The Narco News Bulletin

August 15, 2018 | Issue #39 - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America

Colombian Military Attacks Campesinos

Paramilitaries Continue to Be a Key Arm of the Colombian Government

By Ramón Acevedo
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

November 14, 2005
This report appears on the internet at

NORTHEASTERN ANTIOQUIA, COLOMBIA: "Here in the region we are living with the severe violence of the military and the paramilitaries," stated a peasant-farmer who did not wish to give his name. He continued, "At the moment we are being harassed by the military battalion 'Demolisher Platoon No.1, Calibio Battalion of the 14th Brigade', which is under the command of Sergeants Setina and Blanquiceth. The Battalion members present themselves as official military and then the next minute they change their armband and are the paramilitaries. Lately they have been detaining, intimidating, torturing, and assassinating local campesinos (peasant farmers) and community leaders."

Photos D.R. 2005 Ramón Aceveda
On August 7th, 2005 the same Calibio Battalion assassinated a known community leader, Luis Sigifredo Castaño. A member of the community remembers him, "He was a kind man. We had known him for over 15 years. He was part of CAHUCOPANA, a new campesino human rights organization. Sigifredo was not an insurgent as the military accused." Denouncements made by a local campesino association, the ACVC, stated that, "[Sigifredo] was found dressed in camouflage, even though everyone in the region knew he was a campesino and was disabled."

The Colombian military continuously uses the tactic of killing campesinos, dressing them in camouflage, and denouncing them as insurgency. A member of Sigifredos family stated, "The Calibio Battalion came to the house at six in the morning, they grabbed him, tied him up and demanded to know where the guerrilla camps were. But he knew nothing of the sort. He was in shorts, a t-shirt, and some rubber boots when they took him. At 8 in the morning, about 100 meters from the house we heard machine gun fire. When the military left at 4pm we saw them taking his dead body dressed in camouflage." Members of the Battalion Calibio have been confirmed by various campesino sources to work with and actually operate as paramilitaries.

Memorial to Luis Sigifredo Castaño near the site of his assassination.
A report published in early 2005 by the High Commission for Human Rights of the United Nations in Colombia, declared that that human rights violations were still "... attributed to the direct action of public servants, particularly members of the security forces." In a later report the Commission expressed "... serious concern at reports of cases of support, collusion or complicity on the part of state agents with paramilitary groups."

After many years of international and national pressure to abide by international human rights, the Colombian government continues to use the military and paramilitary "death squads" as main weapons against the civilian population and political opposition. For decades, the Colombian military and their paramilitary allies have enjoyed a high level of impunity from judicial processes. Most recently, on October 23rd the head of Colombia's secret police (DAS), Jorge Noguera, resigned after the discovery of tapes discussing the agency's alleged plans to give intelligence information to the paramilitaries. In addition, the paramilitaries have boasted many times of how they control more than 35 percent of the Colombian congress.

Soldiers of the Calibio Battalion on the march in Antioquia.
The Colombian government has spent much of this year promoting the "demobilization" it negotiated with the paramilitary leadership. The so-called "Peace and Justice Law" allows paramilitaries to "reinsert" themselves into civilian life, by turning in their weapons and serving short prison sentences if the state can prove they personally committed specific crimes. Similar processes in other countries have nearly always happened after the given conflict has ended, but in Colombia the war rages on.

The law has been widely criticized for letting the country's worst human rights abusers off the hook while doing nothing to truly dismantle paramilitary networks that continue to operate. New paramilitary groups have even been reported to have emerged since the law's passage. Nevertheless, the law received great support from the U.S. State Department before and after its passage, and recently received an endorsement from the European Union.

It is also important to note that the 40-year-old Colombian civil war is exacerbated by increasing military aid from the United States. Since 1999, when Plan Colombia was signed, over $4 billion U.S. dollars have been funneled into the police and military of Colombia. Meanwhile, human rights abuses by the government forces and their paramilitary allies have increased significantly. Nevertheless, as recently as August the State Department was "certifying" Colombia on human rights, and the foreign aid law the U.S. Congress passed last week continues to supply Colombia with more military aid than any country outside of the Middle East.

Common sight in rural Colombia: piles of spent shell casings on the ground.
Violence has forced millions to flee from rural areas to the cities. "As campesinos what are we going to do in the cities? We don't have any money, we don't have a place to stay, and there are no jobs," said a man from the northeastern region of the department of Antioquia. Campesino leaders told me that since the murder of Sigifredo more than 100 families have been forcibly displaced from the region - made into refugees - by the military and paramilitary repression. Today in Colombia, there are more than 3 million people displaced internally. According to the Colombian human rights group CODHES, some 287,000 were displaced in 2004, an increase of 38.5 percent from the prior year.

In response, campesinos from northeastern Antioquia have created social organizations, such as the ACVC and CAHUCOPANA, to protect their rights, and to create socio-economic projects to help the people of the region. These organizations have set up projects dealing with housing, food, education, health, documentation of human rights violations, and protection of their communities. Since their creation, however, both of these organizations have been violently attacked by the government and the paramilitaries.

In an interview a leader of the ACVC stated, "To the citizens and social organizations of the United States we ask that you stand in solidarity with the Colombian campesino. Military, economic, and political intervention by your government has been devastating to our people. Your neo-liberal economy does nothing but take from the mouth of our children. Your helicopters, weapons, and troops support an oppressive, violent government."

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