What Does the El Aro Massacre of 1997 in Colombia tell us about the State s Use of Paramilitary Organisations?

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1 LASALA FOUNDATION What Does the El Aro Massacre of 1997 in Colombia tell us about the State s Use of Paramilitary Organisations? Oluwafemi Senu a a Terrorism and Political Violence Analyst To cite this article: Oluwafemi, S. (2013). What Does the El Aro Massacre of 1997 in Colombia tell us about the State s Use of Paramilitary Organisations? London: LASALA Foundation. To link to this article: Terms and Conditions for the use of this article: This article may be used for research and private study purposes. Any considerable or methodical reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is definitively prohibited. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up-todate. The accuracy of any information should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.

2 2 What Does the El Aro Massacre of 1997 in Colombia tell us about the State s Use of Paramilitary Organisations? By Oluwafemi Senu The political mind-set of Colombians had shifted, with paramilitary organisations such as the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) forming in 1997, as a result of the state s failure to adequately provide for the needs of Colombian citizens. Colombian paramilitary organisations consequently became engaged in state affairs and merged itself within contemporary society. Paradoxically, the paramilitary organisations that were meant to be opposed by the Colombian government were rather used as a way to achieve state aims. Through the analysis of the El Aro Massacre of 1997 and sub-cases within Colombia, this paper makes a link between why the state uses violence against its citizens and the uses of AUC paramilitary units for this purpose. Methods This paper uses an organisational manifestation of corporate and governmental crime approach for its analysis (Kramer, 1982; Needleman & Needleman, 1979). An Integration Theoretical Model of State corporate crime suggested by Kramer & Michalowski (1990) is used while a hypothesis-generating case study is applied to allow the formulation of a hypothesis which can be tested in a larger amount of cases (Lijphart, 1971). The paper uses both primary and secondary data. Data was collected from Human Rights reports, Amnesty International reports, online data sources, such as the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), newspaper articles and court cases. Historical Context The conflict in Colombia started with the outbreak of what is known as: La Violencia (the ten-year civil war between the Conservative and Liberal Party in Colombia, spanning between 1948 and 1958). Prior to 1948, specifically, in 1920, there was a disagreement about who owned the Sumapaz and Tequendama regions (Palacios, 1980). The liberal and conservative political wings became engaged in the conflict and the struggle escalated around 1948 with the assassination of a famous political leader: Jorge Eliecer-Gaitan (Leech, 2009). In the 1960s, the United States also became involved in the conflict, providing support for military assaults against the peasants who were living in the rural areas of Colombia (Wolf, 2002). It was a struggle between the Colombian government and peasant guerrillas such as: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN). The Liberal political wing and the socialist militants were also engaged but amalgamated into FARC during the period (Murilo, 2004). FARC and other guerrilla groups claimed they were fighting against injustice and stood for the people s rights

