Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Guerrilla killed in combat"


Dear friends,


Aicardo Ortiz was shot to death inside his home by members of the Calibio Battalion at approximately 5:30 A.M. on July 8. Aicardo was 58 years old and suffered health problems. The army reported him as a guerrilla who had been killed in combat.

I was visiting the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in the city of Barrancabermeja that week and we were asked by the Cimitarra River Valley Peasant Association to accompany a mission to Aicardo’s house on July 10. The mission included a representative of the presidential human rights office, five investigators from the prosecutor’s office, and two non-governmental human rights lawyers.


Aicardo lived in a ten foot by ten foot wood structure above a small corral a few miles from the community of San Francisco. The investigators spent more than three hours analyzing the scene and then some of us were allowed to enter the house. When I got to the doorway, I saw the large stain on the floor (two photos of Aicardo’s house are attached, although you may prefer not to view the second image of the inside of the house).


When members of the community arrived at the house after the killing, Aicardo’s body was laying on the ground outside. Either Aicardo had somehow been able to get off the floor and make his way down the steps after losing so much blood, or his body had been moved from the house.


Initially, there were also a two-way radio, grenade and revolver by the body. Similar items have been planted by soldiers in previous cases of what are called here “extrajudicial executions” or “false positives.” In this case, the radio was later removed by one of the soldiers, and the grenade was removed and detonated allegedly for safety concerns.


The Calibio Battalion is utilizing four informants from San Francisco who apparently told the soldiers there were three guerrillas in Aicardo’s house. When Aicardo didn’t open the door for the soldiers that morning, they forced it open and shot him.


When we returned to San Francisco, Lieutenant Florez had a brief and very tense meeting with the community. He had been in charge of the operation on July 8, and he stated that everything was done legally and there had been an exchange of gunfire.


Two days later, Wilson Ramirez (commander of the Calibio Battalion) was quoted in the Vanguardia Liberal newspaper as stating “the troops reported an armed confrontation, but it appears that never existed.” In relation to the supposed guerrillas in the house, he was quoted “I have information that there were not those guerrillas in the house.”


The president has put pressure on the military to “show results” and national and international human rights organizations have repeatedly expressed concern about extrajudicial executions in Colombia.


“The international accompaniment (of the mission) was very valuable and it encourages people to speak out” said Carlos, regional coordinator of the peasant association. “The people feel strong and protected, and we’d like to have continuous accompaniment” added Evaristo, another leader of the association.


In love and solidarity,


Scott

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