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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-01-08 02:42 AM
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10. Propagandizing human rights in Colombia
Source: Colombia Journal

Date: 31 Mar 2008
Propagandizing human rights in Colombia
by Garry Leech

It happens time and time again. Following the killing of Colombian peasants, the government immediately blames guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the mainstream media in both Colombia and the United States dutifully report the allegations. In most cases, evidence later emerges showing that the Colombian military or its right-wing paramilitary allies were the actual perpetrators of the crime. The media, however, rarely reports the new evidence with the same vigor with which it reported the original claims holding the FARC responsibleif they report the new findings at all. Consequently, the Colombian government's propaganda campaign has successfully created the impression in many people's minds that the FARC are responsible for a majority of Colombia's human rights abuses despite the fact that statistics released by human rights organizations year after year contradict popular sentiment.

The disconnect between what people believe and the human rights reality in Colombia has again been made evident by the recent issuance of arrest warrants for Colombian soldiers responsible for the February 2005 massacre of eight peasants in the peace community of San Jos de Apartad. Immediately following the massacre, community members had claimed that the Colombian army was operating in the area at the time. The Colombian Defense Ministry immediately denied these claims, stating that the army was not involved in the killings and that 'no army troops were closer than two days' distance' from where the massacre occurred.

Vice-President Francisco Santos then quickly sought to shift blame for the massacre to the guerrillas by stating, 'The Government has evidence that leads to the FARC as authors of this horrible crime.' According to this alleged evidence, the victims were FARC collaborators who were killed for trying to leave the guerrilla group. And then, several weeks after the massacre, President Alvaro Uribe accused leaders of the peace community of San Jos de Apartad of 'helping the FARC' and 'wanting to use the community to protect this terrorist organization.' By publicly aligning the victims with the guerrillasa common strategy of the Colombian governmentthe president sought to redirect attention away from the possible perpetrators and onto the victims by holding them responsible for their own deaths.

While the mainstream media dutifully reported all of the government's accusations, the fact that the massacre occurred in San Jos de Apartad posed a problem for the Uribe administration. The peace community has achieved a relatively high profile with international solidarity and human rights organizations over the past decade, which led to the mainstream media in this particular case also reporting claims by community members that the Colombian army was involved in the massacre.

Finally, last weekmore than three years after the massacreColombia's attorney general's office issued arrest warrants for 15 soldiers accused of perpetrating the killings. The warrants were issued following testimony given by a demobilized paramilitary fighter named Jorge Luis Salgado. According to Salgado, he and other paramilitaries acted as guides for the Colombian army patrol that committed the massacre in the hamlet of Mulatos in San Jos de Apartad.

In his testimony, Salgado described the massacre: 'The children were under the bed. The girl, about five or six years old, was very nice and the boy was smart as well. We suggested to the officers that they be left in a nearby house, but they said they were a threat, that they would become guerrillas in the future.' Salgado then claimed that an army officer, who went by the nickname Cobra, 'grabbed the (five or six-year-old) girl by the hair and cut her throat with a machete.'

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