This is not the first time that Colombian human rights defenders have received a wave of e-mail threats from people claiming to be re-armed paramilitaries. This time, however, the threats that several individuals and organizations received late last week have come after a series of murders.
Most of the labor and human-rights activists killed during the past month were organizers of the March 6 protests on behalf of the victims of state and paramilitary violence. Even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Bogotá, which has said little publicly for months, issued a statement last week expressing concern.
Iván Cepeda, a leader of Colombia’s National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, explained the worsening situation in his regular column in the Colombian weekly El Espectador. Cepeda calls for the resignation of José Obdulio Gaviria, a controversial advisor to President Uribe, who may have green-lighted some of the violent retribution when he smeared the March 6 mobilizations as an event organized by the FARC.
Here is a translation (with a few edits) of Iván Cepeda’s column lifted from the website of Britain’s Colombia Solidarity Campaign.
The dismissal of José Obdulio Gaviria
Iván Cepeda Castro
El Espectador 14 March 2008
In the next few days, with those individuals and organisations who would like to add their names, I will lodge the following petition.
Señor President of the Republic, the below signed citizens and organisations, in use of our constitutional right to address the authorities with respectful petitions, request the dismissal of your advisor José Obdulio Gaviria.
As you know, on March 6 hundreds of thousands of people participated in events in 102 cities in Colombia and around the world in solidarity with the victims of the paramilitaries and state crimes. By means of a public communiqué, the Government pointed out that it did not support this demonstration, but offered guarantees for the programmed events to take place. Nevertheless, Mr. Gaviria made public declarations that affirmed that neither you nor he would participate in a march “convened by the FARC.” In spite of the March 6 organizers’ request that these slanderous assertions be officially withdrawn, no government spokesperson did so.
This situation generated an atmosphere of increasing insecurity. On February 11, 2008, the day after Gaviria’s declaration, a pronouncement was made by the [paramilitary] Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia that also affirmed that the march was instigated by the guerrillas. Then, on February 13, threats started against organizations promoting a day of action in Nariño. On February 28, individuals shot at the apartment of Adriana González, a march organizer in Pereira.
Four trade union leaders have been assassinated in the week after the 6 March protests. Carlos Burbano, vice-president of the National Hospitalworkers Union was disappeared on 9 March in San Vicente del Caguán. He had led the local March 6 demonstration. His corpse was found at the municipal rubbish dump with his face disfigured by acid. In Caquetá the preparations for March 6 were frustrated when General Oscar Naranjo affirmed that a FARC leaflet calling for department-wide participation in the demonstrations had been found.
General Naranjo did not mention that the actual demonstration organizers had denounced parallel calls by armed groups. Women from Caquetá who were going to take in a national march of displaced people decided not to come because of the fear spread by the official announcement. Libardo Pedrozo, one of the organizers of the displaced people’s march, was threatened. On March 12, threats were made against 28 human rights defenders and several social organizations. These were signed by the group called the ‘Black Eagles’ that announced it “will be implacable” against the March 6 conveners.
All these circumstances demonstrate the continuity of the sinister actions of paramilitary structures and those who carry out state crimes. Their violent reaction owes to the massive citizens’ repudiation they received on March 6. But the government too has responsibility for this situation. The declarations made by José Obdulio Gaviria generated a propitious atmosphere for violence that has cost the lives of four trade unionists. We will initiate legal proceedings against him. Further, we ask you Mr President, to dismiss him: the initiation of violence is a serious crime.
Assassinated Trade Unionists in the week of 6 March
Carmen Cecilia Carvajal, teacher. Killed 4 March, in Ocaña, Norte de Santander.
Leonidas Gómez Rozo, member of the bankworkers union, Unión Nacional de Empleados Bancarios (Uneb), president of the CITY-BANK Branco. Killed on 5 March, in Bogotá.
Gildardo Gómez Alzate, teacher and activist of the Asociación de Institutores de Antioquia (Adida). Killed 7 March, in Medellín.
Carlos Burbano, vice-president of the Hospitalworkers Union, Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Hospitalarios. Killed 11 March, San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá.
Here is the (rather unhinged) text of one of the threats received by dozens of human-rights defenders.
RE-ARMED BLACK EAGLES
FIRST VIRTUAL COMMUNIQUÉ – ARMED STRUGGLE PHASE A
MARCH 12, 2008
By virtue of what we have called our rejuvenated organization and the new direction of our armed struggle, we allow ourselves to inform of our serious intentions to openly declare that many Colombians who share our ideals have required, in all the national territory, many compatriots’ daily desire is for a TOTAL REARMAMENT OF PARAMILITARY FORCES, who defend private property and the collective interests of thousands of Colombians. It was a great error to promote a demobilization process that brought us to the brink of the disaster we are confronting, THE POLITICAL RECOGNITION FOR WHICH THE FARC-EP HAS FOUGHT DURING MORE THAN 50 YEARS is evident, and has undermined the honor of many Colombians, WE HAVE BEEN CLEARLY DEFEATED IN THE POLITICAL AND MILITARY FIELD, today the Colombian guerrillas are seeking to sown their ideology in foreign territories, they enjoy international status, and in addition to this they bask in the high support of many Chiefs of State, it is time to generate a change of attitude, which confronts these consequences which are a product of flimsy governments, with no direction or determination, prostrated to U.S. policies and strategies, ALVARO URIBE VELEZ represents submission and self-interest, trickery, irresponsibility and, even worse, A FALSE COMPATRIOT WHO WITH DONATIONS OFFERED IN AN ABSURD DEMOBILIZATION TRIED TO OBTAIN HIS INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION IN ORDER TO PERPETUATE HIMSELF IN POWER.
We loyally believe that paramilitarism has been a method of social and political domination that has its roots in the doctrine of national security and is democratic. It began as an anti-subversive strategy and ended up becoming a model of territorial control, with a convergence of the most backward sectors of the armed forces, political parties and private enterprise.
The State’s abandonment of the effort to protect its monopoly on use of force is extraordinarily dangerous and unforeseen. AGUILAS NEGRAS are not emerging groups but a figure on the national scene, these words were invented by the Minister of Interior and Justice CARLOS OLGUIN SARDI, a conservative bureaucrat who only EXERCISES POLITICAL PRESSURES IN ORDER TO MAINTAIN HIS FAMILY AND CLOSE FRIENDS IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, on the contrary we have continued and re-started our armed struggle with the support and toleration of the State and the citizenry in general, which orient us to act within military parameters and policies defined by those who urge us forward.
Based on these proposals, all those entities, institutions, diplomatic representations and common people who receive this virtual communiqué are declared PHASE A MILITARY OBJECTIVES (MEDIA, NGO’S, EMBASSIES, CONGRESSPEOPLE AND EX-CONGRESSPEOPLE, GENERAL CITIZENRY WHO SUPPORTS AND LOGISTICALLY COLLABORATES WITH THE NARCOGUERRILLAS) which means breaking the back of the FARC-EP’s current military and political structures, in addition to the consequences that these imply, like murders, disappearances and everything that concerns our political and military ideology, which intends to finish off, for once and for all, the help it gets from citizen participation disguised as unconditional support, both armed and political, to these narco-terrorist groups, as our supreme commander calls them, it is time to say COLOMBIA LIVES, if COLOMBIA LIVES IN PEACE.
JAIRO ALONSO HENAO GUTIERREZ COMANDANTE CAMILO
COMANDO CENTRAL AGUILAS NEGRAS EN REARME
ADAM ISACSON is an analyst at the Center for International Policy.