Delegation to Colombia


Blasé Bonpane

What

does Medellin mean to a U.S. citizen? Narco-terrorists, sicarios (hired

assassins) and drug lords. It is actually a beautiful and mountainous city

located at many altitudes, all of them comfortable.

Colombians

may joke about sacred things and local humor might identify the Holy Trinity as

the army, the oligarchy and the church. But such shady humor does not apply in

Medellin. Church base communities made up of lively clergy and laity reach out

to the urban delinquents and former addicts.. We sat in a church rectory full of

young delinquents in a process of rehabilitation. There was no moralizing. There

was only a spirited discussion about the establishment of their new bakery.

Monsignor

Hector Fabio Henao Gaviria witnessed a march for peace in Nicaragua some years

ago and decided to attempt a similar peace march and vigil in Medellin. Powers

of the city were doubtful of the success of such a venture and even feared the

program would deteriorate into the violence which has marred Colombia for a half

century. Hundreds of thousands of citizens came out to vigil, to march and to

pray.

In

the wake of this sustained event, Medellin has begun to change. But change is

difficult in the midst of an invasion. The invaders are people from the

countryside who are pouring into Medellin, Bogota and all major urban centers.

Why? There is a war on and they are being ordered off their lands by

paramilitary death-squads.

And

who are the paramilitary? Some 200 entities are identifiable. Some are under the

direction of large land-owners, some are the "protectors" of oil

companies, but most of them are shadow killers who do the dirty work for the

Colombia military. Yes, it is similar to Guatemala and El Salvador where death

squads operated almost exclusively under military direction. To our chagrin we

discovered that the paramilitaries are now part of a legal entity known as

Convivir (to live together). We left Medellin with data from the Andean

Commission of Jurists identifying two percent of Colombia’s violence as drug

related.

We

proceeded to Uraba. Uraba is not a state or a province, it is a jungle region

just south of the border of Panama which includes coastal lands of the Pacific

Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. We were greeted by the Mayor of Apartado, Gloria

Cuartas. It was here we determined that no good deed in Colombia will go

unpunished. Some months ago Gloria prepared a school program on peace. While her

class was in process the paramilitaries slid by the school, grabbed a young

child, cut his head off and threw it into the classroom where she was speaking.

We

were invited to visit a community under paramilitary control. Our guides

recommended that we travel in a church vehicle over the dank, dirt, jungle path

to San Jose. In the torrid humidity, a paramilitary death squad was guarding

access to the community. Our diocesan vehicle was allowed to pass. I saw a

hungry looking couple approach the food storage center with an empty sack. A

brief word was spoken to them and they departed sadly with their empty sack.

Weeks

before our arrival a human rights group including a representative of the United

Nations and a bishop was investigating a massacre in the nearby community of

Vigia Fuerte. The group received a message to be out of the area within twelve

hours or to die. The bishop inquired about the whereabouts of the missing pilot

of a small boat they used for travel. The paramilitary leader said, "We

have just killed him". The human rights group was told they were

interfering with the paramilitary’s right to kill.

There

is a social center in San Jose. It is staffed by Doctors of the World and other

most welcome "internationals" who come to share their lives with the

oppressed. One of the women volunteers witnessed the brutalization of a peasant

by the paramilitary and said, "Why don’t you kill me instead?" The

peasant was released.

But

where are the guerrillas? They are virtually everywhere. There are over a

thousand municipalities in Colombia, over half of them are under rebel control.

The rebels are of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN

(Army of National Liberation). These forces were created because of the

institutionalized violence of Colombia. The voice of presidential candidate and

revolutionary priest Camilo Torres demanded social justice and human rights for

Colombia’s masses. He was killed in combat in 1966. It would be futile to

romanticize about the moral perfection of the rebel forces. Actually there seems

to be a deterioration of the rebel ethic. While the rebels are not in the drug

business, they do tax growers of food crops and coca.

