Jim Jones and the dilemma of building trust The specious “national security” argument
Mar 182008

José Obdulio Gaviria (left) linked the March 6 protest’s organizers to the FARC. Now, protest organizers are being threatened and killed.

This is not the first time that Colombian human rights defenders have received a wave of e-mail threats from people claiming to be re-armed paramilitaries. This time, however, the threats that several individuals and organizations received late last week have come after a series of murders.

Most of the labor and human-rights activists killed during the past month were organizers of the March 6 protests on behalf of the victims of state and paramilitary violence. Even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Bogotá, which has said little publicly for months, issued a statement last week expressing concern.

Iván Cepeda, a leader of Colombia’s National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, explained the worsening situation in his regular column in the Colombian weekly El Espectador. Cepeda calls for the resignation of José Obdulio Gaviria, a controversial advisor to President Álvaro Uribe, who may have green-lighted some of the violent retribution when he smeared the March 6 mobilizations as an event organized by the FARC.

Here is a translation (with a few edits) of Iván Cepeda’s column lifted from the website of Britain’s Colombia Solidarity Campaign.

The dismissal of José Obdulio Gaviria
Iván Cepeda Castro
El Espectador 14 March 2008

In the next few days, with those individuals and organisations who would like to add their names, I will lodge the following petition.

Señor President of the Republic, the below signed citizens and organisations, in use of our constitutional right to address the authorities with respectful petitions, request the dismissal of your advisor José Obdulio Gaviria.

As you know, on March 6 hundreds of thousands of people participated in events in 102 cities in Colombia and around the world in solidarity with the victims of the paramilitaries and state crimes. By means of a public communiqué, the Government pointed out that it did not support this demonstration, but offered guarantees for the programmed events to take place. Nevertheless, Mr. Gaviria made public declarations that affirmed that neither you nor he would participate in a march “convened by the FARC.” In spite of the March 6 organizers’ request that these slanderous assertions be officially withdrawn, no government spokesperson did so.

This situation generated an atmosphere of increasing insecurity. On February 11, 2008, the day after Gaviria’s declaration, a pronouncement was made by the [paramilitary] Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia that also affirmed that the march was instigated by the guerrillas. Then, on February 13, threats started against organizations promoting a day of action in Nariño. On February 28, individuals shot at the apartment of Adriana González, a march organizer in Pereira.

Four trade union leaders have been assassinated in the week after the 6 March protests. Carlos Burbano, vice-president of the National Hospitalworkers Union was disappeared on 9 March in San Vicente del Caguán. He had led the local March 6 demonstration. His corpse was found at the municipal rubbish dump with his face disfigured by acid. In Caquetá the preparations for March 6 were frustrated when General Oscar Naranjo affirmed that a FARC leaflet calling for department-wide participation in the demonstrations had been found.

General Naranjo did not mention that the actual demonstration organizers had denounced parallel calls by armed groups. Women from Caquetá who were going to take in a national march of displaced people decided not to come because of the fear spread by the official announcement. Libardo Pedrozo, one of the organizers of the displaced people’s march, was threatened. On March 12, threats were made against 28 human rights defenders and several social organizations. These were signed by the group called the ‘Black Eagles’ that announced it “will be implacable” against the March 6 conveners.

All these circumstances demonstrate the continuity of the sinister actions of paramilitary structures and those who carry out state crimes. Their violent reaction owes to the massive citizens’ repudiation they received on March 6. But the government too has responsibility for this situation. The declarations made by José Obdulio Gaviria generated a propitious atmosphere for violence that has cost the lives of four trade unionists. We will initiate legal proceedings against him. Further, we ask you Mr President, to dismiss him: the initiation of violence is a serious crime.

Assassinated Trade Unionists in the week of 6 March

  • Carmen Cecilia Carvajal, teacher. Killed 4 March, in Ocaña, Norte de Santander.
  • Leonidas Gómez Rozo, member of the bankworkers union, Unión Nacional de Empleados Bancarios (Uneb), president of the CITY-BANK Branco. Killed on 5 March, in Bogotá.
  • Gildardo Gómez Alzate, teacher and activist of the Asociación de Institutores de Antioquia (Adida). Killed 7 March, in Medellín.
  • Carlos Burbano, vice-president of the Hospitalworkers Union, Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Hospitalarios. Killed 11 March, San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá.

Here is the (rather unhinged) text of one of the threats received by dozens of human-rights defenders.

