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,


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The "War on Drugs"

Dear friends,

The helicopter swooped by a couple hundred yards away, just above the trees, as we were traveling to the community of Malvinas on June 12. We stopped at a house alongside the road and heard more helicopters. We then saw the two planes that were spraying herbicide in the U.S.-financed “war on drugs.”

One of the planes flew directly overhead - in the photo you can see the tubing attached to the wing that is used for the fumigation. The plane was escorted by two helicopters which each had machine guns pointing out of both doors.

Peasant and human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced that the fumigations damage food crops and human health. On June 25 and 26, I traveled with representatives of the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation to visit farms that had been fumigated in the municipality of Arauquita.

Luis Alfonso and Amilia have four children and live in a small, dirt-floored, house alongside their field of corn and yuca. They don’t have any coca (the raw material used to manufacture cocaine) but their farm was still fumigated on June 10. The plants have withered and will not produce any harvest (see attached photo). Luis Alfonso borrowed money to plant the crops, and now he won’t be able to pay that money back nor does he know how he’ll be able to provide for the family.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) detected approximately 6,700 acres of coca here in the state of Arauca in 2001 (the peak year, according to their figures). Between 2003 and 2007, nearly 60,000 acres were fumigated in the state during five rounds of spraying. The amount of coca detected by the UNODC in Arauca at the end of 2007 was 5,300 acres – the largest amount since 2001.

While the policy of massive aerial fumigation has failed to reduce coca cultivation in Colombia, it has generated substantial income for several U.S. corporations:

1. DynCorp, a corporation of retired soldiers and soldiers-for-hire, has the State Department contract for drug eradication and interdiction in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Pakistan – with the primary focus being the aerial fumigations in Colombia. DynCorp receives $174 million per year for that contract.

2. United Technologies manufactures Black Hawk helicopters and received $234 million for the eighteen Black Hawks given to Colombia as part of Plan Colombia - a huge increase in U.S. military aid pushed through Congress by Bill Clinton in 2000 using the justification of the “war on drugs.”

3. Textron manufactures Huey helicopters and received $81 million for the forty two Hueys given to Colombia as part of Plan Colombia.

4. Monsanto manufactures the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) that has been used to fumigate more than 2.5 million acres in Colombia during the last eight years.

According to peasant and human rights organizations in Arauca, the fumigations also benefit the oil corporations by causing people to abandon the rural areas where oil exploration is occurring. Occidental Petroleum (a U.S. corporation), Repsol (a Spanish corporation), and Ecopetrol (a corporation primarily owned by the Colombian government) are currently exploring several new oilfields in Arauca.

The peasant organizations in Arauca are calling on the government to halt the fumigations. The peasants have expressed their willingness to manually eradicate the coca in exchange for assistance with alternative crops and marketing that would enable them to provide for their families. In the last two weeks, some of the peasants have already started eradicating even though the government has not agreed to the proposal.

In love and solidarity,