One

of the most extreme rebel organizations, the EPL (Army of Popular Liberation)

has completely dissolved. Some of its members have been recruited into the

paramilitary death squads. Paramilitary salaries are said to be $300. per month.

Rebel salaries are placed at about $100. per month. The net result of 

these decades of conflict is one million displaced Colombians, a fate second

only to death.

African

Colombians from the Choco were bombed and told by paramilitary forces to leave

their homes immediately. They walked for days and finally were settled in the

sports stadium of Turbo. We spent an afternoon with these sick, tired and hungry

people.

A

second refugee center in Turbo under the direction of the Church, was better

organized and better fed. But everyone wants to return to their beloved Choco.

After

these experiences with refugees, it was time to visit the General in charge of

the Colombian Army in Uraba, Rito Alejo del Rio Rojas. General del Rio welcomed

us at a large staff table. His intelligence officer was present as well as his

human rights officer. The General called in a Special Forces officer and said,

"Look at the uniform worn by the Special Forces, it’s beautifully made of

soft cotton. And look at the coarse material of my uniform. The Special Forces

uniform is made in the United States and mine is made here in Colombia."

We

introduced ourselves and the general began a long and defensive argument about

the role of the Colombia Army. He identified the paramilitary forces as

criminals and delinquents operating on the margin of the law. We said that we

had just driven to the community of San Jose and that the paramilitary were

running the check-point at the entrance of the town. If we could see the

paramilitary, why could the army not see them?

He

shrugged his shoulders.

Why

had the army never confronted the paramilitary squads? No answer.

The

workers in the banana plantations had a major problem, according to the General,

they drank. He made no reference to the fact that they worked from 6:00 AM to

6:00 PM in a heat and humidity of international fame. The massive banana

plantations pay no taxes to the municipality of Apartado. The people, however,

gather some of the rejected produce and boil it into a banana stew.

Question:

But who are the paramilitary? Who runs them? If you know so much about the FARC

why don’t you know so much about the paramilitary?

General:

I believe that here in the book it is very clear. We are speaking about

delinquents financed by the people of the region. They are drug-traffickers.

Question:

Are you spending as much energy protecting people from the paramilitary as you

are spending protecting people from the FARC?

General:

You can see we have pursued them, we have captured them.

Question:

Have you visited the people in San Jose and Turbo?

Have

you received their testimony?

General:

Yes. I visited Rio Sucio. I have spoken to them individually. They are welcome

to come here. Because of the reduction in homicides and massacres, the people

are coming back to Uraba. This includes businessmen.

Question:

But the people in Turbo said they want to go back to Choco and they want

guarantees.

General:

It is physically impossible to guarantee them complete safety. Choco includes

hundreds of square miles.

Question:

We listened to the people of Choco. Planes and helicopters came in and bombed

them. Where did the helicopters come from? Do the paramilitary have helicopters?

General:

No. But they could have rented them. We have no proof.

In

those operations, however, some of the helicopters were damaged, pilots were

injured, soldiers were killed and injured. Remember the FARC killed some people

they had kidnapped.

Our

delegation departed after viewing photos of elderly couples dancing which were

presented to us by the human rights officer.

A

video camera panned all of the delegates as we approached our vehicle.

Back

to the airport at Apartado on our way to Bogota. The military guards at the

airport were into an endless stare as we awaited our Otter aircraft. It is hard

to be pleasant with people who can take your life with impunity.

From

the jungles of Uraba we flew to the cool Andean heights of Bogota.

Our

first meeting was at the Colombian equivalent of the Pentagon. The guards

subjected us to search after search prior to our admission to this sacred

sentinel. Our passports were taken and we were told to proceed to the office of

Mery Lucia Garcia Parra, the advisor on human rights in the National Defense

Ministry.

