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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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?
shrugged his shoulders.
had the army never confronted the paramilitary squads? No answer.
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.
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?
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.
Are you spending as much energy protecting people from the paramilitary as you
are spending protecting people from the FARC?
You can see we have pursued them, we have captured them.
Have you visited the people in San Jose and Turbo?
you received their testimony?
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.
But the people in Turbo said they want to go back to Choco and they want
It is physically impossible to guarantee them complete safety. Choco includes
hundreds of square miles.
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?
No. But they could have rented them. We have no proof.
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.
delegation departed after viewing photos of elderly couples dancing which were
presented to us by the human rights officer.
video camera panned all of the delegates as we approached our vehicle.
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.
the jungles of Uraba we flew to the cool Andean heights of Bogota.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Bonpane, Ph.D., Director
of the Americas 8124 West Third Street Suite 202 Los Angeles, California 90048
213/852-9808 FAX 213/852-0655 EMAIL [email protected]
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!