22 March 2008

Paramilitaries Threaten Bogota's Peripheries

The Colombian paramilitary group, Águilas Negras (Black Eagles), has established more than a foothold in the shanty towns on the edges of capital Bogota, threatening to kill those who participated in the March 6 rally against paramilitaries and state-sponsored violence.

Ciudad Bolivar is where approximately 800,000 poor Colombians, displaced by paramilitaries or the army in their war against Left-wing guerrillas of the Farc, have come to eke out a living in miserable conditions. The paramilitaries were supposed to have been disbanded after President Uribe, himself accused by a range of credible sources of being a former drug lord and paramilitary patron, signed a very generous deal with them forgiving their past crimes for light and comfortable prison terms and confessions.

It has been common knowledge that the paramilitary groups merely reorganised more covertly and carried on with their predatory activities in the rural areas. They drive peasants off the land that is then occupied by agro businesses. The peasants end up mostly in Ciudad Bolivar, often living in close proximity to those who hounded them. The paramilitaries are then absorbed by these businesses.

The paramilitaries control informal businesses in the slums, taking cuts from vendors and others in their areas of influence and killing or driving away those who stand in their way. Control over the hills surrounding Bogota also gives them control over the roads leading out of the city and opportunities for kidnapping wealthier victims.

The Black Eagles have sent out threatening flyers and email messages to human rights activists, NGOs and social organisations working with popular issues. A former councillor has received these threatening mail, as have Colombia’s main trade union. There is an unofficial curfew from 10 at night in these areas and people have to patrol the streets to keep the paramilitaries at bay.

The situation is developing along similar lines in other cities like Medellín, Barranquilla and Cartagena. There were 286 killings in 2005 and 162 in 2006 but the numbers are growing once again. The Colombian Army has been accused of collaborating with the paramilitaries in Medellin and a large section of the police force have links with the drug trade. The brother of the current police chief of Colombia is in prison in Europe on drug trade charges.

The Black Eagles have specifically targeted those who mobilised for the March 6 rally. Four people have already been killed for this ‘crime’ elsewhere in Colombia. Given that the mobilisation in Bogota was the largest in the country and way above what the state had anticipated, it is no surprise the threat has reached the city.

One of the President’s advisers calumnied the March 6 rally as a pro-Farc programme, and this in Colombia is tantamount to a death sentence. Uribe himself has termed human rights activists as guerrillas in civilian clothing. It would not be surprising if at some point in the future it were revealed that the Colombian establishment, right from the President’s office, had something to do with this emerging threat.

More information at El Espectador

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