19 September 2011
COLOMBIA: U.S. wants Free Trade Agreement with Colombia even
after August massacre and other human rights abuses in Magdalena Medio region.
While the United States considers a Free Trade Agreement
(FTA) with Colombia, the human rights situation in the Magdalena Medio region
of Colombia has deteriorated dramatically, culminating in the 17 August 2011 massacre
in the township of El Dorado.
The United States House of Representatives and Senate will
probably vote on the long standing FTA when they return from their
congressional break, asserting that the human rights situation in Colombia is
improving. However, a wave of
human rights violations, assassinations, and massacres has shaken the region. For example, in the city of Barrancabermeja,
from 13-18 August, the organization Human Rights Workers’ Forum of
Barrancabermeja (Espacio de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de Derechos Humanos)
documented two assassinations, two forced disappearances, five attempted
assassinations, and the kidnapping of three contract workers.
Furthermore, in the Sierra de San Lucas mountain range, the
agricultural and mining communities are also threatened. This region is rich in
natural resources such as gold. With the price of gold rising, multinational companies
who stand to benefit from a FTA with Colombia are seeking even more concessions
in the region. One human rights
worker told CPTers, “We are facing wave of violence that has not been seen
since the paramilitary group Auto-Defense Forces entered the region the late 90s.”
From November to August of this year, Fedeagromisbol, a
federation of primarily subsistence small-scale miners and peasant farmers
throughout the Sierra de San Lucas mountain range in South Bolívar, documented sixteen
assassinations in the region and twenty cases of abuses and harassment.
On 17 August, 7:00 p.m., in the community of Casa Zinc, part
of township EL Dorado in the municipality of Monte Cristo, Bolivar, twenty
armed men entered the community and identified themselves as the Black Eagles, a
paramilitary group. They gathered the community together and assassinated Pedro
Sierra, a farmer. They then tortured and cut out the tongues of Ivan Serrano, a
local shop owner, and Luis Albeiro Ropero, a young miner, before they killing
them. The Colombian Army was
just twenty minutes away while the Black Eagles were committing these
On the 21 August, local human rights organizations,
including Fedeagromisbol and the Christian Peacemaker Teams traveled to the
region to investigate the massacre. On their way, they received a call that the paramilitary
group was still present in the community four days after the massacre. The official investigation commission
was unable to come, because the Colombian government could not guarantee the
safety of anyone entering the region.
The massacre in Casa Zinc is not unusual. Most of the
violence happens either at the hands of the Colombia Armed Forces or occurs
when these forces are nearby and able to prevent it, if they chose to do so. The
U.S. government must not move forward on a Free Trade Agreement by claiming
that the human rights situation has improved.