MASSACRE AT MULATOS IN COLOMBIA,
Colombia Support Network
PO Box 1505, Madison, WI 53701
Letters to Senators Feingold, Kohl and Representative Baldwin
By act of Congress, renewal of United Sates
aid to Colombia ($700 million per year to the Colombian government,
mostly in military aid) depends on their meeting conditions on human rights. This
report presents the information we have gathered and the basis for our
recommendations, which appear at the end of this report.
Apartado, in northeastern Colombia (map), is
the sister community of Dane County, Wisconsin, our home. Our delegation from the Colombia Support
Network (John Gibson, Eunice Gibson, Norman Stockwell,
Conrad Weiffenbach, and Cecilia
Zarate Laun) visited Colombia from April 16 to 26, 2005.The
visit was supported with letters from
Wisconsin Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, Dane County Executive Kathleen
Falk, and Wisconsin Secretary of State Douglas LaFollette,
sent in advance to people in the agencies with which we wished to meet. We
met with people in Apartado, in the Peace Community
of San Jose de Apartado, and in the offices of
a large number of government and non-government organizations in Medellin and Bogota.
We offer this information to the United
States Congress, Department of State, and other concerned groups and individuals
wishing for information to guide their discussions on human rights in Colombia.
This electronic report contains significant
parts that are accessed via hyperlinks to the CSN website, where they are
hidden files. The linked documents contain essential information from
our investigation, supporting the conclusions and recommendations presented
at the end of these pages.
To recap events briefly, On February 21, 2005, Luis Eduardo Guerra-Guerra, one of the founders and
leaders of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado,
was murdered in an area near the Mulatos River. Three children and four
other adults were also murdered in this massacre Paramilitary
checkpoints present in prior years on the road between San Jose and Apartado have
been removed, but there are now checkpoints of the Colombian Police and
Army. A police
station (link to photo) was put within the village of San Jose, against
the wishes of the peace community, which observes a non-violent resistance
to the armed conflict. In response to the placing of the Police station
in the village of San Jose, the Peace Community has abandoned their village,
moving to a new site a few km away, where they are living in a new
settlement, for which construction has begun
The background of events in this region of Colombia is comprehensively summarized in a Background
section of this report. A list (spreadsheet from
the community) of 500 violations of human rights, including other massacres
that the people of San Jose de Apartado have
suffered, is also presented. San Jose’s website (in
Spanish) offers more recent information. San
Jose represents the experience (website with comprehensive listing of
human rights violations in Colombia, in Spanish) of many rural communities in Colombia: the aggression toward them is systematic.
The culpability of the armed forces in the
most serious of human rights violations has been acknowledged by the Colombian Procuraduria,
which in May 2005 issued a
decision (document in Spanish) that disciplinary action will be taken
against units of the Army and Police that were in command of the region
in which San Jose de Apartado is located in the
years 2000 to 2002, for their responsibility in the same types of violations
of human rights then in San Jose, including massacres. Please see the Background
document and list
of violations from the community for details on those violations.
US aid must not support the Colombian Police and Army in such behavior.
We expect that similar action from the Procuraduria will
result in due time following the massacre of February 2005, which they
are now investigating.
But whether the sanctions against those
responsible in the military will be effective remains to be seen. Often
in the past such sanctions have not been so.
Information we gathered during our visit:
- We met April 18th and 19th with the people of San Jose, who told us among other important things that
when they travel through the check- points along the road to Apartado they still suffer personal harassment and confiscation
of purchases and other belongings. A group of leaders summarized their
concerns (notes of
interviews with community leaders) about the police station placed in
the village after the massacre, inability to get justice from the government,
their stigmatization in the media by government officials, and the history
of recent abuses.In private meetings, witnesses
shared information on the massacre of February 21 and related events
with us. Some were able to identify forces in that area during the massacre
as Army, and one said soldiers there told them the Army did it. Please
see our summary
notes on this point, and our notes from interviewing witness1, witness2, witness3, witness4 and witness5. For
their protection, information that could lead to the identification of
these witnesses has been expunged. Witnesses were assassinated after
giving testimony following a massacre in San Jose a few years ago.
- We had supper on the evening of May 19 with five members of the Apartado Municipal Council, and met with
the mayor (Alcalde of Apartado)
in his office on April 20. Please see our notes regarding
their hostile attitudes toward San Jose.
- We met with General Hector Jaime Fandino-Rincon, Commander of
the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army stationed in Carepa,
near Apartado (link
to photo) in his office at the Brigade Headquarters for an hour on
April 20. Our notes on
the discussion there outline how he argued that his troops were not involved
in the massacre of February 21, and his ideas
implying it was due to an internal dispute within the Peace Community
or an action of the FARC guerrillas.
