The Reactionary Restriction of Justice in Colombia Print
In February, the FARC-EP carried out the deadliest attack against the Colombian military in years when it killed at least 21 soldiers in the jungle province of Urab?. Two more soldiers were wounded and eight others unaccounted for following the ambush. The troops were members of the Colombian Army?s 17th Brigade, largely located in the Antioquia department, which has been one of the largest and most well-established strongholds of the right-wing paramilitaries since the late 1990s. In a reactionary manner, the army?s 17th Brigade responded to its humiliation not by entering the jungle to target the FARC-EP in a retaliatory campaign, but rather by attacking Colombia?s original peace community San Jos? de Apartad?.

It was here on February 21 that the 17th Brigade detained one of the community?s founders Luis Eduardo Guerra and three members of his family. The next day their lifeless bodies were found alongside the bodies of four more victims from the community, including two children. The United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia stated that the two children were brutally killed by ?machete blows? and ?gunshots.? Numerous human rights workers and groups, Catholic Church representatives and former mayor of Apartad? Gloria Cuartas?who received a death threat for identifying the bodies?stated that the only armed combatants seen within the region were members of the 17th Brigade. Others, meanwhile, more specifically reported that they saw soldiers from the 33rd Counter-Guerrilla Battalion of the 17th Brigade enter the peace community on February 21.

The grotesque activities carried out by the 17th Brigade, as stated and witnessed by inhabitants of the region, are another example of the counterinsurgent efforts of the Colombian state to inhibit the support and further expansion of social movements struggling for change within Colombia. The state does not seek to align support through methods of attraction or socioeconomic alteration but through the direct coercive and violent means of slaughtering innocent unarmed rural civilians. As disturbing and unfortunate as this is, this strategy of ?draining the sea? is nothing new within Colombia. However, the 17th Brigade?s actions following the February massacre establish a new stage of silencing justice in rural Colombia.

A recent publication by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York reported that on March 2 the 17th Brigade allegedly ?attacked a commission of investigators from the attorney general?s human rights office ? as the commission was returning? from a visit to interview witnesses of the February 21 massacre at San Jos? de Apartad?. During the attack, two members of the commission were shot, one of whom died. The 17th Brigade has been accused of the attack because it ?had a strong presence around the urban center of San Jos?? and due to the fact that the ?17th Brigade has a permanent 24-hour checkpoint in the village of La Balsa on the road between San Jos? and Apartad?, and carries out constant patrols along the road.?

Even more disturbing, are the activities implemented during the month of March. Ironically, after the Colombian government tried to place blame for the attacks on the FARC-EP, President Alvaro Uribe argued that the military assaults against the community were indirectly justified by the ?fact? that specific inhabitants of San Jos? de Apartad? were in consolidated alliance with the FARC-EP. With this sweeping brush of consent, the Colombian army overconfidently revisited the region on March 30 and further intimidated the residents by surrounding the community and their homes, thus suggesting that action can and will most assuredly be taken against those who divulge information to external sources or authorities. The military?s renewed presence resulted in the self-imposed displacement of the people of the San Jos? de Apartad? peace community on April 1.

The activities of the state forces illustrate the organized restriction of information through a reactionary ideology within Colombia. Such information could have a two-way devastating effect on the Colombian ruling-class and therefore must be restrained. The first consequence could be the establishment of an international front, which could place pressure on the U.S. government for directly supporting human rights abusers. The second is on a domestic front, which could hamper Uribe?s bid for a second shot at the presidency in the 2006 elections. As a result, the government does not want the facts, or any details, of the massacre to be disseminated into the domestic and international sphere and has worked to prevent information from leaving the community.

The witnessed operations of the 17th Brigade establishes a new stage in the fascistic policies of the elite within Colombia, in which they are no longer only targeting the civilian populace, but are now also targeting those within their very government that pursue truths that can stain the state?s ideological and political reactionary agenda.

James J. Brittain is a Ph.D. candidate and Lecturer at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. His research interests center on revolutionary and social movements throughout Latin America, the relevance of classical Marxism within contemporary geopolitics, and alternative forms of international development and social change.