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Colombia: Killings double under USbacked president


Torture and killings have doubled under US-backed president

The United States plays a primary role in the massive violation of human rights in eastern Colombia, says Colombian human rights advocate Yenly Méndez. In the Department of Arauca, killings and torture have doubled under the current US backed president Alvaro Uribe. US oil company denounced for finanzing judicial frame ups against community leaders.

08.06.2004 (ANNCOL) In the Colombian department of Arauca, the Prosecutor's Office has been militarized. From offices inside the barracks of the Army's XVIII Brigade it prosecutes cases against social leaders.

Human rights worker Yenly Méndez denounces that US-based transnational oil company Oxy and the Spanish REPSOL finance the Prosecutor's Office, which uses judicial frame ups to evict indigenous groups and peasants from this oil rich region.

Humanidad Vigente is a team of Colombian Human Rights advocates who accompany social groups and victims of human rights violations. The group provides legal advice, human rights training and organizational support as a contribution to the construction of a democratic society with full respect of human rights.

Yenly Angélica Méndez is a member of the Humanidad Vigente team. ANNCOL spoke to her about the humanitarian crisis in the Arauca department.

ANNCOL: What is going on today in the Arauca department?

Méndez: For the inhabitants of Arauca, the human rights situation has become more critical due to the choice of Arauca as a ”laboratory” for the so called ”Democratic Security” policy of the current Colombian administration.

- As in the rest of the country, this has meant the strengthening of the Armed Forces through the direct intervention of the government of the United States. At the end of 2002, during a visit to Arauca, the ambassador of the United States announced the donation of 98 million dollars to the XVIII Brigade, to be used for the protection of the Caño Limón oil pipeline. Also, more than 60 US Marines are in Arauca, training the troops.

- Since the start of the present administration human rights violations in Arauca have risen about 100 per cent. The primary victims have been the social movements, who at the moment have more than 10 leaders jailed, primarily those with a record of uncompromising and dedicated protest against human rights violations, and of promoting a model of alternative development in face of the lack of government policies and initiatives of this kind.

- Without the leaders, who were imprisoned massively in November 2002, August 2003 and February 2004, the voice of the victims is being throttled, and the way has been paved for the increase in human rights violations and rise in judicial impunity, thus accomplishing the purpose of these arrests.

ANNCOL: Which paramilitary groups operate in this part of Colombia?

Méndez: In Arauca the paramilitary strategy has revealed several incursions and attempts to consolidate positions, but the decisive action that the community has mobilized has impeded their gaining a solid position, through acts of repudiation and especially of denouncement of their crimes and of the military sponsorship of their actions.

- In 1998 Army troops masquerading as paramilitaries made incursions in the outskirts of San Ignacio and la Cachama in Tame. They assassinated several people, including a pregnant woman. The military participation was successfully proved in court, including that of at least one officer.

- Also in 1998, at the time when the paramilitaries were legalizing themselves through the so called Private Security Cooperatives known as Convivir, one of these was established Arauca, and during two months of operation about 100 people were assassinated, most of them members of the Patriotic Union political party and socially marginalized people.

- In the face of this, the community mobilized massively, the crimes were denounced and the misleading nature of Convivir was successfully established: it's paramilitary character and the participation of government security agencies in it's actions.

- Currently Arauca is the laboratory of the ”Democratic Security” policy, as President Uribe himself stated at the beginning of his term, and one the results has been the consolidation of paramilitarism in Tame, one of Arauca's seven municipalities. In a report on this part of the country, Amnesty International recently confirmed that this consolidation has taken place.

ANNCOL: Are soldiers of the United States involved in human rights violations?

Méndez: The United States plays a primary role in the violation of human rights in Arauca, principally because they promote and finance the policy of ”Democratic Security” and because, as I've already said, they give large amounts of aid to the XVIII Brigade in Arauca, despite the prohibition against giving aid to military units who are involved in human rights violations. This Brigade is involved in many human rights violations and this aid is used to continue them.

- Additionally, US troops are stationed in Arauca, to train the Colombian troops. The civil population and the social movements of Arauca suffer the results of this training daily.

- But the clearest case of US responsibility in human rights violations is the bombardment of the village of Santo Domingo in Tame in December 1998, when a United States airplane operated by the euphemistically named US ”private contractors”, provide the tactical intelligence for the Colombian Air Force helicopters who were bombing the village, killing 17 people, including 9 children.

ANNCOL: What role do the foreign oil companies play?

Méndez: Oxy has been exploiting the Caño Limón oil field for 20 years, causing a grave deterioation of the environment. The Lipa lake has been completely degraded, and the Guahiba Indian community who had their sanctuary at his lake had to abandon it. At the same time the safe guarding of this oil resource for the sake of this company, ahead of dignity of the lives of the inhabitants of Arauca, is the cause of the assault on this region.

The Spanish corporation Repsol has also appeared in Arauca, and is drilling a new oil field known as Capachos, located in Tame - the municipality where the paramilitaries are currently consolidating a foot hold. Money from this company, and also from Oxy, partly finances the Prosecutor for Support Infrastructure, an agency created as part of the ”Democratic Security” policy, and which means nothing else but the militarization of the Prosecutorís Office.

Through this office, located inside the barracks of the XVII Brigade, the cases against the social leaders are prosecuted, based on testimony from reinserted former guerillas, who give ”useful information against the guerillas” in exchange for economic and judicial benefits.

Given this situation, the impartiality and the independence of the Prosecutor's Office is zero, which allows us to say that these cases are nothing more than judicial frame ups aimed at stopping the denouncing of human rights violations and the naming of those responsible.

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