Human Rights and the Colombian Government: An analysis of state-based atrocities toward non-combatants

by James J. Brittain

1. To go into detail as to why such a conflict has been in existence would take as much time to explain as the war has existed, thus detracting from the primary premise of the paper; examining what abuses have been committed against the people of Colombia and who has perpetuated such atrocities. Therefore, the proceeding pages largely leave out the theoretical and empirical reasons for the conflict's inception/continuance to explain the current realities of what is tangibly happening at the present.

2. Found within the Plaza de Bolivar, the Capitolio Nacional is where the Colombian Congress sits.

3. While President àlvaro Uribe Vélez was governor of Antioquia he personally put forth policies that were instrumental in the establishment of paramilitary groups (Livingstone, 2003:26; Scott, 2003:71-72; Leech, 2002:88; Defense Intelligence Agency, 1991).

4. These decrees could be thought of as a resurgence and modification to the 1968, Law 48 that permitted the formation of self-defense groups to protect large landowners and officials but deemed illegal in 1989 (Leech, 2002:25).

5. Until recently, the current political administration of àlvaro Uribe Vélez instituted a model of peasant soldiers to combat the FARC-EP (Wilson, 2003; Van Dongen, 2003a, 2003b; Murillo and Avirama, 2004:113-114). The model furthered the exploitation of the peasantry (who stood no match against the well trained and supplied forces of the FARC-EP) at the hands of the state, thus continuing the deaths of rural peoples throughout Colombia's countryside due to the direct apathy of the state apparatus. Marx (1989:144) stated that "primitive communities are not all cut to a single pattern" and in no way should any analyst believe that all peasants are complete in their uniformity. He openly states that some peasants will seek to benefit themselves and, in more viscous circumstances, seek to coercively support the large landowners through acting within "gang-systems" and "mercenaries" (1967:695-696,720).

6. An excellent description of the paramilitary link is skillfully illustrated by Javier Giraldo (1996). Giraldo examines how, since the mid 1980s, the Colombian state has developed a method where by the military clandestinely cooperates with "non-state" paramilitary entities.

7. If goods such as maize, yucca, bananas, coffee, coca, or sugar are grown/produced in isolated or small landholdings by peasants, semi-proletarians, or localized communities then their commodity value cannot be reaped by a specific owner or group of owners.

8. The other reality in purchasing oil from the Middle-East is the incredible costs that are induced through shipping the cargo over such a long distance; therefore it is easily understood that obtaining oil from South America is a great deal easier than from Iraq or Saudi Arabia.

9. Venezuela, the founding member of OPEC and the largest ‘local' distributor of oil to the United States, has the fourth largest supply of consistent accessible oil in the world and the first within the Western Hemisphere (Gott, 2001; O'Connor, 1962).

10. The Uribe administration has all but privatized the national oil industry (Ecopetrol). The government has allowed for MNCs and TNCs to a large extent "freely" extract oil from Colombia for external consumption through the elimination of past entrenched levies or tariffs (Leech, 2004b).

11. Insurgents have attacked pipelines to prevent the flow of oil through specific rebel-held territories, thus providing the government and economic allies a cloak of justification to use the said forces.

12. Recent examples of this can be recognized through present court actions against Drummond who is under investigation for using paramilitary forces to kill several unionists who were organizing workers (Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 2004). Chiquita Bananas has also admitted to hiring terrorists (AUC) to protect their interests (Colombia Solidarity Network, 2004; US/LEAP, 2004). On February 21st, 2005 several members of Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadò (Peace Community of San José in the Apartadò municipality of the Antioquia department) were brutally murdered by members of the 17th Brigade of the Colombia Army, as stated by eye witnesses (Brittain, 2005b). The day of August 5th, 2004 saw three important Colombian unionists in the oil-rich department of Arauca (Héctor Alirio Martìnez and Jorge Eduardo Prieto Chamusero were both the regional Presidents of the local farm workers' union (ADUC) and the hospital workers' union (ANTHOC) Leonel Goyeneche was the regional Treasurer for CUT) murdered by state forces.

13. Currie was the director of the first foreign mission of an international agency (International Bank for Reconciliation and Development - now called the World Bank), which took place in Colombia (Currie, 1950). Following the study Currie proposed the implementation of a developmental program for the country of Colombia through the "Accelerating Economic Development", which promoted the organized displacement and transformation of the rural peasantry into a proletarian work force to be used in the large urban regions and the concentration of land ownership in the hands of large landholders.

14. The other portion is then used for "social and economic services, such as credit, public works, and cultural programs to the local peasantry" (Leech, 2002:18).

15. The FARC-EP has been very "successful" in armed confrontations with the paramilitaries. On several occasions relatively small groups of FARC-EP combatants have inflicted numerous causalities against the AUC (United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, the primary paramilitary group in Colombia) (Alape, 2000; Washington Post, 2004; Emanuelsson, 2003; Castro, 2003a; 2003b). In one campaign alone the FARC-EP killed over 254 soldiers, while the insurgency suffered only 11 wounded/killed guerrillas. This is a total ratio of 25:1 state and paramilitary forces to every guerrilla killed or wounded in action. In one historic month, over 1,360 state/paramilitary forces were killed by the guerrilla (who lost 252) (FARC-EP, 2002:8).

