International Network in Solidarity with Colombia's Political Prisoners[inspp.org]
"Colombian Farmers and Union Activists Under Attack; Social justice activists face grave risks in Colombia, considered to have one of the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere"
Paramilitary murder farmers and union leaders to silence community claims.
In Colombia terror is systematically used as a weapon for social oppression, violence against farmers and unions continues; and while President Santos allowed protests, there are still scars of Uribe governments alleged violence and ties to paramilitary organizations.
In Colombia the 21 days national strike, which enjoyed broad support, was a victory for the farmers movement, after 12 deaths, 4 disappearances, and 485 injured, according to official numbers;
they got a law to control seeds suspended, along with subsidies to gas and supplies, to compensate the farmers for their losses, competing with international multinationals brought in the country by free market treaties.
The government and the strike board are currently negotiating new farming and mining laws, along with a revision of 10 free market treaties, trying to compensate or reduce the losses of farmers and miners; in the cities, while the solidarity with the farmers was the spark for the protests the privatization of health care and education brought even more people to the streets.
Facing police repression, and despite the threat of paramilitary violence they got a political victory, paralyzing the country while president Santos saw his popularity fall to an all time low of 24%, which forced him to negotiate.
But even after such demonstration for farmers to oppose mining and oil projects can be a very dangerous activity in this country, Julio farmer and human rights defender from Guayabero, has received dead threats, he believes not only him but everyone else in town is also in danger:
Julio, Farmer and Human Rights Defender from Guayabero -
There are about 20.000 farmers near the Guayabero river , and now all weve got is the fight for our rights as Colombians, all these people are suffering the scourge of war; we have been living that for 30 years, being systematically attacked by the Colombian state, by the police and the army which almost every day they bully us and call us insurgents, or guerrilla members, we are honest and humble farmers who want to keep our lands, but all we can do is hope things will get better.
Adelinda Gomez Gaviria was gunned down reportedly by 2 right wing paramilitaries on September 30th when she was returning home from an activists meeting accompanied with her 16 year old son who was injured but survived.
Adelinda Gomez was a vocal environment advocate, she was a leader of the group called Proceso de Mujeres del Macizo Colombiano del CIMA, a farmers women group that had organized an Environmental and Mining Forum to which 1500 indigenous and farmers participated; Adelinda received threaten phone calls warning her to stay off mining or she would get killed.
And she is not the only one, Genaro Graciano from Movimiento Rios Vivos, which means Movement for Living Rivers had a bomb thrown outside his house at 10:30 pm, on October 17th, there where no casualties.
Precisely in the town of Las Acacias where The Real News recently reported on a local effort against an oil company in the defense of their water resources; a crime occurred on October 10th, one that sent a ripple of fear across the villagers from all the area.
Ricardo Rodriguez Cajamarca a local human rights monitor was murdered by two hit man; who gunned him down around noon, opening fire from a motorcycle while he was driving his car; Rodriguez was well known for defending farmers and indigenous from state abuse.
Amnesty International has long reported how an unknown number of farmers and indigenous leaders have been murdered because of their opposition to mega mining and oil drilling, choosing to preserve natural resources instead of supporting industrial development.
Rural communities, students and intellectuals had lost their voice amid extreme violence by both sides of a conflict that lasts over 60 years now and very often kept the communities paralyzed with gruesome crimes, on December 2012, Telesur reported 600 farmers leaders murdered since 2005.
Abilio Peña, Church Peace and Justice Commission -
All these crimes against farmer leaders are related to specific claims made by farming communities against businessmen that took over their lands.
Under Alvaro Uribes government on 2007 where demobilized 31.671 members of Autodefensas Unidas Colombianas (AUC), a paramilitary Group that according to Semana magazine in the early 2000s grew to be the most powerful armed force in the country and is responsible for a great number of crimes, 14 of their leaders have been extradited to US under drug trafficking charges.
But the paramilitaries didnt go away, nowadays there are 4 right wing paramilitary armies, ERPAC for Anti Communist Popular Army, Los Rastrojos, Los Urabeños and the main one Agulas Negras or Black Eagles.
A video emerged on the news and on You Tube on which we see the last moments of a group of farmers whose lands where stolen by alleged paramilitary men, they where filming with their phone before they got shot dead by the armed men.
Speaking for HispanTV Caliche a paramilitary member describes their mindset:
Caliche, Paramilitary Commander -
If we must respect someones life we will but if we must not we will kill him,because we do not share many leftist ideals, which are to blame for the way things are in Colombia now.
Two or three guys invented some leftist crap and that is how a gunmen war started.
That is why we hunt down union leaders because they are pimps for a lot of bad people, here in our town.
They are pimps for all those farmers who are guerrilla fighters who then turn around and say they that are farmers displaced by war, helping NGOs collect money from international governments so they can then live the good life.
