150,000 Citizens Threatened in Armed Conflict
45 neighbourhoods in Ciudad Bolivar, a municipal district of Bogotá, are the site of a conflict between guerrillas, paramilitary groups, street gangs and the Army. Since January there have been 94 homicides in the area, including 13 last month. Victims were mostly youth, 19 to 27 years old, targeted as either paramilitary informants, guerrillas, drug dealers or gang leaders. At stake is political and economic power in the region which has provided strategic access to the capital for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla group. For 2 decades they have used the area to smuggle firearms and provisions from Bogotá’s economic centre to the outlying areas of the Sumapaz region and the departments of Tolima, Huila and Cundinamarca. Since October 2003, the paramilitary squadron known as Frente Capital del Bloque Centauros of United Self-Defense Colombia (AUC) have been in the region, confronting the presence of FARC Bolivarian Militias with deadly consequences. Currently there are 8 paramilitary death squads in the neighbourhoods.
The Citizens Defense (Defensoría del Pueblo), a governmental human rights observer, has released a document under the Early Warning System calling for immediate action from municipal, district and national levels of government, for the creation of preventive measures to neutralize the high risks faced by the civilian population. According to the report, threats, intraurban displacement, selective and collective homicide, forced recruitment, coercion of political candidates and extortion of business and industry has 150,000 citizens in a state of fear and entrapment. The area at risk includes the sectors Altos de Cazucá in the municipality of Soacha and 45 of the 252 neighbourhoods in the adjacent district of Ciudad Bolivar, located at the southeastern periphery of Bogotá. The document signals a particular risk for afrodescendents in two of the neighbourhoods.
Many families in the area have been forcibly displaced from their homes in other parts of the country due to violence from armed forces. The majority of displaced peoples who move to Bogotá move to places where they have the least chances of being welcome, including Ciudad Bolivar, where they face poverty, solitude and fear. According to the Citizens Defense report, there is a lack of information on forced displacement in Bogotá due to the silence and anonimity of affected persons for fear of becoming a target of armed actors. Ciudad Bolivar has the highest rate of poverty in Bogotá, at 26%, affecting 150,000 people.
Assassinations have occurred in neighbourhoods such as Caracolí, El Paraíso, Potosí and Sierra Morena. Normally the homicides are committed by groups of 3 or 4, and victims are alleged drug dealers or gang leaders. Assassins, dressed all in black, hunt their victims with a list of names in hand. It has been a typical tactic of paramilitary groups nationwide to employ selective and collective homicide against social and political leaders. The paramilitary groups in Ciudad Bolivar are groups that have sprung up since the demobilization of the AUC. The 8 paramilitary groups in the region, including the Aguilas Negras, have adapted their methods to President Alvaró Uribe Velez´s policy of ‘Democratic Security’, which in fact has worsened the human rights situation. Their tactics are: manipulating and backing delinquent gangs, threatening social leaders, declaring common criminals to be military objectives, controlling drug trafficking through money washing and legitimization, controlling storerooms for firearms and drugs and garages to handle stolen cars. The paramilitary squads have been getting more powerful, as evidenced by the increased quotas of illegal ´security tax´ forced on businesses and public transportation, and the extortion of large industry. Forced recruitment by the AUC is a problem in all sectors of the city.
Other armed actors in the area are FARC militia and common criminals. FARC guerrillas have had similar tactics in the conflict; attacks and attempted assassinations, threats and abuse, especially against suspected paramilitary informants. Both the FARC and AUC have coerced local electoral candidates, coopted local gangs and paid them to do their dirty work. The paramilitary objective in Ciudad Bolivar has been to eliminate the gangs linked to FARC in order to quell any illegal activity that might put into queston their authority. The response from FARC has been similar tactics in the zones under their control.
The paramilitaries have circulated a pamphlet saying, “if you don´t put your children to sleep by 8 pm, we will put them to sleep at 9 pm.” One community leader had to leave the ‘La Union’ neighbourhood because his family received a death threat on their front door giving them 24 hours to leave the neighbourhood. Visitors can only visit within certain hours and with the help of a local, and people stay inside their houses after 6 pm.
Despite the massive repression and poverty in Ciudad Bolivar, there are at least 40 social organizations in the district, managing 1000 projects in education, nutrition, health, and elderly care. Projects receive fundng from the European Union, UNICEF, United Nations, United States and ACNUR. Youth in the area are organized, and the youth network of Peace Fighters Corporation (Colpaz) counts 12,000 members. Petitioning with the help of the Citizens Defense Network of Supporters, last year they developed their own declaration of human rights, in which besides the rights to life, health and education, they emphasized a right with particular significance in Ciudad Bolivar: the right to be heard.
Ciudad Bolivar is but one of the many ongoing conflict zones in Colombia, including communities in the departments of Nariño, Putumayo, Chocó and Valle de Cauca, while paramilitary and guerrilla forces both have distinct strongholds in various regions of the country. The conflict between guerrillas and state-backed military and paramilitary forces has been around since the creation of guerrilla forces in the 1960’s, while State-sanctioned violence and civil war has been a part Colombia’s history for over 60 years.
Source: Citizens Defense
To the President of the Nation, Señor Álvaro Uribe Vélez:
Consult and follow through on preventive measures by the national, district and local authorities.
To the Vice-President, Señor Francisco Santos Calderón:
Installation of a regional Humanitarian Table for the applicatoin of International Human Rights.
To the Ministry of the Interior and Justice:
Design, propose and implement protective measures for community leaders.
To Territorial Affairs:
To support and observe the conservatoin of public order and give instruction to the military forces to act in the zone
To the Metropolitan Police of Bogotá:
Adopt measures to save and protect the Rights of the population in order to create accessible public spaces.
To the Municipalities of Bogotá and Soacha:
Continue to strenghten the activity of local committees.
Sources for the article:
«Conflicto en Ciudad Bolivar», El Espectador, Saturday June 9th, 2007.
Defensoria del Pueblo. «El Riesgo de Ser Joven en Ciudad Bolivar», Revista Población Civil, Nº 2.