Mery

Lucia made it clear that her office is not an investigative agency. They simply

receive reports and channel them to the appropriate offices. She repeated

General Rito’s position regarding the paramilitary as extra legal criminals and

the enemy of the Colombian Army. The presentation of a military "line"

became so clear. It is hard to find a Colombian intellectual or private agency

that accepts the line. But what else is new? As U.S. citizens we had been

victims of equally irrational military propaganda for ten years in Indo-China,

to say nothing about the gibberish slobbered on us during the rape of Central

America, the psychotic war in Grenada, the bombing of Panama and the holocaust

in Iraq.

The

military clique is a closed cult. They create their mythology, share it

internationally and then apparently begin to believe it. Just as Jim Jones or

David Koresh, the military cult leader’s word is sacred. Disbelief is treason.

Critical thinking is the enemy. The cult leader is generally an opportunist.

The

drill of the Colombian military is clear.

  

a. The civil war in Colombia is a drug war.

  

b. The United States will give us billions of dollars if we claim to be fighting

drugs, just as they gave billions to dictatorships which claimed they were

fighting communism. Therefore the political rebels are actually narco-guerrillas.

  

c. To maintain our international reputation as a legitimate military we will

support a paramilitary apparatus for all dirty war activities. We will identify

our paramilitary death squads as the enemy and disclaim any relationship to

them.

 

The

relationship between the military and the death squads of Guatemala and El

Salvador was absolute and so is the relationship between the military and the

paramilitary of Colombia.

Now

we can understand how the Generals, the Ministry of Defense and Governmental

Human Rights Offices unanimously claim that international and national

Non-Governmental Organizations are "guerrilla sympathizers". Such

claims are both insulting and threatening. Similar charges are made against any

Colombian officials who attempt to identify the charade of the Official Story.

In

the midst of the bloodshed which is Colombia, there is a domestic and functional

answer. It is the program of the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity), an alternative

political party. People of all classes are impressed with the goals and

objectives of this party. There is just one difficulty. Anyone who stands up to

organize or lead the Unidad Polular is killed. Thousands of party leaders have

been brutally assassinated. This is the perplexity of the hermit kingdom which

is Colombia. It is a nation which has never encouraged immigration. It has

isolated itself in a liberal-conservative pendulum swing between co-existing

oligarchs and feudal land barons. The drug lords are at home with and fully

integrated with this crowd.

Does

this mean that the FARC and the ELN have the answer for Colombia? I do not think

so. We cannot ignore the fact that their ideology has focused on the needs of

the poor and the oppressed. But together with the military they have helped to

create a population of one-million displaced Colombians.

Personally

I think the answer to the conflict lies in the proven potential of the United

Nations. This international body can be proud of its achievements in Nicaragua,

El Salvador and Guatemala.

In

Bogota we had a lengthy meeting with Almudena Mazarrasa Alvear, the director of

the Office of the High Commission of the United Nations for Human rights in

Colombia and her assistant, Javier Hernandez Valencia. It is her opinion and

ours that President Clinton has the ability to promote a United Nations

Negotiating Team for peace accords in Colombia.

The

current policy of the United States is to promote victory for the status quo in

Colombia. This means that a war which is now fifty years old will be one hundred

years old in 2047. Such a war will undoubtedly lead to the purchase of a great

deal of military hardware. It seems to me, however, that a political economy of

peace and distributive justice would be better for everyone.

For

Colombian documentation of the absolute relationship between pararmilitary death

squads and the Colombian Military, I recommend: Colombia, the Genocidal

Democracy by Javier Giraldo, S.J., Common Courage Press, 1996.

Our

current military aid to Colombia, which is well over a billion dollars in recent

years, is simply adding fuel to the fires of war and confirming the cult of

Colombian militarism.

 

Blase

Bonpane, Ph.D., Director

Office

of the Americas 8124 West Third Street Suite 202 Los Angeles, California 90048    

213/852-9808    FAX 213/852-0655  EMAIL  [email protected]

For

an excellent bibliography on Colombia contact the web site of the Colombia

Support Network http://www.igc.apc.org/csn/lit.html. The General in Colombia

has ordered this site to be closed. It remains open!

 

 

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