- The historical context regarding some persons
mentioned in these notes is in the section, Peculiar Characters for
Application of Democratic Security in Apartado, beginning on page 19 of the Background
- We met with Colonel Yamik Armando
Moreno of the National Police, in charge of the region in which San Jose and Apartado are located,
in his headquarters for two and a half hours on April 20. As indicated
in our notes
from that meeting, he presented a version of events surrounding
the massacre, and a theory of who did it, that was nearly identical
to that of General Fandino. He expressed
a very hostile attitude toward the Peace Community, while maintaining
a friendly one toward us.
- We met with the Procurador of the Nation, Edgardo Jose Maya-Villazon, who told us that the investigation
by his office of the February 2005 massacre in San Jose and related events there was in an advanced state. He
arranged for us to meet with his staff to discuss our findings. He said
the Police station should be in the place where the Peace Community wants
it, which would be consistent with the ruling of the Inter- American Court, a ruling which he said the Colombian government
- We met with Carlos Franco, Director of the President
of Colombia’s Human Rights Program, on Monday
April 25, 2005. He strongly defended
the principle of a police station in San Jose, and listed a large number of events (such as hand grenades exploding
in the village) that he felt discredited the community. Please see our
notes of the meeting
- The representative at the office of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights, Luis Carlos Monge with whom we met, as well as Procurador Maya and his staff, told us that the location
of the police
station within San Jose does not meet conditions imposed by
the Inter-American Court for
Human Rights, nor with Colombian law.
- The members of the Procurador’s staff
who met with us told us that:
- “Unfortunately the public forces also violate
human rights and the law.”
- “High Army powers have recently trained people
who historically do not respect Human Rights.”
- “Current negotiations re. demobilization could
intensify paramilitary presence, making the situation like the massacre
more common.” With regard to a perception that the Peace Community
is “taken ideologically by the guerillas,” and similar statements
from the Police, some Apartado council members and the Mayor, and some other
Colombians with whom our delegation met:
- We would not expect members of the Peace Community
of San Jose de Apartado not to know guerillas personally. Members of
the Peace Community have grown up with and been friends with a wide variety
of local people, some of whom wound up with the guerillas.
- San Jose presents non-violent resistance in a country
that only knows violent resistance. That is why they are important and
why FARC guerillas have killed nineteen residents since the community
declared itself a Peace Community.
- We would expect some residents of San Jose, as neutrals, to be in touch with friends in
the guerillas, just as they would be in touch with friends in Apartado who may have been, for example, trained by
the Army to act as paramilitaries. Their lives are in Apartado.
- So when, as Colonel Moreno of the national police reported,
a cell-phone call from a woman in San Jose to a friend in the guerillas
was intercepted, with the essence of the conversation being: “did you
do that “ (referring to some guerilla action), this does not mean that
San Jose is violating neutrality. When members of the community encounter
guerillas out in the countryside and talk with them (as Col. Moreno reports
the Police have observed), this does not mean that San
Jose is violating neutrality. We would expect friends
to keep in touch for a variety of social reasons (including births, deaths,
personal support), and that conversation would flow at those encounters. Officers
and others who grew up in privileged circumstances may not personally
know any guerillas or campesinos, and may not appreciate the above points.
- Colonel Moreno told our delegation that another
reason he believes the leaders of the community are overtly against the
government is that their website billboards
the word “RESIST”. One’s perceptions are often influenced by one’s peer
group. The authors of the website more likely intend an exhortation
to resist the kind of population displacement that has already been forced
on several million Colombian campesinos.
- San Jose is caught in a Civil War. The most principled
stance is to be neutral, not contributing to the killing of friends,
in-laws, brothers and sisters who may be guerillas, paramilitaries and
armed forces of the nation. The position of the Peace Community is one
that we recognize and respect, and you may very well respect it too.
San Jose de Apartado is a good community that can develop the country
Contrary to views expressed by members of
the Apartado Council, police, army, and some
government officials, we found in visiting and talking with people in San Jose that the members of the community are properly and
exceptionally well motivated. San Jose de Apartado provides
an alternative model for peaceful rural development of the traditional
agricultural sector in Colombia.
We visited with work
teams taking care
of children, constructing
sidewalks and housing; cutting trees
into lumber across the river and up a hill from the camp, carrying
the cut lumber from where the trees had been felled, and carrying rocks
and gravel from the river for the walkways, all without gasoline powered
vehicles. We saw no gasoline-powered vehicles on site, - only a gasoline
chain saw, human labor and a very few draft animals. No bulldozers, shovels
or trucks. The road from Apartado goes by outside
the barbed wire fence behind which the new camp is located, and no road
goes into the new site.
