April 27, 2006
Colombia: Temor por la seguridad
Last week I wrote about Jorge Castaneda’s article in Foreign Policy magazine, Latin America’s Left Turn. This article looked at the two types of leftist groups in Latin America. At one point I went off on a diatribe about human rights abuses in Colombia, which still has a rightist government. Apparently I have much more to say on the matter.
In March, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC) killed up to 20 civilians in two separate attacks using gas cylinder bombs. There is a lot of fear that the violence will increase with presidential elections are a month away. Despite promising in the past to abstain from targeting civilians, FARC continues to violate human rights and international humanitarian law.
As some background information to the situation in Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe was elected a couple of years ago because he promise to apply military pressure on the FARC and other criminal groups. The FARC is one of the oldest revolutionary groups caught in a civil war with the country for the past 40 years. FARC has historically identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist organization. Though, this form of thinking gave way in the 1970s among other Latin American movements.
The group has always claimed to represent the rural poor in the countryside and continues to oppose influence and interference from the U.S., privatization of natural resources and multinational corporations. The FARC has managed to grab power in Colombia through an armed struggle. They control about 40% of the countryside.
The group sustains itself through extortion, kidnapping and drug trafficking. It received support in the past from the IRA with kidnapping techniques and arms trafficking. I remember in the 1980s sometimes seeing Irishmen walking the streets of Cali and Bogota at odd hours–never a worry of being kidnapped.
A lot of critics of the current Colombian government argue that even though security has improved somewhat in the major cities (homocide rate is down), the strategies used by Uribe are not enough to end the civil war. I don't think problems can be solved long-term with brute force. What it does instead is perpetuate human rights abuses.
Last month Amnesty's Urgent Action Network posted a petition to protect the social activists and trade unionists in Santander from violent attacks. This is a beautiful province on the northeast side of the country. I spent some summers there on my uncle's farm as a child. I remember a couple of times groups of men would come to the house and lock themselves in the backroom. What for–I wasn't sure. Once the door was left ajar, I went inside, picked up a handgun that was on the table and pointed it at my brother. I almost had my arm broken when my uncle went to grab the gun. He lost the farm a few years later to the paramilitary. It was years later that I figured out who those men were. In order to keep from being forced off their land, civilians would pay off corrupt security forces who were in collusion with the paramilitary and drug traffickers.
I digress….Colombia is a beautiful country that has seen too much violence. Here is a copy of the petition has circulated and an open letter to the presidential candidates to commit to signing an agreement with the guerilla groups calling for the protection of civilians. As well as last month's report on the FARC from Human Rights Watch.
"These massacres appear timed to spread terror before the elections and undermine the democratic process. By continuing to commit atrocities, the FARC has once again displayed a complete disregard for the lives and well-being of the people it claims to represent." – José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW.
I hope more people will be encouraged to be a voice for those who can't speak for themselves.