Farmers protest movements are closely linked with victims of forced land displacement and war violence, also organizations of people defending their land from contamination or appropriation by private interest.
Teofilo Acuña a farmers leader was also threaten by paramilitary in behalf he believes of a transnational corporation called Pacific Rubiales Energy:
Teofilo Acuña, Farmers movement leader and human rights defender -
In my case the threats came as a internet pamphlet and a note, saying they will kill me.
He describes a (disturbing) relation between state and private interest:
We know the state is involved with private interest on this because, the state had a project to bring transnational corporations to the region, and we mention the state because we have observed that were there are mining interest is precisely were there have been more human rights violations.
How else can you understand? That in a region so militarized and controlled threats, murders and disappearances, can happen so easily.
On the south of the Bolivar regions we know that between 2003 and 2007 there have been around 700 disappeared and murdered people. So we believe the multinationals are fully supported by the state.
While covering a March for Peace on 2012 I spoke to many farmers displaced from their lands; Yupanqui one of them, describes how does it feels being trapped on a crossfire.
Yupanqui, Farmer, War Refugee -
If the army gets to the village they claim we are all infiltrated guerrillas, if the guerrilla gets there, they claim we work for the army.
Any armed faction that gets to the village we dont know what to do or what to say.
Many times they made direct threats to our life.
Is important to remember that the paramilitary armies where created as a counterpart for the FARC and ELN, leftist guerrillas that have also committed atrocities against civilians, in everyones memory are the hundreds of kidnapped and the collar bombs a terrifying device to used to ask for ransom, the guerrillas have also been accused by the state of acting as security forces for narco cartels.
But not only the paramilitary and guerrilla fighters have murdered farmers, the army has also been involved in a case called false positives, where many officials have been formally accused of murdering people and then claim that they where guerrilla fighters fallen in combat, not only remaining immune of prosecution for those crimes but also buffing up the count of dead enemies.
Military murders farmers (Video)
This video was shot by one of the farmers using his phone camera, on March 2008 and recently resurfaced from a criminal case being filed by the farmers, accusing the soldiers to not only murder the farmers but also trying to steal the bodies to later claim them as dead enemy combatants or falsos positivos.
According to a well-known human rights defender, winner of 2007s Roger Baldwin Freedom Medal and Representative for Bogota district, Ivan Cepeda, this association of state and paramilitary violence reached its climax under Alvaro Uribes presidency.
Ivan Cepeda, Representative for Bogota District -
Uribes 8 years in power where fatal for Colombia, the paramilitary got their people elected for congress, all kinds of crimes where perpetrated like the infamous falsos positivos cases, young people where assassinated by the army to be presented before TV cameras as if they where terrorist.
Also there was espionage on the political opposition using the executive powers secret police, so there is a very long list of human rights violations committed during Alvaro Uribes administration.
Defying fear and possible retaliations on October xx many students protested Alvaro Uribes visit to Santo Tomas University
Student wearing a Uribe mask:
I am here before you to declare that I am involved on crimes against humanity.
Diego says that they are here to make a statement against a political project of state violence:
Diego, Student -
We are against the paramilitary political project that Alvaro Uribe represents, one which continues under the current government, by making military targets of human rights defenders and student movement leaders.
We are a bit afraid to do this, yet here we are, to denounce him for what he is, and to defend our right to protest, which is the only way to get change as it has been proven this year by the farmers and students strike.
Both Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos current President of Colombia have accused the farmers movement of being manipulated by Marcha Patriotica a leftist political organization whom they both accuse of having ties with the FARC the leftist guerrilla.
Ivan Cepeda remembers what happened to the last leftist social movement that was accused of similar charges back in the 80s:
Ivan Cepeda, Representative for Bogota District -
In Colombia there have been committed an infinite number of crimes against humanity, war crimes, one of which was the extermination of a whole political movement, a real genocide against the Union Patriotica; we have now created the Marcha Patriotica movement, and we really hope this time it does not end in a blood bath.
Nancy Vargas and Milciades Cano two survivors of the extermination of Union Patriotica, where murdered on Octuber 6th at 5pm when they where returning home from a meeting of Marcha Patriotica the movement that wants to bring the left back to Colombia and was founded in memory of Union Patriotica the original movement.
Among all this violence there are still people willing to stand up to mining and oil projects to defend the water, their lands, labor and human rights; however they do so knowing they dont have the support of the Colombian state as Tomas from Farmers Union from Cauca explains:
Tomas, Farmers Union from Cauca -
These regimes have always been about defending their own personal interest and those of the multinational corporations.
We worry when the president goes to Europe and offer supposed opportunities for investment in Colombia.
He then surrenders for cheap our farming lands, those of the indigenous communities and our national parks.
