(AA)... DYING in Colombia (2/2)

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Tue, 29 Oct 1996 22:13:09 +0100


On September 26, 1994, for the first time in the country's history,
the Colombian government agreed to participate in an
intemational commission to investigate human rights violations.
The object of the commission's investigation was the Trujillo
massacre. Trujillo, a town of 25,000 nestled in the foothills of the
westem Andes in the department of Valle de Cauca, was the
scene of one of the bloodiest episodes in Colombia history. In
April, 1990 over 100 people were tortured and murdered by
police, army and hired killers (sicarios) working for locally based
drug traffickers.

Two days after a skirmish between the
Colombian Army and guerrillas from the Ejercito de Liberation
Nacional, a 17 year old youth was fingered by an informant as one
of the guerrillas. Under torture, the youth admitted 'to belonging to
the ELN'. Under more torture, he told the soldiers where the
guerrillas trained and nalned several locals as having helped them
at one time or an other. Then the nightmare began.

Later that
night, 30 men some of them in military uniforms, others in civilian
clothes acting under the orders of army Maj. Alirio Uruena and a
paramilitary leader known as "el Tio," made a sweep through a
nearby town called La Sonora. Eleven people were dragged out of
their homes, tied up and taken to the hacienda of a well-known
Ng trafficker. What followedreads like a horror novel.

"Just after 7 a.m., Maj. Uruena and 'el
Tio' arrived. First, they had breakfast. Then, the major and several
members of the armed group demanded each r rson's identification
papers and belongings. Then they were bindfolded and taken out
one-by-one - the first was a 59 year old women - to another part of the
hacienda called 'la peladora.' Coffee sacks were tied over the heads
of the victims who were then thrown to the ground. Maj. Uruena
took a water hose, turned it on full force on the face of each victim
- the mouth and nose - and began to interrogate them. When he
finished, the victirns were piled one on top of the other and
someone called for the blow torch and chainsaw. Each victim was
decapitated, cut into pieces with the chainsaw and left to bleed.
The heads and torsos were put into different sacks and, later that
night, loaded onto a truck, driven to the Cauca River, and dumped
into the water.@'

This narrative is part of testimony given to
Colombian judicial authorities by Daniel Arcila, a civilian
auxiliary to Uruena and eyewitness to the tortures. It was taken
from a 186 page report known as the Investigative Commission
into the Violent Events of Trujillo.

The slaughter in Trujillo
continued throughout April. When the headless body of the Rev.
Tiberio Fernandez, the town's parish priest was fished out of the
water on April 23, he was the 27th v@ctim of a three week killing
spree. It would continue.

In a frightening scenario which
continues to be played out in much of the Colombian countryside
today, individuals involved in any kind of grassroots work - farm
cooperatives, small communal enterprises? church groups - are
pegged by the anny as guerrilla sympathizers and targeted for
elimination.

The TruJillo Commissibn tallied 107 victims in and
around Trujillo in that year of terror. Decapitated bodies washed
up on the banks of the Cauca River almost weekly.

By the end
of the first week Arcila could stand it no longer and fled to Bogota
where he told the Colombian Attomey Generals Office of the
hortors he had witnessed.

In spite of his testimony, justice was
not served. By December 1992, investigations into the alleged
authors of the massacre had concluded and all were acquitted.
Months later, during a visit back to Trujillo, Arcila was
"disappeared" in the town's central square by a group of armed
men. With the perpetrators of the atrocities unpunished and all
national channels exhausted, the director of Justicia y Paz, Jesuit
Father Javier Giraldo decided to take the case to the Inter-Ameri
can Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC.
Continued intemational cooperation and pressure, resulted in a
September, 1994 meeting in Washington during which the
Colombian government, represented by its Presidential Counselor
for Human Rights, and Justice and Peace, representing 63 victims
of the Trujillo massacre, signed an agreement to set up a joint
commission to investigate the murders.

This 19 member
commission, included representatives from the Ministries of
Foreign Relations and the Interior, the Senate and House of
Representatives, the Ministry of Defense, the national Police, the
Attorney General's office, the Catholic Church, five of the
country's most prominent Human Rights NGOs, and was chaired
by the Colombian Human Rights ombudsman. Operating under
the auspices of the InterAmerican Commission, it had until
December 31, 1995 to conclude its investigation and generate its
conclusions and recommenddations

The commissions conclusion - that the macabre series of
torture and murders between 1988 and 1990 was carried out by
members of the Colombian army, police and drug traffickers, and
that members of the govemment and the justice system covered it
up, - attracted considerable international a@tention. On January
31, 1995, after receiving the commission's final report, Colombian
President Emesto Samper was applauded nationally and
intemationally for finally and publicly acknowledging govemment
responsibility for the
atrocities of Trujillo.

The next day, Uruefia, (who was
"trained' at the U.S. Army School of the Americas and who was
promoted to colonel after Trujillo) was removed from active
service by the defense minister. Predictably, the Colombian Army
rallied around him, characterizing him as an officer with an
"exemplary military career."

Despite President Samper's public
acceptance of responsibility for the massacre and his promise to
honor an intemational commission's recommendations to sanction
the guilty and compensate the victims, he has done almost
nothing. In April, 1995, the Colombian Attomey General
overtumed the ruling which absolved Uruena and he was officially
sacked. This move, however, did little more than make Urueha
ineligible for any future military benefits or pension. A slap on the
wrist considering the magnitude of his crimes.

Now out of the
international spotlight the colombin govern-
ment has made no effort to move on the investigative
commission's recommendations. What has it done? In addition to
Urueha, the Trujillo police chief who tumed a blind eye to the
atrocities going on around him was removed from active service.
No criminal charges have been laid against them or anyone else
named in the report as having participated in the killings. As for the
social and cultural program promised residents of Trujillo the
money to compensate victims, the resettlement program for families forced
out of the town
during the two year reign of terror, and the job creation and
training schemes for the children of victims, all of them remain
"under discussion." Not one penny of the US$8.5 million program
of social spending and compensation promised by the government
to the people of Trujillo has reached the town or the victims. Only
the list of victims has lengthened. Further investigation has turned
up over 140 more and the list now holds 250 names.

Rev.
Giraldo calls the Governrnent's admission of responsibility @-a
single drop in an ocean of impunity'' and is not optimistic about
there ever being justice for the victims of the Trujillo massacre.
"The witnesses have simply been through too much and are too
intimidated and afraid now. You know, some of the individuals
who participated in the massacre are still there in Trujillo, in broad
daylight, armed, and driving around in their Jeeps just blocks
away. I just don't think that Colombian
govemment measures will change any of that now and bring them
to justice.

Tragic, but not really surprising, the atrocities of
Trujillo will almost certainly remain in abso lute impunity.


Next Issue:

Colombian Assassins
who Trained at the
U.S. Army School of
the Americas
-------------------------------------------------
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