Alarm in Bogota as Paramilitary Groups Reform

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The return of fully fledged paramilitary groups to several Bogota neighbourhoods has become the "sad reality" according to the Colombian Ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo). His assertions have been backed up by Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno who, like the Ombudsman, had previously warned the government that such a process was underway.

The first warnings from the Ombudsman came a year ago whilst Mayor Moreno, upon coming to office in January 2008, also made clear his concerns. Yet no action was taken and, today, according to the Ombudsman paramilitary death squads known as the 'Black Eagles' are present in Bogota neighbourhoods such as Altos de Cazuca and Soacha. The result has been an upsurge in death threats and killings.

But the 'Black Eagles' are not the only group active in Bogota. According to the Ombudsman other groups also exist including the 'Bloque Capital' and the 'Urabenos'. Both of these groups have been in existence for some years despite the Colombian regime claiming that there are no longer any death squads operating due to their 'peace process' with the paramilitaries. However, the regular and ongoing killings by the paramilitaries fly in the face of this assertion.

According to human rights groups the main objective of the paramilitary units in Bogota is to create fear among targeted groups and communities, as well as to carry out selective assassinations. Some of the groups affected have included CODHES (the principle Colombian NGO working with displace people), the CUT (Colombia's main trade union confederation) and the CPDH (Colombia's oldest and largest human rights NGO). All, along with several lesser known civil society organisations, have received a barrage of death threats.

Many of the threats have been specifically targeted at those who participated in the nationwide protests against state violence that were held on March 6th. On such threat reads; "You used the march to set people against us and put us down. We are going to start killing you." Other paramilitary communiques state that their enemies are "NGOs, opposition members of congress and people who support the guerrillas."

The effect of their presence in the poorest neighbourhoods of Bogota has been the imposition of an illegal curfew upon the inhabitants who are now not allowed to circulate after 10pm. Another effect has been a rise in the number of murders in the neighbourhoods where the death squads are operating. In addition, the paramilitaries are making efforts to exert a mafia-like control on street vendors, small shopkeepers, market stall holders, etc, forcing them to join "neighbourhood protection schemes".

To date the Colombian Government has refused to act, still claiming, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the paramilitaries simply do not exist.

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