The city of Barrancabermeja, in Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region, is a strategic port, a center of oil refining, and for decades has been a center of labor and social-movement organizing. Barrancabermeja’s labor leaders and human rights defenders have long been in the sights of the powerful paramilitary groups who operate in the region.
The paramilitaries took de facto control of the city through a campaign of massacres and selective killings in late 2000 and early 2001. While there was a relative lull in paramilitary activity after the AUC’s Central BolÃvar Bloc demobilized in 2005-2006, the situation appears to be worsening.
Last November, Yolanda Becerra, head of the Barrancabermeja-based Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) had her home invaded by thugs who told her to leave town or die. Now, six labor unions have received threats on letterhead bearing the logo of the “Black Eagles,” the name being used by a growing number of rapidly re-arming paramilitary groups.
Here is a translation of a brief article about the new threats that was posted yesterday to the website of Colombia’s Semana magazine. Thanks to CIP Intern Stephanie DiBello for the translation.
The â€˜Black Eaglesâ€™ Threaten Leaders of Social Organizations in Barrancabermeja
After two quiet years, new violence against non-governmental organizations raises alarm. In a pamphlet, the armed group Black Eagles lists six labor unions and human rights groups as â€œmilitary targets.â€
Terror has returned to Barrancabermeja (Santander) after several years of relative calm. Six labor unions and non-governmental organizations that have worked for several years in the Magdalena Medio were declared military targets by the emerging group known as the â€˜Black Eaglesâ€™. They all received a printed notification, with letterhead in color, directly accusing them of supporting the guerrillas.
This pamphlet has worried the labor unions AsociaciÃ³n de Directivos Profesionales y TÃ©cnicos de Empresas de la Industria del PetrÃ³leo de Colombia, ADECO (Association of Professional and Technical Workers of Companies of the Petroleum Industry of Colombia); and UniÃ³n Sindical Obrera, USO (Workersâ€™ Trade Union); and the NGOs ComitÃ© Regional por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS (Regional Committee for the Defense of Human Rights); AsociaciÃ³n Campesina del Valle del RÃo Cimitarra, ACVC (Campesino Association of the Cimitarra River Valley); AsociaciÃ³n de Desplazados Asentados en el Municipio de Barrancabermeja, ASODESAMUBA (Association of Displaced Persons Settled in the Municipality of Barrancabermeja); and OrganizaciÃ³n Femenina Popular, OFP (Popular Womensâ€™ Association); all human rights defenders.
The Black Eagles justify the threats by saying, â€œOnce again we are being overrun with lowly guerrillas who, hidden behind crude and dirty deceptions, want to take control of the city in order to return to the old days when they only had extortions, assassinations, union workers, and NGOs at their disposition, to fulfill their revolutionary ends and look for ways to destabilize the State.â€
They continued on to warn that, â€œThe guerrillas and their supporters have dared to set foot again in our Barrancabermeja, and our organization is not willing to allow them to enter.â€
They point out that the aforementioned organizations â€œare full of revolutionary union workers and guerrilla supporters who are instigating and financing the emergence and actions of these insurgent groups, which is why they are the declared enemies and military targets of this organization.â€
According to a Semana.com account from a victim of the threats, the tactics that the Black Eagles are using are identical to those used by the now-demobilized paramilitaries. â€œThose kinds of letters tend to come two or three times each year,â€ says the leader, whose identity is not revealed for his security.
This is the second threat this year. The first was on March 12, when a paramilitary commander named â€˜Camiloâ€™ announced a national rearmament and designated the title â€œPhase A Military Targetsâ€ to several â€œmedia groups, NGOs, embassies, current and past members of Congress, supporters from the general population, and those who collaborate logistically with the guerrillas in narcotraffickingâ€.Â However, on that occasion they did not detail as many names as they did in the most recent threat.
The threats arrived just when the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders published a report asserting that 95% of human rights violations in Colombia are not investigated. This figure puts Colombia among the worst in the world along with China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia, Chad and Uzbekistan.
One of the most serious problems that human rights defenders face is stigmatization, which they receive even from President Alvaro Uribe. Discrediting leaders in this way puts them at risk, especially now when the number of men in new armed groups has grown so much that it is as though 40% of the demobilized paramilitaries had rearmed.
Today, threats against social organizations are being heavily denounced, not only in Barrancabermeja, but in other regions as well where thousands of campesinos have suffered hardships as a result of this war.