While neo liberal policies and income inequality will continue putting pressure in the social struggle, Colombias polarization and long history of violence makes it that much harder for social movements and farmers to vindicate their grievances.
Reporting for The Real News this is Oscar León
2013-05-13 "Subject: Release Guillermo Cano and Colombian Unionists! Stop Repression of FENSUAGRO"
Don Guillermo. Photo by Raquel Mogollón
The Alliance for Global Justice has received news that Guillermo Cano of the FENSUAGRO agricultural workers union has been detained along with seven unidentified unionists and members of the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March) in the Colombian Department of Tolima. Don Guillermo is the Human Rights Coordinator for ASTRACATOL, the FENSUAGRO affiliate in Tolima. He is also on the Executive Board for FENSUAGRO. Don Guillermo is a good friend of AfGJ’s and accompanied us on our most recent delegation to Colombia. These arrests took place just a few days after all involved had attended a forum organized by the United Nations Development Program in Colombia and the National University.
This is the latest in a series of events showing an increase in repression against both FENSUAGRO and the Marcha Patriótica, a popular organization advocating for popular participation in the peace process and for meaningful land reform. In late March, two FENSUAGRO leaders were assassinated, both members of the ASOCAT peasant union (and FENSUAGRO affiliate) in the Department of Cauca: Alonso Lozano, murdered on March 24, 2013, and Gustavo Adolfo Pizo Garcia, murdered on March 25, 2013. On March 3, 2013, ASTRACATOL leader Maribel Oviedo was apprehended by members of the Colombian Armed Forces and threatened with execution and illegally detained for two days. AfGJ organized a solidarity campaign calling for her freedom, and Maribel credited national and international solidarity for her safe release.
Once again we ask our supporters to take quick action on behalf of Don Guillermo and his seven fellow union members, and on behalf of FENSAUGRO. The charge of “Rebellion” is notoriously vague and has been used repeatedly to silence and intimidate unionists and members of the political opposition. Colombia has more than 10,000 political prisoners, the vast majority of them in jail for nonviolent activities. A high proportion are human rights defenders and labor leaders like Don Guillermo.
CLICK HERE to send an email to Colombian authorities, including the prosecutor who ordered these arrests, and to the UN Office on Human Rights in Colombia. PLEASE LET OTHERS KNOW
We urge our friends and supporters to repost, retweet, resend, republish and otherwise spread this alert to whomever you think might support this effort. If we act quickly and substantially, we hope we can win release for Don Guillermo and the ASTRACATOL 8 just the way we helped win the recent release of fellow ASTRACATOL member Maribel Oviedo.
BELOW IS THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ALERT WE RECEIVED FROM THE LAZOS DE DIGNIDAD FOUNDATION IN COLOMBIA -
GUILLERMO CANO, HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER AND ASTRACATOL LEADER, ARRESTED IN MASS DETENTION OF PEASANTS IN TOLIMA; PUBLIC DENUNCIATION of MASS DETENTION OF PEASANT LEADERS IN TOLIMA; GUILLERMO CANO HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER AND ASTRACATOL LEADER DETAINED
The Lazos de Dignidad Foundation DENOUNCES before the national and international communities the mass detention of eight (8) peasant leaders belonging to the Social and Political Movement Marcha Patriótica in the Departament of Tolima, in accordance with the following:
1. Yesterday, May 9th, 2013, in different small towns of the department of Tolima, by orders of the 2nd Circuit Municipal Tribunal of Purificación (Tolima) the National Army carried out raids and the mass arrest of eight (8) peasant leaders, who were taken by helicopter to the 21st Mobile Military Base, located in La Chica, Prado Municipality- Tolima; during the transfer, the detained were photographed on various occasions, and subsequently at 8:00 pm, were transferred by car to Purificación – Tolima.
2. Among those arrested is Mr. GUILLERMO CANO, Human Rights Coordinator of the Association of Peasant Farm Workers of Tolima (ASTRACATOL) and Executive Board member of FENSUAGRO, and whom during the 28th, 29th, and 30th, participated in the “FORUM ON POLITICAL PARTICIPATION” organized by the UNDP (United Nations Development Program in Colombia) and the National University, where in his capacity as a human rights defender demanded of the Colombian State democratic guarantees and security for the carrying out of his work as a leader.
3. Today, May 10th, the arrested peasant leaders were subjected to combined preliminary hearings concerning the legalization of the raid, capture, accusation, and preventive detention, where the Lazos de Dignidad Foundation legally represented the human rights defender and peasant leader GUILLERMO CANO.
4. It is necessary for us to denounce that these arrests and prosecutions have been brought by the 29th District Attorney’s Office of Purificación (Tolima), which has accused the peasants of being responsible for the crime of Rebellion basing their accusations on the statements of alleged demobilized guerrilla members.