As Predicted: Paramilitary Offensive in Putumayo

Indigenous leader Edilberto Imbachi, writing in the last issue of Colombia Update, spoke of an impending sharp increase in political violence in the department of Putumayo. In late January and early February, his tragic anticipation has become a reality, as a group of some 300 paramilitaries are reported to have killed at least 48 people in a 10-day "orgy of killing." The massacre began with the killing of 25 in Puerto Asis, including the burning of one person in the town square. Reports have come out via peasants fleeing the zone to neighboring Nariuo department. The mayor of Puerto Asis said a right-wing death squad was responsible; the National Police Chief, Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano, said the reports were misinformation spread by "Communist agitators." The Commander of the XXIV Army Brigade (at Santana, in Putumayo) blamed the killings on the guerrillas who operate in the area.

The spread of paramilitary action in southern Colombia, where U.S. assistance programs to the National Police are being carried out allegedly to combat drug-trafficking, and in particular the like responses of Police Chief Serrano and the local Army commander, denying the killings, suggests the acquiescence if not complicity of both the National Police and the Army in the paramilitary offensive. Consequently, events such as the recent massacres in Putumayo raise serious questions as to the extent to which U.S. aid is being used to violate human rights, not to combat drugs.

Sources include
Los Angeles Times, Feb. 12, 1998
Houston Chronicle Feb. 11, 1998
El Espectador, Feb. 12, 1998.