.
Ask your House and Senate member to condemn the illegal actions of the Colombian government and to push the Alvaro Uribe government take a politically negotiated path toward peace in the region. Demand that U.S. military funding for Colombia stops until the Uribe administration guarantees the human rights of every Colombian citizen. Uribe has "one of the worst human rights records in the world" according to Human Rights Watch.
To find out who represents you in Congress, please type your address in here.