Marina Martinez was busy getting her daughters ready for school one morning in August 2004 and so she missed the radio news report that the Colombian Army had killed three guerrillas in her home
Then Isaias Jaimes, a family friend and human rights campaigner, came to tell her the horrible facts. Isaias had been with Alirio, staying the night at a house following a meeting of local leaders of the CUT, the trade union confederation. Then soldiers came and seized five of their group. They shot dead three of their captives – Alirio, Lionel Goyeneche and Jorge Eduardo Prieto – and planted guns and wires on their bodies.
After a campaign the Attorney General’s office held an enquiry which conceded that the three murdered men had been unarmed.
The key reason is that potent three-letter word: oil. Arauca is home to the Caño-Limón oilfield from which oil is pumped to the Caribbean and then shipped out to the
Last week I visited Saravena for a preliminary hearing of the Tribunal Permanente de Los Pueblos (TPP) hosted by Arauca´s social organisations to indict the transnational corporations, such as Occidental Petroleum, Repsol and BP, which exploit Colombia´s oil without regard for the lives and liberty of its people. Tanks were stationed on the road outside the town, there were armed troops and bunkers on every main street and the central plaza was deserted.
The tribunal commemorated the eighth anniversary of the bombardment of the Araucan
I spoke to Isaias Jaimes at the ANUC regional headquarters. The entrance to the building proudly bears a large portrait of his murdered friend. Isaias explained that Arauca´s social organisations first developed in the 1970´s through peasant paracivicos (strikes and blockades) demanding better education, health provision and roads. The discovery of oil in the 1980´s led to the displacement of communities, environmental degradation, increased guerrilla activity and intensified repression by the state and supporting right wing paramilitaries. This worsened in 2002, with newly-elected President Uribe´s ´democratic security´ policy. In November that year soldiers surrounded Saravena and took 2000 people to the local stadium for interrogation. Isaias was among 50 people charged after what the army called its ´Heroic Operation´ and he spent 18 months in jail.
In 2006 soldiers have carried out four mass detentions in the province, rounding up trade unionists and a variety of community organisers, including street sellers and bull fighters.
The two trade unionists who survived the August 2004 army raid are still in jail after their trial for ´rebellion´. Samuel Morales is a teacher and the regional president of the CUT and Raquel Castro is an organiser for ASEDAR, the teachers union.
“The local governor says that it is our own fault when we get murdered and that we should just teach. But we have an ethical and moral responsibility to also be community leaders. The situation is very bleak. In
Organising amongst oil workers is also perilous. 105 members of USO, the oil workers union, have been assassinated in
“I never thought it would reach this point. It is down to the stubbornness of both sides. 400 people – guerrillas and civilians – have been killed. It has affected the social organisations as it is often unsafe for us to go into the countryside. Many people have been displaced and have gone across the border to
A glimmer of hope for the country was offered in May when Carlos Gaviria, the Alternative Democratic Pole candidate, won 22 per cent of the vote in the presidential elections. It was the first time that a left wing candidate came second. Although Uribe was re-elected by a big margin, 55 per cent of the electorate abstained. A majority of those who didn´t vote or aren´t registered to vote will be from the two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line. As in
Deyanira Saldarriaga is an organiser for the Araucan women’s association. Its role includes supporting women who have been raped and abused by the military. She feels optimistic about the prospects for
“I feel there is hope because there are so many people with knowledge and leadership skills” she said. “We have to work together”.
The PPT will hold a tribunal on the oil and gas sector in
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