With the lost members of the team now safely out of Colombia, it's easy to speculate on what could have happened. While Shawn, Kavitha and Monica were stuck on various islands off the coast, terrorist action was taking place not too far away in the northwestern region of Uraba, Colombia. Here, our worst fears for the Team are played out on other innocent people.
No matter how unjust many things can be in the US, it's hard to imagine living in a world of political unrest where the most basic of human rights are violated on a daily basis. But that's been the situation for members of many communities in Colombia.
In 1996 and 1997 in Uraba Colombia, innocent families were driven from their homes by army-supported paramilitary groups and guerrilla organizations. These displaced citizen's pleaded for assistance from the Colombian government, begging for a safe return to their homeland. Their pleas, however, fell upon deaf ears. The Colombian government, although it banned the existence of paramilitary groups in 1989, has done little to help them find peace.
In an effort to maintain a secure existence under the circumstances, the exiled citizens established the 'Peace Communities' of San Francisco de Asis, which include four different settlements. They declared neutrality from the gurilla war being waged around them against the government. However, despite their efforts to remain peaceful, paramilitary and guerilla groups have continued to grow and consolidate around them, committing vulgar human rights violations against them. Thousands upon thousands of innocent slayings have been reported in the past five years.
The most recent of these actions happened on Wednesday, April 7, 1999. Just days after we slipped by this region, three of us to the east and two to the west, on our way from Panama to Peru, twelve innocent people were abducted from one of these peace communities by paramilitaries. Their location is not known, however paramilitary leader Carlos Castano has admittedly reported that his forces are holding them.
Since the abduction, three of the abducted have been tortured and killed, along with one of their three year old daughters.
Carlos Castano says that massacres of violence will continue against all 'Peace Communities' and human rights activists working with them.
How many innocent people will be extrajudicially executed or simply 'disappear' before actions against the paramilitary guerillas are taken?
Imagine if it had been one of us?
Or you or your family?
Will you take action to help these people?
We learned all of this from Amnesty International, and they are urging people to send an e-mail, letter, or fax to Colombian governmental officials. They urge you to write letters:
- expressing grave concern for the safety of Crecencio Mendoza, Jusus Arias, Jeronimo Martinez, Floriberto Hurtado, Raul Posada, Edgarado Gomez, Joselito Gallego, Miliciades Mena and Jorge Correa who were abducted from the Peace Community of Villahermosa on 7 April 1999 and calling for the authorities to secure their safe release;
- condemning the killing of Jose Angel Cardenas, Jorge Enrique Murillo, Luis Felipe Lamberti, Jorge Ramos and his three-year old daughter;
- calling for prompt, impartial and full investigations into the abductions and killings, for the results to be made public and for those responsible to be brought to justice;
- expressing concern for the safety of members of the San Francisco de Asis Peace Community in Uraba, especially those living in the settlements of Villahermosa, El Arenal, Clavellino, Domingodo;
- calling the authorities to take immediate steps to protect the civilian population of the region of Uraba, including human rights activists working with the displaced community;
- urging the government to take immediate and decisive steps to dismantle paramilitary groups, in line with their repeated commitments.
This is an urgent action! We encourage you to write as soon as possible to one or more of the following officials:
The President of Colombia:
Senor Presidente Andres Pastrana, Presidente de la Republica
Or regular mail:
The Minister of the Interior:
Dr. Nestor Humberto Martinez, Ministro del Interior
Carrera 8, No.8-09, Piso 2
Santafe de Bogota, COLOMBIA
Fax: 011 57 1 286 0053
Regional Military Commander:
General Martin Orlando Carreno Sandoval
Comandante XVII Brigada del Ejercito
Carepa, Uraba, Antioquia, Colombia
Fax: 011 5748 823 6601
This is an urgent issue. If you wish to send a letter but it is already after May 21, 1999, please check to see if your letter is still timely by writing to: Amnesty International