Between 1 March and 20 September 2001, more than 20 people belonging to the Patriotic Union/Communist Party were assassinated, more than 9 were massacred in two paramilitary incursions and two were disappeared.
Furthermore, 45 received death threats, there were four attempted assassinations, three were forced into exile and more than 250 families were internally displaced, forced to abandon their homes, their land and their work because of the threats and intimidation on the part of paramilitaries and, in many cases, State forces, even thought they fruitlessly sought guarantees from the latter for the protection of their rights, as well as humanitarian assistance.
From March 2001 to the present day, the number of victims of forced displacement has been increasing at an horrific rate because of an escalation of paramilitary action in different regions of the country. A disproportionate number of these victims have been members of the Patriotic Union/Communist Party.
The human rights crisis in Colombia, already critical before, has exceeded the bounds of human comprehension.
Today, thousands of members of the Patriotic Union/Communist Party, victims of persecution and genocide for 18 years, not only have to live each day with the anxiety that at any moment a hitman’s bullets are going to end their lives, but also have to live in the knowledge that they are considered pariahs of society for the simple fact that they are displaced and forced into the position of having to beg for humanitarian assistance, for their lives to be protected, for their abused human rights to be guaranteed and for conditions to be established for them to return to their places of origin or to resettle somewhere else in a safe and dignified way.
Members of the Patriotic Union/Communist Party have had to leave various parts of the country, abandoning absolutely everything they own, including loved ones, personal belongings and culture, and have had to suffer terrible humiliations in their dealings with the various State bodies that are dutibound to ensure they have access to the help and protection the Law says they are entitled to. They are obliged to join long queues and endure endless complex procedures just to try and achieve the most basic conditions for survival in their strange environment.
Moreover, in some cases, such as the one that took place on 9 June 2001, in a district of Bogota, more than 300 displaced families, the majority Patriotic Union/Communist Party from different parts of the country, were victims of a sudden storm of violence by the metropolitan police and members of the civil defence force when they forcibly evicted them from an area of waste ground where the displaced families had set up camp a month before because the State had failed to provide them with a dignified place to stay. As a result, 20 people were injured, including a child who was shot in the face, one person was killed and a number of people were detained on charges of terrorism and violent protest.
One of the factors that has most contributed to the persecution of Patriotic Union/Communist Party activists in recent years has been the implementation of Plan Colombia in our country, especially in zones in which they have been carrying out fumigations against alleged illicit cultivations. In the departments of Narino, Putumayo, Caqueta, Cauca, South Bolivar, Magdalena, as well as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria and the Valle del Rio Cimitarra, Magdalena Medio, it works like this: the people oppose the fumigations and even present alternative plans for manual eradication of illicit crops, but the fumigations and military operations go ahead regardless and in their wake comes paramilitary terror.
On 5 August 2001, 20 municipalities in the department of Narino were fumigated by aeroplanes and helicopter gunships, supposedly to eradicate illicit crops, but in reality they destroyed the subsistence crops of the campesinos such as potatoes, broad beans, sugar cane, cabbage, maize and cereals. The fumigations took place against the background of a heavy militarisation, and in this case, as in almost every other, after they had taken place, the paramilitaries appeared to further terrorise the people.
Almost exactly the same thing happened in Valle del Rio Cimitarra in February, and again in August. The fumigation of 30 regions of a number of different municipalities as part of the army’s ‘Operation Bolivar’ left more than 870 hectares of subsistence crops destroyed in February and rendered useless more than 1,800 hectares of subsistence land in August.
Another factor that has aggravated the persecution against Patriotic Union/Communist Party members throughout the country has been the introduction of Law 81, of the Law for Defence and National Security, also known as the Antiterrorist Statute which gives a blank cheque to the army to use all available resources to escalate the armed conflict in the country in direct opposition to the promises of the current government to the international community and the efforts being made to advance the peace process, so extolled by former President Pastrana as his government’s flagship.
This statute worsens the human rights crisis in the country because it gives the military the power to act as judicial police without the presence of officials from the attorney general’s office. It violates the principle of habeas habeas which is rendered practically obsolete for periods of detention of 36 hours.
It also takes away the administrative and budgetary autonomy of municipal and departmental officials who have to answer to military commanders in those areas denominated ‘theatres of operation’, as well as restricting the freedom of movement of citizens and criminalising social, popular, trade union and political protest, especially in those regions with the highest level of guerrilla presence.
In this way, regions that historically attracted the most popular support for both the Patriotic Union and the Colombian Communist Party, or where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or the People’s Liberation Army (ELN) are present, or simply regions that are immensely rich in natural resources such as water, minerals and oil, are not only under the watchful eye of the Colombian military, but also of paramilitary groups that are paid by wealthy farmers, landowners and far-right politicians.
In May 2001, there was a shocking attempt to blow up the offices of the weekly Communist Party newspaper, Voz, using an MK-82 torpedo built in North America for purely military purposes. Fortunately the device was discovered before it could be activated. The device contained 250 kg (500 LB) of TNT and was hidden under fruit and vegetables in the back of a red Chevrolet truck, registration CIB-249. Had it exploded it would have destroyed buildings radiating out from Voz’s offices for up to three blocks.
The planting of this bomb was disturbing not only because it was aimed at a leftist publication belonging to the Patriotic Union/Communist Party, a group that has been persecuted for more than 18 years, but also because it was an attack on freedom of expression in our country.
(Translated by the Colombia Peace Association)