The fact that their community works as a
collective could be seen as an asset to the nation, not a threat. We believe
that San Jose de Apartado is a highly respectable, indeed admirable community,
especially because they have maintained their ideology and resisted displacement
while 150 members have been murdered and massacred over the past fifteen
We believe the following conclusions are well based on the information we have
The Army was responsible for the massacre
of members of the Peace Community on February
The Peace Community has developed a highly
respectable and principled stance toward the war in Colombia: an active peaceful resistance. We found no credible
evidence of willingly participation of the Community in the armed conflict
or of Community support for the FARC guerrillas or any other armed actor.
The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado is
an experiment of non-violence which is unique in the world. One of its
most remarkable features is the truly democratic form in which decisions
are made with the whole Community deciding on every important measure.
The Colombian Government made a mockery
of the Inter American Court when it chose not to follow the Court’s recommendation
which specifically says to negotiate decisions with the Community. The
location of the Police station was agreed to tentatively in the discussion
between Luis Eduardo Guerra representing the desires of the Community and
Vice President Santos. The Community’s request was to locate the Police
on the outskirts of the town, not inside .The Colombian government used
the massacre as an excuse to impose the authoritarian decision of locating
the Police station inside the town.
We believe the Community’s decision to oppose
the placement of a Police station within the Community to be eminently
reasonable for the following reasons:
a) it is consistent with the Community’s
principled opposition to having arms in their midst; and b) the Community
would leave itself open to becoming engaged in the armed conflict, as the
guerrillas might carry out an armed attack against the Police station which
might injure or kill Peace Community residents and damage their homes,
as happened to the indigenous community of Toribio in Cauca province while our CSN delegation was in Colombia.
We found credible evidence of extensive
cooperation and coordination between the Army and the paramilitaries in
the massacre of February 21, 2005 and other events involving the Peace Community of
San Jose. It is clear to us that the Colombian Government has failed to
curtail these paramilitaries, whose activities are illegal under Colombian
law. Under these circumstances the Peace Community’s rejection of Army
presence in the Community appears sensible and reasonable.
We believe on the basis of the evidence
we received during our visit to San Jose, Apartado, Medellin and Bogota that the Colombian Government has failed to take measures
to protect the Peace Community as ordered by the Inter-American Court and by Colombia’s Constitutional Court.
In one sense the Peace Community of San
Jose is a representative of rural communities throughout Colombia which
have organized as civil society and in constituent assemblies to oppose
the armed conflict, but have experienced aggression by the Colombian state,
rather than protection, with their institutions and lands subjected to
attack by paramilitary forces acting in concert with the Colombian Armed
We ask that you incorporate the above information
regarding human rights in Colombia, including information in linked documents, in your
reports and deliberations, in so far as you recognize it to be useful.
We recommend, based on our information in
- That United States aid to Colombia’s armed forces
be cut off until Colombian armed forces collaboration with paramilitaries
and until changes are made by the Colombian government in its policies
toward rural agrarian communities like San Jose de Apartado.
- That the United States require investigation by
the respective Colombian authorities of all military and police commanders
of the region encompassing Apartado since 1997,
when San Jose declared itself a Peace Community
- That the United States deny visas for Colonel Duque, General Fandino and
other Army and Police officers responsible for the soldiers and policemen
who have abused the residents of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado since 1997.
- That the United States withhold aid from Colombia unless the Colombian authorities:
- Respect the desire of the Peace Community to
have no armed actors within their borders and demonstrate that Army
and Police collaboration with paramilitaries has ended, and also develop
a just alternative to the proposed government plan for demobilizing and “reinserting” paramilitary into civilian society.
- Respond effectively to conditions required for Colombia by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
and by Colombia’s own constitution.
- Cease using military (including National Police)
professionals in civilian functions such as teachers and doctors that
the government is obliged to provide in rural communities.
- Remove the local offices of the Judiciary (Fiscalia) from military bases, to enable their impartiality
The United States can help to end the continuing, severe violations
of rights of peasants like those of San Jose de Apartado,
who hold and embody the highest moral position consistent with the conditions
forced upon them.
Millions of Colombians have already become
internally displaced. The toleration and (yes) support by US aid of ongoing massacres and harassment of the populations
of San Jose and
many other rural communities can be halted.
We hope that the information gathered by
our delegation will
help lead to a foreign policy towards Colombia based upon the principles upon which our nation was
Note of Gratitude
for Assistance to CSN