Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Tragedy of El Placer, Remembered

The past few days El Tiempo and El Espectador have published some really horrific accounts of terrible abuses, mostly committed by right-wing paramilitaries, and mostly committed against women, in the terribly-misnamed town of El Placer, whose name means 'pleasure,' in the bajo Putumayo region.

Thankfully, these crimes mostly ended a half dozen years ago, altho that doesn't reduce their horror. The media is publishing these accounts because of the presentation Wednesday evening in the BLAA of a report, entitled 'Women, Coca and war in the Lower Putumayo,' by the Center for Historical Memory as part of the Fifth Week of Remembering. The southern Putumayo region, desired by outlaw groups because of its valuable coca-leaf plantations, had long been dominated by lefist guerrillas, who trampled residents' human rights in their own ways. But in 1999 right wing paramilitaries invaded, driving out the guerrillas and accusing residents of having collaborated with them.

A cadaver unearthed
in South Putumayo.
The newspapers publish chilling accounts of women raped and tortured by the paramilitaries, who murdered many residents and forced girls and women into sex slavery. The area's new rulers accused the villagers of having collaborated with the guerrillas or of being guerrillas themselves - even tho townspeople often collaborated only under the threat of death. Similar tragedies were repeated in many parts of Colombia, carried out in some areas by paramilitaries, in others by guerrillas.

The accounts are particularly disturbing in light of Colombia's controversial Justice and Peace Law, which enabled the paramilitaries' demobilization, but was heavily criticized for letting vicious criminals off with only light sentences or none at all, and invite reflection on the negotiations now beginning between the government and the leftist FARC guerrillas.

Ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe has been the loudest critic of the negotiations with the guerrillas, which he believes will permit impunity. But he conveniently forgets the impunity received by the right-wing paramilitaries - who notoriously fought alongside government forces while Uribe was governor of Antioquia Province and later president of Colombia.

The paramilitary demobilization, with all of its defects, at least reduced the number of civilian massacres and displacements. A possible peace treaty with the FARC guerrillas would undoubtedly have huge flaws, but could also prevent many future human rights violations.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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