16. The graph depicts two specific outcomes. The first outcome is that the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), alongside the state, have perpetuated the preponderance of human rights violations against the population. By examining data on the subject, and not merely subscribing to unanalyzed or subjective reports, one can see that the FARC-EP and the ELN are responsible for roughly 5% (combined) of all internal violations, while the state/paramilitary are responsible for about 95%. This actually indicates that the insurgents human rights record over the past decade has substantially improved through a digression of maltreat being committed against non-combatants. It must be understood that this does not argue that the insurgents are exempt from human rights abuses (i.e. the retention of political representatives and members of the economic elite). Rather this presents that the guerrilla have begun a consistently positive shift since 1995. The second outcome found in the data collected is that the level of abuse at the hands of the state is directly proportionate to the legitimate installation of the paramilitary (circa 1993). The state security forces abuses precipitously decease in direct correlation to the paramilitary's maturity (i.e. compare the change from 1993 to 1998).

17. The number of human rights abuses is unable to be fully realized; nonetheless, one significant horrific instance of the actions conducted by the state/paramilitary took place on May 5th, 2003. The AUC and the army "attacked the indigenous Guahibo community at Betoyes [in Tame, Arauca]. Three Guahibo girls, ages 11, 12, and 15, were raped by the assailants. A pregnant 16-year-old, Omaira Fernàndez, was also raped, and then the attackers reportedly cut her womb open to pull out the fetus, which they hacked apart with machetes" (Fichtl, 2003), before throwing "both mutilated corpses into the river." (Engvist, 2003). Another example of the AUC's fascistic tendencies was presented in Bernard-Henri Lévy's new book War, Evil, and the End of History (2004). Lévy (2004:88) describes how members of the paramilitary organization have openly stated that "if any man, or any woman, has even the vaguest link with the guerrilla movement, then they stop being civilians and become guerrilla fighters dressed in civilian clothes, and as such deserve to be tortured, have their throats cut, to have a living hen sewed in their wombs in place of a foetus". The past leader of the AUC, Carlos Castaño, in interview, was sighted as chuckling at the notion of castrating Colombians who are in an antagonistic positioning against the Colombian State (Lévy, 2004:87). The AUC have also been found to decapitate peasants on a regular basis (Leech, 2003:68).

18. The ongoing struggle to defeat the guerrilla has led the Colombian government to use several inventive campaign names; 1960s-1970s it was called the "Cold-War", 1980's "War Against Narco-Guerrillas", the late 1990s saw the "War against Drugs" or "Plan Colombia", and presently it has been changed yet again to "The War on Terror" through "Plan Patriota".

19. This is not to say that some wealthier members of Colombian society are exempt from abuses, for they are certainly not (i.e. retentions are a common abuse carried out against the wealthy and political elite) (Coghlan, 2004; Braun, 2003). Nonetheless, in relation to the peasantry and working-class, this group is minimally affected by the war. What is being illustrated in this paper is that the abuses taking place in Colombia are ill-proportionately biased towards persons who are in opposition to the state, mainly the rural populations and class- conscious peoples.

20. Uribe has even considered Human Rights organizations and NGOs as being "spokesman" and "politickers for terrorism" (Vélez, 2003). Doug Stokes (2005:127-128) published other examples of the Colombian state threatening environmentalists, human rights groups, state-critical journalists and social justice mobilizations. Stokes (2005:127) presents that "Pedro Juan Moreno, Security and Intelligence Advisor to President Uribe, explicitly stated both that NGOs were legitimate targets of Colombian military intelligence and that they acted as front organizations for insurgent groups". He also notes that "Fernando Londoño, Uribe's [former] Minister of the Interior and Justice, even equated environmentalism with subversion and argued that there continued to exist an international communist conspiracy to undermine the Colombian military through environmental politics" (127-128)

21. SUV's, outfitted with film crews, drive through the streets as frightened pedestrians hold their thumbs in the air, simultaneously armed soldiers are purposely visible on every corner taking note of what people, local merchants, or vagrants do or do not lift their extremity in support.

22. The UP was a left-of-center political party which gained more democratic support than any leftist party in Colombian history. In the mid-1980s the Colombian government, large landowners, and the economic elite recognized the growth in support for the UP and responded with paramilitary forces who initiated an immediate campaign of political extermination against party leaders, members, secretaries, and even persons who passed out flyers for the party (Dudley, 2004; Aldana, 2002; Galvis, 2000). By 1996, over 4,000 had been intimidated, brutalized, tortured, raped, and murdered.

23. The PCC is incredibly tied to the union movement within Colombia. Many union leaders are members of this political entity, thus to kill a communist is seen as another technique to cripple organized labour.


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