Over the past year, paramilitary forces have expanded their operations notably not only in Putumayo, in the Colombian Amazon, the departments of Cauca and Nariño. On February 1, 2001, in Bogotá, several prominent Colombian human rights organizations signed on to an SOS Campaign on behalf of the social organizations and communities of these this southwestern region. The dramatic escalation of paramilitary threats against the social organizations in these two departments is an integral part of the paramilitary strategy in the region.
The origins of the paramilitary terror in the departments of Cauca and Nariño date back to the November 1999 mass mobilizations of over 40,000 residents of the southwestern departments of Cauca and Nariño. A multitude of social, unionist, peasant, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian organizations took part in a 26-day blockade of the Pan American highway in an effort to convince the Colombian government to take concrete actions to solve the grave social problems of poverty and to remedy its neglect of the region.
Because of the magnitude of the movement, the government was forced to negotiate with the protesters, and signed an agreement not only to address the socio-economic demands of the people but also to guarantee the security of the population as they work towards these objectives.
During the nonviolent protest, though, various government officials, including former Interior Minister Néstor Humberto Martínez, had publicly declared that the social mobilization had been promoted by the guerrillas, and that the top leadership of these organizations were infiltrated by members of the armed insurgency. The obvious result of these tendentious statements was to put those people involved in grave and immediate danger of retaliation by the paramilitaries.
Since May 2000, the paramilitaries' response has been strong and bloody. The Western Block of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries, which is made up of the Calima, Pacifico, Farallones and Paez fronts, made their presence of terror know in the municipalities of Cauca. Approximately 200 people have been assassinated; four people have been disappeared; the mayors of Almaguer, Bolívar, Balboa, Caloto and Rosas have been threatened; and some 7,000 Afro-Colombian families people have been displaced (including 700 Afro-Colombian families and 450 indigenous families from the Delicias reservations in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca). xx(LG) In the zone of the Alto Haya, nearly 5,000 people have been unable to leave the area because of threats, and 50 displaced families went to Buenaventura. Some 50 teachers have also been threatened in [various] different municipalities. xx(confusing)
All these events have been reported to the Colombian government by numerous social and human rights organizations, yet to date, the government has not taken any action against these paramilitary groups. For example, in a December 1, 2000 letter, the human rights organizations that signed on to this SOS document asked the national government to take special measures to guarantee the safety of the people in the department of Cauca. No response was ever received from the government, and the terror continued in December 2000 and January 2001. Petitions have also been sent to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protection for these threatened communities.
The situation in the department of Nariño is equally worrisome, since there have been several massacres and death threats against the peasant and Afro-Colombian communities that took part in the November 1999 mobilization and blockade of the Pan American highway.
Concern over the situation in the departments of Cauca and Nariño is especially troubling since they are slated for fumigation campaigns as part of Plan Colombia. Even more unsettling is the escalation and strengthening of the paramilitary strategy in the region. Therefore, the governors of Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Huila, and Tolima are determined to find a peaceful alternative to Plan Colombia.
The human rights organizations call on all kinds of NGOs and the general public, both in Colombia and internationally, to help develop a campaign to urge the Colombian government:
(1) to protect the human rights of all the people of Cauca and Nariño;
(2) to investigate and prosecute in civilian courts those responsible for human rights violations, especially members of the armed forces accused of having links to paramilitary groups;
(3) stop the implementation of Plan Colombia, because it will intensify the humanitarian crisis in the region; and
(4) to urge the administration of President Pastrana to carry out and implement all the agreements reached with the governors xx(leadership?) of Cauca and Nariño.
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