by Chris Knestrick
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 on the 17th of August with a 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. By saying that the human rights situation in Colombia is improving and praising the passing of the labor plan, which does not address the wide spread violence against small farmers and miners, Washington believes that the time is now to move forward on the agreement.
However, facts on the ground in the Magdalena Medio region tell another story. A wave of human rights violations, assassinations, and massacres has shaken the region. For example, in the city of Barrancamerbeja, from August 13th to 18th, 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 being targeted. This region is rich in natural resources such as gold. With the price of gold rising, multi-national companies who stand to benefit from a FTA with Colombia are seeking even more concessions in the region. One human rights worker said that, “We are facing wave of violence that has not been seen since the paramilitary group Auto-Defense Forces entered the region the late-90’s.”
From November to August of this year, Fedeagromisbol, a federation of primarily subsistence small-scale miners and peasant farmers throughout the entire Sierra de San Lucas mountain range in South Bolívar, documents that there were sixteen assassinations in the region and twenty cases of abuses and harassment.
August 17th marks the culmination of these abuses against agricultural and mining communities. Around 7pm, in the community of Casa Zinc, which is 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, which is a known paramilitary group. They gathered the community together and assassinated Pedro Sierra, a small 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. This all happened while the Colombian Army was just twenty minutes away.
On the 21st of August, local human rights organizations, Fedeagromisbol and the Christian Peacemaker Teams among others 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 investigation commission was unable to arrive to the community and accompany them because the Colombian government could not guarantee the safety of anyone entering the region.
As with most of the human rights violations in Colombia, they are committed with the complacence of the Colombian government and armed forces, a government that is now pushing for a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Sadly, the massacre in Casa Zinc is not an oddity. Most of the horrific violence happens either at the hands of the Colombia Armed Forces or with them idly standing by twenty minutes away. The U.S. government must not move forward on a FTA by claiming that the human rights situation has improved when the reality on the ground tells otherwise.