Plan Colombia Bleeds into Neighboring Countries




O

n
February 19, 2004, a public hearing was held in Quito, Ecuador,
organized by more than 100 nonprofit and human rights organizations
to symbolically try the former Ecuadorian ambassador to Argentina.
The hearing, called the Tribunal of Dignity, took place inside a
crowded theater holding a diverse group of attendants: members of
the indigenous community, activists, reporters, NGO professionals,
university professors, students, and concerned citizens. The jury
was made up of prominent national intellectuals. Witnesses called
to testify included: 



  • Pablo
    Ortiz, editor of one of Ecuador’s chief newspapers,

    El
    Comercio

     


  • Mauricio Gándara,
    diplomat and ex-ambassador to England 

  • Kintto Lucas,
    the head editor of a liberal political magazine,

    Tintají

     

  • Joselinda Iza,
    an indigenous leader and regional director for the Women’s
    Crescent Moon Movement 

  • Nora Cortiña,
    the founder of the Mothers of the Disappeared from Plaza de Mayo
    in Argentina 


Only
one chair remained empty: the one meant for the accused, Colonel
Lieutenant Germanico Molina, Ecuadorian ambassador to Argentina.
The event was transmitted live to Ecuador by Radio La Luna and to
the rest of Latin America by the Latin American Educational Radio
Satellite Network (ALER)

.

The alleged crime perpetrated by
Colonel Molina rang fear and caution in the minds of many Ecuadorians,
Argentineans, and other Latin Americans who have lost loved ones
under repressive military governments.

 


President
General Lucio Gutier- rez appointed Molina as ambassador to Argentina
in spite of complaints that Molina lacked diplomatic training or
experience. In mid-February 2004, Molina paid a visit to General
Guillermo Suarez Mason, Argentina’s mastermind behind and leader
of the largest torture camp in Argentina under a military dictatorship
that caused the deaths of over 30,000 people. Serving a life sentence
under home arrest, the 80-year-old general was due to celebrate
his birthday. Molina decided to take Mason on a small excursion
in the trunk of his car, which enjoyed diplomatic immunity. They
drove to a nightclub, socialized with strippers, and chatted jovially
for over four hours before Molina brought Mason home. The next day
the Argentinean president ousted Col. Molina from the country and
recalled Mason to serve the rest of his sentence inside a federal
prison.     


Unfortunately,
Molina’s peculiar friendship abroad is only the latest of several
incidents that indicate Ecuador, once a healthy democracy, is becoming
a dangerous political environment for opposition groups. Many believe
that Molina’s merrymaking with Mason is clear proof of the
kind of networking sought by the president’s officials. Domestic
political assassinations were unheard of a year before President
Gutierrez rose to power. With Gutierrez, an atmosphere of terror
unforeseen in the country has been established only six months into
his presidency. 


On
November 4, 2003, the president of the Amazon Defense Front and
indigenous leader, Angel Shingre, was shot dead in the city of Coca,
Orellana province. It’s believed he was targeted for his 10
years of environmental work and his involvement in the landmark
$1 billion class-action lawsuit by the Amazonian people against
Texaco for illegally polluting their environment. On January 30,
2004, prosecutor Patricio Campana was murdered a day before he was
due to present evidence on corruption allegations against oil company
officials. Prominent reporters from alternative media such as

Tintají

,
Radio La Luna, and other media networks critical of the current
government, also received death threats. 


On
February 1, 2004, an assassination attempt against the president
of the largest indigenous organization in Ecuador, the Confederation
of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), was thwarted by
his family. Leonidas Iza had just returned from Cuba after participating
in an international congress against the Free Trade Area of the
Americas, or ALCA, as it is known in Spanish. Together with his
wife, son, and a nephew, he barely escaped the 13 shots directed
at them in front of CONAIE’s headquarters. His 19-year-old
son was gravely wounded. Gutierrez’s government, however, claimed
these were self-inflicted wounds. The indigenous community has accused
Gutierrez of blatantly refusing to investigate. They see it as clear
evidence of political repression. 


Events
like these are common to Colombia where drug traffickers, paramilitaries,
guerrilla members, and countless innocents blend together, becoming
frequent targets from all sides in the 50-year-old armed conflict.
According to findings in a recent Amnesty International report,
during 2002 more than 4,000 civilians were killed for political
motives; 1,000 people “disappeared”; more than 400,000
were displaced; and at least 2,700 people were abducted—1,500
by armed opposition groups and paramilitaries. Such bloodshed had
long been absent in Ecuador. 


However,
ever since a partnership on “collaborative efforts against
drug trafficking” was signed between Ecuador and Colombia,
there has been an atmosphere of fear and paranoia everywhere. Denoted
as the second stage of Plan Colombia, some of its procedures entail
military action and “campesino training” by the Ecuadorian
government on its border with Colombia, the continuation of coca
crop fumigation regardless of increasing health complaints in the
area, the strengthening of migration laws dealing with Colombian
refugees, and “an increase in the exchange and coordination
of information about people who act above the law and attempt to
cross the frontier common to both countries.” 


A
direct result of this partnership was evidenced on August 24, 2003,
when collaboration between Colombian and Ecuadorian security forces
led to the arrest of Simon Freire, a prominent Colombian guerilla
member, in Quito, Ecuador. According to

Tintají,

Freire
is said to have been in Ecuador to arrange a meeting between the
French government and guerrilla leaders about its possible involvement
in peace talks and the release of a guerrilla hostage, a French
citizen. President Gutierrez denies any collaboration exists between
Ecuadorian and Colombian security forces. Yet, Colombian President
Alvaro Uribe publicly congratulated the Ecuadorian national police
for its efforts. Moreover, director of public relations at the U.S.
Embassy Marti Stell was quoted in

Tintají

as acknowledging
that Freire’s detention was “an exemplary act of cooperation
between the Colombian and Ecuadorian police, a conjoined operation
that was carried to perfection. It is a success in the campaign
against regional terrorism.” 


At
the Tribunal of Dignity, Nora Cortiña reminded the public that
Molina’s newfound friend, General Mason, was officially charged
with abducting over 500 children and relocating them among military
families—only one of many tactics used to repress political
opposition. Most importantly, Argentina was not acting alone. The
military dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and
Paraguay were engaged in a concerted campaign with the United States,
between the 1970s and 1980s, to obliterate any leftist, socialist,
or communist “tendencies” in the southern cone of the
continent under a strategy infamously called Plan Condor. This military
strategy would spur masterminds of cruelty, like Pinochet in Chile,
and create a powerful network of oppression where Argentinean political
refugees could be arrested in Uruguay and Uruguayan members of the
resistance could be tortured in Brazil. The exact extent of this
network is not yet known, but its tactics now seem to be applied
in Ecuador and Colombia. 


“To
forget the past and remain quiet,” Cortiña argued, whose
24- year-old son was disappeared in 1977 by Argentinean armed forces,
“is to become an accomplice of these terrible crimes.” 


The
latest assassination attempts, and Molina’s night cruise with
Mason in Argentina, are indicators that Plan Colombia and irregular
methods of repression common to that conflict are bleeding into
neighboring countries. As Joselinda Iza affirms during her testimony
at the tribunal, quoted by the Independent Media Center, “There
is a declared persecution against social movements, the media, and
democratic sectors of this country that oppose its current regime.”



 





Sofia Jarrin-Thomas
is a freelance writer currently residing in Boston. She was a human
rights activist in Colombia for three years and has published opinion
articles in



Dollars & Sense



and the



Boston
Metro