Colombia: Army Kills Union Leader Print
On Sept. 19 troops from the Colombian National Army's Nueva Granada Anti-Aircraft Battalion murdered campesino leader and mining union activist Alejandro Uribe in a rural mining area in the south of Bolivar department. Uribe was president of the Community Action Board of the village of Mina Gallo, in Morales municipality, and a member of the Agromining Federation of the South of Bolivar (Fedeagromisbol). He was killed while returning to Mina Gallo from the rural community of Las Culebras, in Montecristo municipality. Uribe had gone to the mining association's farm in Las Culebras that morning with Emiliano Garcia, an official with the Agromining Federation and legal representative of the Mina Gallo Association.

On Sept. 20, after Garcia and Uribe failed to return home as planned, a commission from the communities of Mina Gallo and Mina Viejito went looking for the two leaders. On the road they found Uribe's clothes, and were told by local residents that army troops had transported Uribe's body on a mule, apparently to the military base at San Luiquitas, in Santa Rosa municipality.

Some 600 residents of the area then traveled to San Luquitas to demand that Nueva Granada Battalion personnel hand over Uribe's body. On Sept. 21, members of the battalion threatened the protesting residents, saying: "This is not the only corpse you're going to have, there will be more dead leaders." Members of the battalion had previously warned that they had a list of local leaders and members of the Agromining Federation, and that they were hoping to find the listed individuals alone on rural roads.

The Nueva Granada Battalion troops who killed Uribe were commanded by Capt. Blanco under the orders of Benjamin Palomino, the battalion's Official Captain of Operations. The battalion, which is attached to the army's Fifth Brigade, had already been accused of a series of abuses in Mina Gallo and elsewhere in the mining region of southern Bolivar.

On Sept. 7, less than two weeks before he was killed, Uribe had gone with representatives of human rights groups to the Office of the Defender of the People to report that the battalion's troops had executed local resident Arnulfo Pabon on Aug. 18 in the rural village of Bolivador, Arenal municipality [see Update #867, where Pabon's last name was given as Cosme Pabon].

On Sept. 8, Uribe took part in an assembly in Mina Gallo of more than 18 mining communities of southern Bolivar, accompanied by representatives from the Office of the Defender of the People and human rights organizations, to analyze the human rights situation in the region and adopt protective measures. The meeting also served as a pre-hearing assembly for the Permanent People's Court, which is to be held in Medellin Nov. 11-12. Participants discussed the army's recent abuses and suggested they may be an effort to clear the way for the multinational company Kedahda S.A.--an affiliate of Anglo Gold Ashanti--to engage in mining operations in southern Bolivar. Uribe and other mining union leaders in the region oppose the company's presence.

In a radio interview, Gen. Jose Joaquin Cortes Franco, commander of the army's Fifth Brigade, claimed that his troops had killed an armed leftist rebel from the National Liberation Army (ELN), only to discover later that he was a local community leader. Cortes would not confirm that the man killed was Alejandro Uribe; he said the attorney general's office was in charge of determining the person's identity. Cortes claimed the man was in a "hostile position" when killed in combat, and that five other men were with him but managed to escape. Cortes confirmed that the man killed was wearing civilian clothing.

Cortes served as an instructor at the US Army's School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, from January 1993 to January 1994, while he was a major. In 1976, as a 2nd lieutenant, he took a course in "small unit infantry tactics" at the school, then located in Panama.