|Displaced people who are protesting these days in Plaza Bolivar, demanding land and other benefits. The man on the right told me that he was driven from his land by guerrillas.|
But, vicious as their murders of hostages are, the guerrillas' attacks on anonymous peasants far outnumber them, yet receive much less attention. During my years as a journalist and resident of Colombia I've spoken to many victims of the guerrillas (as well as people victimized by paramilitaries and even the nation's military), whose stories often include the murders of relatives, being driven from their homes and lands and children and husbands being taken away by force to be made into guerrilla fighters.
I'll never forget a Colombian woman whom I interviewed in an Ecuadorian border town where she'd taken refuge. The woman had owned a restaurant in a small Colombian town. One day, a group of strangers showed up and ate. They didn't pay, but returned the next day and the next. In her small town, the woman was used to giving credit, but she finally asked the men to pay up.
"We won't pay," she recalled the men telling her, "we are guerrillas and we are taking your restaurant - and your sons."
When I met the woman, she had had to abandon her home and business and had no idea of the fate of her two sons.
I also remember the woman and her daughters who came to the doorway of Bogotá Bike Tours begging one day. The woman said that guerrillas had taken away her husband and later came back for her sons, forcing her to flee with her daughters to the city, where they lived like refugees.
Another woman whom I met in Ecuador told me that the guerrillas had held her and others captive in their town, where they forced residents to work for them, washing clothes and doing other tasks. I also got the impression that the guerrillas committed sexual violations against the women, altho the woman didn't say so outright. She finally escaped to Ecuador, where I met her when she was appealing for assistance from the Catholic Church.
In her book about her years kidnapped by the guerrillas, one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt wrote that the guerrillas forced indigenous people to hand over a proportion of their children to become guerrilla fighters. So much for solidarity with the poor.
Read more about the guerrillas' rights violations, which also include kidnapping, violence against women, planting landmines (which mostly kill civilians), displacing peasants and on and on here, here or here.
In a normal nation, such crimes would fill weeks of headlines. But in a nation which has suffered decades of armed conflict and where the victims are overwelmingly poor and uneducated, the outrages have become routine and almost unnoticed - except to their victims.
In the face of mountains of horrors committed against Colombia's humblest people, some self-styled human rights defenders insist on defending the guerrillas, based, I suppose, on the guerrillas' romantic, idealistic pronouncements about social justice. The guerrillas may be good at repeating slogans, but their crimes, especially the ones which don't make headlines, completely discredit their pretentions. Leftists who sympathize with such an organization violate their own principles.
The guerrillas' abuses against Colombia's humblest people give the lie to their pretentions about being the 'army of the people.'
The FARC's defenders argue that the guerrillas' paramilitary enemies have committed horrific rights abuses, and that so has the country's military (altho Colombia's courts have prosecuted many military officials and ordered reparations paid). But that's all irrelevent to the reality that the FARC are a vicious, unprinicipled, drug-dealing organization which long ago lost all its moral capital.
The FARC even carry a moral responsibility for crimes committed by other Colombian armed groups, as horrific as those are as well. That's because those crimes came as a predictable- and also totally unjustifiable - reaction to the guerrilla violence.
The FARC's friends, in their safe, air-conditioned offices, often from nations where human rights are prized, probably could not conceive of the violations the guerrillas commit against the most defenseless Colombians - and they don't bother to find out.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours