U. S. Behind Human Rights Abuses in Colombia

June 20, 2004

Below we excerpt an interview conducted by the New Colombia News Agency (ANNCOL) with Yenly Angélica Méndez, a human rights activist in Colombia.

ANNCOL: What is going on today in the Arauca department?

Méndez: For the inhabitants of Arauca, the human rights situation has become more critical due to the choice of Arauca as a "laboratory" for the so called "Democratic Security" policy of the current Colombian administration.

— As in the rest of the country, this has meant the strengthening of the Armed Forces through the direct intervention of the government of the United States. At the end of 2002, during a visit to Arauca, the ambassador of the United States announced the donation of 98 million dollars to the XVIII Brigade, to be used for the protection of the Caño Limón oil pipeline. Also, more than 60 US Marines are in Arauca, training the troops.

— Since the start of the present administration human rights violations in Arauca have risen about 100 per cent. The primary victims have been the social movements, who at the moment have more than 10 leaders jailed, primarily those with a record of uncompromising and dedicated protest against human rights violations, and of promoting a model of alternative development in face of the lack of government policies and initiatives of this kind.

— Without the leaders, who were imprisoned massively in November 2002, August 2003 and February 2004, the voice of the victims is being throttled, and the way has been paved for the increase in human rights violations and rise in judicial impunity, thus accomplishing the purpose of these arrests....

ANNCOL: Are soldiers of the United States involved in human rights violations?

Méndez: The United States plays a primary role in the violation of human rights in Arauca, principally because they promote and finance the policy of ”Democratic Security” and because, as I've already said, they give large amounts of aid to the XVIII Brigade in Arauca, despite the prohibition against giving aid to military units who are involved in human rights violations. This Brigade is involved in many human rights violations and this aid is used to continue them.

— Additionally, US troops are stationed in Arauca, to train the Colombian troops. The civil population and the social movements of Arauca suffer the results of this training daily.

— But the clearest case of US responsibility in human rights violations is the bombardment of the village of Santo Domingo in Tame in December 1998, when a United States airplane operated by the euphemistically named US ”private contractors”, provide the tactical intelligence for the Colombian Air Force helicopters who were bombing the village, killing 17 people, including 9 children.

ANNCOL: What role do the foreign oil companies play?

Méndez: Oxy has been exploiting the Caño Limón oil field for 20 years, causing a grave deterioation of the environment. The Lipa lake has been completely degraded, and the Guahiba Indian community who had their sanctuary at his lake had to abandon it. At the same time the safe guarding of this oil resource for the sake of this company, ahead of dignity of the lives of the inhabitants of Arauca, is the cause of the assault on this region.

The Spanish corporation Repsol has also appeared in Arauca, and is drilling a new oil field known as Capachos, located in Tame — the municipality where the paramilitaries are currently consolidating a foot hold....