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Vol. 72/No. 45      November 17, 2008

Colombian army units executed civilians
(front page)
Gen. Mario Montoya, commander of Colombia’s army, resigned November 4 in response to public outrage over executions of civilians reported by the military as combat deaths. A week earlier the government of President Alvaro Uribe had fired 27 army officers, including three generals and 11 colonels.

The firings came days after the Colombian government was forced to conduct an investigation after CNN aired a video of a riot cop firing an assault rifle at indigenous protesters.

Defense Minister Juan Santos recently acknowledged that some officers were pressing soldiers for more bodies, reported Reuters.

“The killing is engendered by his [Uribe’s] policies,” Luis Evelis Andrade, leader of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) told the Militant by phone. “They have not dismantled the offer of rewards [for combat kills]. They have not dismantled their policy of promoting officers according to the number of supposed guerrillas they kill.”

The widespread killing and intimidation of workers and peasants by the army came more into public view after the discovery in late September of bodies of at least 11 young men who had disappeared from a working-class suburb of Bogotá earlier this year. The incident became widely known, forcing the Uribe government to conduct an investigation.

According to families of the victims, the unemployed men from Soacha were lured by promises of farm work in the north. There they were found shot to death, registered by the military as guerrilla fighters killed in combat.

One of the victims was 19-year-old construction worker Julian Oviedo. He was killed March 3, one day after leaving home for a job. “The official explanation is absurd,” his mother Blanca Monroy told the International Herald Tribune. “He was here just a day earlier living a normal life.”

“The disappearances and assassinations are nothing new and it’s not just in Soacha,” Apecides Alviz, president of the Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC), told the Militant in a phone interview from Bogotá. “In other regions they also kill people and then say they were guerrillas. This has also happened to unionists in the CTC.” So far this year 46 unionists have been murdered, Alviz said. Last year there were 39.

The International Observation Mission, an organization representing about 100 human rights groups, told Agence France-Presse that some 1,000 similar disappearances were reported at a congressional debate three years ago. Currently, more than 1,000 cases of civilian murders by soldiers and cops are under investigation by the Bogotá attorney general’s office.

Summary executions by military personnel in Colombia increased following President Uribe’s pact with right-wing militias in 2003 as part of a stepped-up military offensive aimed primarily at the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

According to Amnesty International, army soldiers carried out 330 recorded “extrajudicial executions” last year; 300 more were done by right-wing paramilitaries. In most cases the murderers tried to pass the victims off as guerrillas killed in combat.

Washington provides the Uribe government, its closest ally in Latin America, more than $500 million a year. U.S.-financed military units carried out about half of the reported executions.

The recent murders of young workers have come to light amid mounting antigovernment protests by the country’s indigenous people for land and basic social services. CNN obtained footage taken by a protester October 23 that shows a riot cop firing an M-16 assault rifle at a demonstration.

“The capitalist system our government imported from the United States is a failure. This world is bankrupt,” Aida Quilcue, a protest leader, told CNN. “This shouldn’t just be a fight by Indians, but by everyone in Colombia and across the world who rejects this deadly capitalist model.”

The Colombian government had denied all accusations that soldiers were firing live rounds, wounding and killing demonstrators. After CNN aired the footage, the government was forced to retract its claim and pledged to investigate.

One person was killed and some 100 injured on the day of the filmed incident, ONIC leader Luis Andrade said. Several more have been killed and many more injured since mass protests erupted October 10.

The Uribe government has responded to growing militancy among the indigenous people with military repression. “In the six years since Uribe came to power, 1,246 indigenous people have been murdered,” Andrade said.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 indigenous people marched for four days from Cauca to Cali to demand land the state had promised them. President Uribe was to meet with indigenous leaders. But he showed up three hours late and protest leaders refused to talk to him. Uribe attempted to address the crowd, but demonstrators ignored him.

Some 19,000 sugar cane cutters on strike since September 15 in Colombia’s Cauca River Valley have also been targets of recent government repression. Uribe has accused their union, the Colombian Sugar Cane Growers Association, of connections to the FARC to justify its antiunion assault.
Related articles:
End U.S. military aid to Colombia  
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