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COLOMBIA
Campesino groups attacked
Terrorized by the Colombian army

November 18, 2005 | Page 10

PABLO SERRANO reports from Colombia on the military's reign of terror against communities of campesinos in the countryside.

RURAL WORKERS in northeastern Antioquia in Colombia are finding themselves victims of Colombian military units that function simultaneously as paramilitaries, according to campesinos.

"Here in the region, we are living the severe violence of the military and the paramilitaries," stated one campesino, who did not wish to give his name. "At the moment, we are being harassed by the Demolisher Platoon No.1, Battalion Calibio of the 14th Brigade, which is under the command of Sgts. Setina and Blanquiceth. The battalion presents itself as official military, and then the next minute, they change their armbands and are the paramilitaries. Lately, they have been detaining, intimidating, torturing and assassinating local campesinos and community leaders. "

On August 7, the same Battalion Calibio assassinated a community leader, Luis Sigifredo Castaño. As a member of the community remembers him, "We had known him for over 15 years. He was part of CAHUCOPANA, a new campesino human rights organization. Sigifredo was not an insurgent as the military accused."

According to a local campesino association, the Peasants Association of the Rio Cimitarra Valley (ACVC), "[Sigifredo] was found dressed in camouflage, even though everyone in the region knew he was a campesino and was disabled." The Colombian military has used the tactic of killing campesinos, dressing them in camouflage, and denouncing them as leftist insurgents.

As a member of Sigifredo's family described it, "The Battalion Calibio came to the house at six in the morning, they grabbed him, tied him up and demanded to know where the guerrilla camps were. But he knew nothing of the sort. He was in shorts, a T-shirt and some rubber boots when they took him. At 8 in the morning, about 100 meters from the house, we heard machine-gun fire. When the military left at 4 p.m., we saw them taking his dead body dressed in camouflage."

People who live in the area say that members of the Battalion Calibio not only work with, but operate with the paramilitaries.

This isn't the first accusation of this sort. A report issued in early 2005 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared that human rights violations in Colombia continued to be "attributed to the direct action of public servants, particularly members of the security forces." In a later report, the commission expressed "serious concern at reports of cases of support, collusion or complicity on the part of state agents with paramilitary groups."

Despite many years of international and national pressure, the Colombian government continues to use the military and paramilitary "death squads" as the main weapons against the civilian population and political opposition.

The two forces work hand in hand. Recently, on October 23, the head of Colombia's secret police, Jorge Noguera, resigned after the discovery of tapes discussing the agency's alleged plans to give intelligence information to the paramilitaries. The paramilitaries have boasted many times that they control more than 35 percent of the Colombian congress.

Recently, the 40-year-old Colombian civil war has been exacerbated by increasing military aid from the U.S. Since 1999, when Plan Colombia was signed, more than $4 billion has been funneled to the police and military of Colombia--making Colombia the largest recipient of U.S. military aid outside the Middle East.

Meanwhile, human rights abuses by government forces and their paramilitary allies have increased significantly. One effect has been to force millions of campesinos to flee to the cities. "What are we going to do in the cities?" said one campesino. "We don't have any money, we don't have a place to stay, and there are no jobs."

Campesino leaders in the region estimate that since Sigifredo's murder, more than 100 families have been forcibly displaced by the military and paramilitary repression. Nationwide, there are more than 3 million people who are internally displaced, with the number increasing by nearly 40 percent in 2004 alone.

In response, campesinos in northeastern Antioquia have created social organizations, such as the ACVC and CAHUCOPANA, to protect their rights and to create socio-economic projects to help the people of the region. These groups have set up projects dealing with housing, food, education, health, documentation of human rights violations, and protection of their communities.

Since their creation, however, both organizations have been attacked by the government and the paramilitaries.

As one leader of the ACVC said in an interview, "To the citizens and social organizations of the United States, we ask that you stand in solidarity with the Colombian campesino. Military, economic, and political intervention by your government has been devastating to our people. Your neoliberal economy does nothing but take from the mouth of our children. Your helicopters, weapons and troops support an oppressive violent government."

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