Date: Mon, 19 Jan 98 10:36:13 CST
From: rich%pencil@LISTS.PSU.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Reign of Violence In Columbia
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Reign of Violence in Colombia
Interview by Samuel Grumiau of ICFTU OnLine, with Ms. Belen Torres, president of the ANUC-UR, 007/980113/SG, 19 January 1998
Brussels, January 13 1998 (ICFTU OnLine): Ms. Belen Torres is the president of the ANUC-UR ("Asociacin Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos - Unidad Reconstruccin"), which is the main independent peasant organization in Columbia. , whose members are constantly murdered and go missing, supports farmers who are deprived of their land by large landowners, in particular drugs dealers and the BP oil company, with the help of paramilitary groups.
ICFTU OnLine:We often hear of "landless peasants". How have they lost their land?
In 1994 very neo-liberal legislation was voted in order to make the market for farmland subject to the law of supply and demand. This allowed drug traffickers to launder their money by buying all the good cultivable land which they wanted. Right now they own five million out of nine million hectares of fertile land in Colombia. To convince the peasants to sell up, they offer them more than the real value of their land and, when they refuse, paramilitary groups look after expelling them by violence.
ICFTU OnLine:Who are these paramilitary groups?
They are made up principally of unemployed young persons. Some of them work for the Cali and Medellin cartels, but when the government started to combat these, many people, in particular young ones, found themselves out of a job. They receive up to four hundred dollars a month for belonging to paramilitary groups, which are financed by the drugs traffickers. They are trained by the Colombian army and by English and Israeli mercenaries. Their existence suits the state, which is using them in order to destroy the popular movement.
ICFTU OnLine:How many persons does ANUC-UR represent?
We have 300,000 peasant members. The number would be higher if our leaders were not the victims of so many attacks, murders and disappearances, in particular in the north of the country. They are threatened by the paramilitary groups or directly by the Colombian army, under the pretext of the war against the guerrillas. Peasants belonging to the ANUC-UR are accused of being guerrilleros and are therefore eliminated.
ICFTU OnLine:What can ANUC-UR do?
We are fighting to recover the land of persons who have been dispossessed. Unfortunately there is no real agrarian reform in Columbia, but we are seeing is a process of "colonization" by peasants who have been chased from their land: certain of them move towards uncultivated zones, such as the Amazonian forest, clear them and start to cultivate them. However, they lack title deeds for their properties, even though they have often been farming them for ten years. A total of 5 million hectares of state land is occupied in this way. We are supporting the peasants to get the government to give them title to their properties title.
ANUC-UR also helps peasants obtain loans from government institutions in order to bring the land under production. We also offer them technical assistance and advice on organizing cooperatives.
ICFTU OnLine:Do all the expelled peasants occupy "national land"?
No. There are over one million displaced persons in Columbia, 80% of whom are peasants. Many of them find their way to the large cities such as Bogota or Medellin. Here they huddle together in shanty towns and work in the informal sector (odd jobs, prostitution, etc.) or become delinquent. They will not return home and will not colonize other land except if they are protected, because they have been profoundly traumatized by the expulsions which they have suffered. The ANUC-UR is attempting to recover certain lands through court proceedings, in particular against the family of Mr Marulanda, the former Colombian ambassador in Brussels, which has supported paramilitary groups in order to gain a hold of a wide area of land belonging to a large number of peasant families.
ICFTU OnLine:You also criticize BP's attitude....
We have questioned the way in which BP has set up shop in the department of Casanare. It bought the land from a very large number of peasants. It is true that it compensated them, but it did not leave them any choice in the matter. We are denouncing the environmental impact of BP's operating methods, its social policy and its actions in the human rights area, in particular the facts surrounding the assassination of two peasant leaders. These were photographed by BP personnel during a peaceful manifestation and shortly afterwards were killed by a paramilitary group.
ICFTU OnLine:What are the working conditions of BP employees?
BP does not respect Colombian legislation or the ILO's international conventions. It concludes 28-day contracts with the peasants which it takes on, which prevents it from having to pay social security, severance pay, indemnities, etc. A large number of trade union and peasant representatives have been killed, others have had to flee. Meetings have already taken place between representatives of BP, ANUC-UR and Colombian human rights organizations. The objective ought to be to develop a code of practice inside the company, but BP is participating only in order to improve its image. To change its reputation, BP must stop financing the militia. It defends its actions by stating that its installations are threatened by guerrillas, which is true. But the result is that the region in which BP finds itself is totally militarized, with the military and paramilitary forces on one side, and the guerrilleros on the other .... and the civilian population caught in the cross-fire. The Casanare region has become one of the most violent parts of Columbia. Would BP not be advised to seek the path of social consultation? Right now discussions are under way between the Colombian government and BP, which has discovered two new operating sites, at Volvanera and Pauto. The government is saying that the ground contains oil, but BP is stating that it holds condensed gas, which would allow it to pay less taxes. It is the logic of immediate and maximum profitability which dominates from every viewpoint, regardless of national and local interests.
ICFTU OnLine:Is the Colombian press denouncing the abuses?
Only if the international press talks about it or when there is a long strike. The BBC did a report on BP's presence at Casamare and the ITV, another English channel, did a documentary denouncing the fact that the English security services are training army commandos to fight the guerrillas. Why do they not also train soldiers to fight against the paramilitary groups?
ICFTU OnLine:What do you think of the statements of President Samper, who now says that he wants to promote human rights?
This is demagoguery. Since President Samper came to office things have got worse. There are three times as many displaced persons than before, the paramilitary groups have got stronger, the number of missing persons has increased, as has the number of arbitrary arrests, etc. On top of this, the leaders of the oil trade union, USO, have been accused of terrorism and imprisoned, after they embarrassed the government by opposing the privatization of national oil companies. The telecommunications trade unions also suffered similar repression when their sector was privatized. This government lacks any shred of moral credibility.
ICFTU OnLine:As ANUC-UR president, have you come under pressure? Are you not afraid of expressing your opinions in the international press?
During the past year, I have received many death threats from the heads of paramilitary groups. I know that I am taking risks by denouncing what is happening in my country to magazines like yours. But it is the price that has to be paid if we want to get the situation in Columbia known.
Contact: ICFTU-Press at: ++32-2 224.02.12 (Brussels).