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July 13th marked the third anniversary of the US military aid package known as “Plan Colombia” and consequently, the fatal impact it has had on human rights. Three years ago the US Congress voted to send 1.3 billion dollars to Colombia in order to fight the “war on drugs”.
An amendment to U.S. law currently prohibits military aid to units linked to human rights abuses. Although violations officially attributed to the Colombian military have decreased, the Human Rights Watch and State Department Reports establish the collusion and collaboration between the military and paramilitary forces.
With military support, the paramilitaries have begun operating as surrogate death squads and thugs. A United Nations report confirmed this trend, stating that “Members of the military participated in massacres, organized paramilitary groups, and spread death threats. The security forces also failed to take action, and this undoubtedly enabled the paramilitary groups to achieve their exterminating objectives.”
Many of the Colombian officers cited in the reports graduated from the School of the Americas (SOA) – a US military training institution for Latin American soldiers – and certainly the strategy of using paramilitary groups for the military’s dirty work is nothing new for SOA students.
Roberto D’Aubuisson established the Death Squads that were responsible for much of the violence in El Salvador in the 1980’s, and Benedicto Lucas Garcia masterminded the creation of the Civil Defense Patrols in Guatemala. Mexico’s Jose Ruben Rivas Pena, who took the SOA’s elite Command and Staff Course, called for the “training and support for self-defense forces or other paramilitary organizations in Chiapas.”
The 1998 State Department Human Rights Report describes the case against SOA graduate Gen. Yanine Diaz from Colombia, who “was accused of implementing a strategy to have paramilitary groups carry out counter guerrilla activities that the army was prohibited from doing. Despite the Government’s attempts to bring him to justice in the civilian court system, the military prevailed, continuing the tradition of impunity for all but the lowest-ranking members of the security forces.”
The Human Rights Watch Report cited SOA grads Maj. Jesus Maria Clavijo Clavijo and Maj. Alvaro Cortes Morillo for their links to paramilitary groups through cell phone and beeper communications and regular meetings on military bases. In sworn testimony, a former Fourth Brigade solider implicated Clavijo in the paramilitary killings in February 1999 and in “legalizing” corpses delivered by paramilitaries for bounty. The witness told investigators that “everywhere Clavijo went, there were disappearances, murders, and wherever he was there was always a flood of reports of abuses.”
Human Rights Watch cited another SOA graduate, Brig. Gen. Jaime Ernesto Canal Alban, Commander of the Third Brigade for setting up a “paramilitary” force in southern Colombia in 1999 and providing it with weapons and intelligence.
SOA grad Gen. Carlos Ospina Ovalle commanded the Fourth Brigade at a time when there was “extensive evidence of pervasive ties” between the Fourth Brigade and paramilitary groups involved in human rights abuses, including evidence of continued illegal activity throughout 1998 and 1999. While under the command of Ospina Ovalle, the Fourth Brigade – along with paramilitary groups — is also implicated in the 1997 massacre in El Aro.
“We know the names of the generals and the high-ranking officers implicated in these killings, and nothing has been done,” said Luis Eduardo Guerra, a Colombian peace activist whose community has repeatedly been targeted by paramilitaries. “We know that the officers who trained the paramilitaries were trained at the School of the Americas.”
School of America’s Watch can be reached through their excellent website.