MARCH 12, 2008

By virtue of what we have called our rejuvenated organization and the new direction of our armed struggle, we allow ourselves to inform of our serious intentions to openly declare that many Colombians who share our ideals have required, in all the national territory, many compatriots’ daily desire is for a TOTAL REARMAMENT OF PARAMILITARY FORCES, who defend private property and the collective interests of thousands of Colombians. It was a great error to promote a demobilization process that brought us to the brink of the disaster we are confronting, THE POLITICAL RECOGNITION FOR WHICH THE FARC-EP HAS FOUGHT DURING MORE THAN 50 YEARS is evident, and has undermined the honor of many Colombians, WE HAVE BEEN CLEARLY DEFEATED IN THE POLITICAL AND MILITARY FIELD, today the Colombian guerrillas are seeking to sown their ideology in foreign territories, they enjoy international status, and in addition to this they bask in the high support of many Chiefs of State, it is time to generate a change of attitude, which confronts these consequences which are a product of flimsy governments, with no direction or determination, prostrated to U.S. policies and strategies, ALVARO URIBE VELEZ represents submission and self-interest, trickery, irresponsibility and, even worse, A FALSE COMPATRIOT WHO WITH DONATIONS OFFERED IN AN ABSURD DEMOBILIZATION TRIED TO OBTAIN HIS INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION IN ORDER TO PERPETUATE HIMSELF IN POWER.

We loyally believe that paramilitarism has been a method of social and political domination that has its roots in the doctrine of national security and is democratic. It began as an anti-subversive strategy and ended up becoming a model of territorial control, with a convergence of the most backward sectors of the armed forces, political parties and private enterprise.

The State’s abandonment of the effort to protect its monopoly on use of force is extraordinarily dangerous and unforeseen. AGUILAS NEGRAS are not emerging groups but a figure on the national scene, these words were invented by the Minister of Interior and Justice CARLOS OLGUIN SARDI, a conservative bureaucrat who only EXERCISES POLITICAL PRESSURES IN ORDER TO MAINTAIN HIS FAMILY AND CLOSE FRIENDS IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, on the contrary we have continued and re-started our armed struggle with the support and toleration of the State and the citizenry in general, which orient us to act within military parameters and policies defined by those who urge us forward.

Based on these proposals, all those entities, institutions, diplomatic representations and common people who receive this virtual communiqué are declared PHASE A MILITARY OBJECTIVES (MEDIA, NGO’S, EMBASSIES, CONGRESSPEOPLE AND EX-CONGRESSPEOPLE, GENERAL CITIZENRY WHO SUPPORTS AND LOGISTICALLY COLLABORATES WITH THE NARCOGUERRILLAS) which means breaking the back of the FARC-EP’s current military and political structures, in addition to the consequences that these imply, like murders, disappearances and everything that concerns our political and military ideology, which intends to finish off, for once and for all, the help it gets from citizen participation disguised as unconditional support, both armed and political, to these narco-terrorist groups, as our supreme commander calls them, it is time to say COLOMBIA LIVES, if COLOMBIA LIVES IN PEACE.


13 Responses to “A serious wave of threats”

  1. Chris Says:

    Uribe and his administration should move to ouster José Obdulio Gaviria. His comments were unwarranted and not appropriate for a man of his position.

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    I could swear I discussed these events with jcg before, in which he questioned the veracity of such threats and killings and their links to the March 6 Demonstration and paramilitaries, basing his allegations on take outs from EL TIEMPO.

    Wonder where he’s hiding now.

  3. Kyle Says:

    Instead of just swearing, maybe you could go through the comments and find the discussion. That would be helpful in the least.

  4. jcg Says:

    I had been (unsuccessfully) looking for the UN statement for a couple of days in order to clear up a few details about the murders and the other threats, as well as the organization’s official position, so my sincere thanks for posting it.

    I was not questioning the veracity of the threats, the seriousness of the dangers for those targeted or the tragic murders which have already happened, but I did want to know more than what was being reported at the time.

    That’s apparently an unforgivable complicity in the eyes of some, I suppose. But I guess that’s inevitable.

    Chris: José Obdulio Gaviria, and also Álvaro Uribe himself as I’ve commented here multiple times, is infamous for making similar comments, which are definitely irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

    That doesn’t automatically mean that Gaviria wanted these people to die or be threatened, as I don’t claim to know his mind and heart nor any macabre plans that conspiracy theorists have already prepared in minute detail.

    But he did at least show how little he tolerates criticism and essentially doesn’t care about a real danger and the possibly violent ramifications of his words, which is why I can understand where Iván Cepeda Castro’s coming from and I’d definitely welcome the man’s resignation, as unlikely as it may be.

    That’s more enough for me.

    Jaime Bustos: Do you even care by now? You should be happy at my relative absence.

    Even if that’s not what I said nor what I meant.

    Everyone can reach their own conclusions about my behavior and my statements, as well as yours, whether they agree or disagree. But I guess you’re not in the mood for hearing that either.

  5. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Juanjo, never underestimate conspiracy theories even if the couple of words have been drilled into synonyms for lunacy, on the minds of off-guard numpties.

  6. LFM Says:

    jcg and Jaime Bustos: I haven’t been for long enough in this blog, but from a distance it looks to me that you often end up slogging it off over minor disagreements. I won’t pronounce on who’s to blame because a. I don’t follow this with enough detail to know and b. I appreciate both of your contributions. Seems to me that you two are usually on a basic agreement that does not warrant the heated rhetoric. If you two are Colombian (which I presume you are) that might explain something of why we are so screwed up as a country.

    Jaime: I haven’t forgotten your offer to help on the case of Diana Gomez. Thanks a lot! I’m still exploring options and will keep you in mind.

    Oh! About Jose Obdulio: Legally speaking there’s nothing wrong with his actions. But politically speaking it shows the character in all his unsavoriness. I remember that something similar happened to Carlos Lemos Simmonds when he was Minister of Government (what is now the MInister of the Interior) and he made remarks linking the UP with the FARC a few days before Bernardo Jaramillo was killed. He had to resign, again, not because of any legal issue but because of the political tone-deafness this revealed.

    In Jose Obdulio’s case, I doubt this would matter at all. The guy has no official position of power. He’s “just” a shadowy adviser under contract. Even firing him will not keep him from doing the damage he has been doing all this time. Still, it would be nice if, for once, this Administration showed that it can deal with the opposition with basic decency. If that happens, install extra reinforcements in your windows. You wouldn’t want them to shatter with all those pigs flying.

  7. LFM Says:

    Just out of nowhere: The last weeks got me off the fence on the Democratic primary (I can’t vote, but hey, it’s entertainment for the masses and I’ve always believed that every person in the world should be allowed to vote in the US presidential election): I’m now for Obama. It all began with the diplomatic crisis in Colombia that got me thinking that maybe he doesn’t have the same baggage as Clinton in terms of Plan Colombia and the FTA (both cherished projects of the Clinton House), so maybe he can start with a cleaner slate. And now he adds his superb speech. Quite something!! Even as a Colombian I could relate to that. I wouldn’t mind Hillary for Americans, but I have the feeling that she would farm out a lot of the job in the Andean region to old hands whereas Obama might take a different approach. (I was gonna mention “maverick” McCain but I laughed so loud I couldn’t continue…) I know, I know, these politicians always disappoint. But it’s been a slow day at work and for a few moments I wanted to remotely consider the option of expecting something good from a US President. Boy, it’s been at least 8 years since that happened and it feels really weird now!

  8. Tambopaxi Says:


    Posted accusations connecting Obdulio with the labor/human rights workers’ killings wouldn’t stand up in court, but the politically circumstantial links (if I can invent a term) certainly seem to exist.

    What’s being done to pressure the USG to pressure Uribe to fire Obdulio and for that matter, stop making the same inflammatory, almost directional (to the killers) comments himself? Where/how to get “smoking pistol” evidence to either get Uribe to stop these inflammatory speeches or change his conduct, or remove him from office?

    Put another way, charges of Uribe/AUC connivance have come up so often in so many different contexts, that it’s almost become accepted wisdom that Uribe has been in cahoots with these people for years and it’s beginning to look that way to me, too frankly. So, OK, fine, let’s accept that, and so, where’s the political beef? Why don’t these charges stick? Are they real or aren’t they, and if they’re real, why aren’t groups like CipCol really putting the hurt on this guy and either getting him to change his ways or getting him out of office?

    I ask this tough question because it’s abundantly clear that blog comments, ngo reclamas and so forth, are not, repeat not, changing the conduct of Uribe, his government or his supporters. What is to be done, then?

  9. Boli-Nica Says:

    This cycle of verbal agression from those around the executive followed by para violence against members of civil society IMO is one of this governments worst failings. Besides the outright human rights violations, it creates an atmosphere of fear that chills freedom of expression, and undermines democratic institutions and accountability.

    I agree with Tambopaxi. It is also an area where US policy arguably can have a bigger effect. The question is what kind of policies to implement.

  10. Dissident Voice : Rightist Gangs Murdering Trade Unionists in Colombia Says:

    [...] to the Center for International Policy, MOVICE organizer Iván Cepeda Castro reported in the Colombian weekly El Espectador, that the [...]

  11. C Says:

    Adam, could you please respond to NYTimes and ask them to print a response written by you to this article? http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/opinion/29schumacher.html

    Isolated killings? Union members and journalists killed for other reasons? This article is outrageous.

  12. Freedom of Speech and Human Rights in the Andes « VEN CENTRAL                              &nb Says:

    [...] [vii] http://www.cipcol.org/?p=563 [...]

  13. Freedom of Speech and Human Rights in the Andes « BLOGGING OUR WAY 2 BOMBAY Says:

    [...] [vii] http://www.cipcol.org/?p=563 [...]

Leave a Reply