3 3 (Rebellion, 2008). The government claimed to be protecting the population against violence. However, violence was also being committed against private citizens who had no connection with the insurgency movements. The case of El Aro is an example. The El Aro Case The assault on El Aro occurred on October 25, 1997 when paramilitary troops stormed the village. There were several shootings and explosions heard. People witnessed a white helicopter firing continually, as it headed through Northern Cauca, with the assaulters claiming: we are the Auto Defensas Campesinas (Peasant Self- Defense Units) (Inter-America Court of Human Rights, 2006:26). These people were then taken to the park and were falsely accused of being guerrillas while the inhabitants of El Aro were taken to the village square and forced to lay on the floor. Several people were murdered (Inter-America Court of Human Rights, 2006). Analysing the El Aro case, AUC origins were rooted in paramilitary armies around the 1980s but the legal status of paramilitary organisation was removed in 1989 (Amnesty International, 2004). Nevertheless, the AUC continued functioning within the same framework and became much involved with drug dealings and much connected with the army, landowners, and political rings. The El Aro case proves that the authorities were reluctant to protect civilians. For instance, the Mayor of Ituango and councilors were fully informed of the invasion prior to its happening. Furthermore, the El Aro Action Committee sought protection directly from the state Governor s office, requesting the intervention of the Fourth Brigade Army, of the Girardot Battalion and the Yarumal prosecutor s office but were told no troops were available and that the troops were being deployed elsewhere (witnesses claimed that it was members of the paramilitary groups with the Army that attacked El Aro ) (Guillen & Reyes, 2008; Inter-America Court of Human Rights, 2006). This example confirms that the perpetrators of the invasion were well organized. Organizational Deviance Analysis Using the El Aro case to understand criminal behavior, the rationale of Green and Ward (2004:5) that state crime is one category of organizational deviance, alongside corporate crime and organised crime is very important. It was claimed that the Colombian Air Force and the US oil company, Occidental Petroleum Company (OPC) engaged in the planning of bomb attacks. The Cano Limon Company was also used for planning these attacks and US Air-scans coordinated and pinpointed its locations (Amnesty International, 2004). The US provided resources and helped in planning operations in Arauca. The US State Department also helped fund and equip armed brigades in Arauca. The OPC was alleged to have financed brigades and these brigades were jointly accused with the paramilitary of human rights abuses in Santo Domingo. These

4 4 bombings took place on civilians, with helicopters provided by the US, proving similar to that of the El Aro Case (Amnesty International, 2004). Therefore, all this evidence suggests, based on the rationale of Green and Ward, that the attacks which took place on innocent private citizens was criminal behavior, including that of El Aro. Comparable Cases Under the leadership of President Uribe, in November 2002, the people of Saravena and Arauca were surrounded. Prior to this, their social movements were restricted. Over 600 soldiers encircled the town, invaded people s homes and over 2,000 were intimidated at gun point. They were then taken to the stadium, detained and interviewed. Amongst the detainees, 85 were officially apprehended, among these, 35 were released and the remaining (50) were said to be trade unionists (Amnesty International, 2004). The following statistics obtained from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) also display comparable cases. Statistical Analysis: Fig. 1 Fig. 2 There were 744 incidents recorded in the GTD on assaults committed in Colombia (Fig.1) and 37 of these were committed by the AUC (Fig. 2).This data reflects information obtained from the GTD database only. This amount does not account for unreported incidents. The data consists of: all atrocities committed in Colombia (Fig.1), and all those perpetrated by the AUC only (Fig.2). Between 1990 and 1997, no incidents were recorded for the AUC (Fig.2) as perpetrators by the GTD. The reason for this might be because the AUC was established in Between 1998 and 2003 huge fatalities were committed by the AUC but declined slightly after 2003 and increased around The similarities with all these cases are that, the attacks are directed against civilians, properties, unionists, children and peasants who are neither guerrilla or have a connection with guerrilla movements.

5 5 The attacks committed by the AUC prove that the Colombian government intentionally used paramilitary units to protect their interests and that of their allies. This is shown in the following discovery. Alvaro Uribe came to power in 2002 (BBC News, 2012). Uribe proclaimed a state of internal commotion in August An order was issued and two sites that needed a security intervention were noted. RCZs (Rehabilitation and Consolidation Zones) were applied to pinpoint zones of troubles. Arauca and Saravena were one of the areas mapped. Amnesty International (2004) argue that despite the refusal of Colombia constitution to renew the RCZs, the mechanisms embedded within the RCZs were being employed throughout Colombia, causing huge unrest and human rights abuses. Motivational Factors Oil was discovered by the OPC in 1983 (in Arauca) and its extraction started in However, the pipelines had been under numerous attacks by the guerrillas. 910 million barrels of oil were being produced, with Colombia assumed to be the biggest net importer in the future (Amnesty International, 2004). Eco-petrol also owned 50% of the contract while the OPC and Spanish oil company: Repsol YPF owned the other 50%. Amnesty International (2004) perceived that the inconsistent US relationship with the Middle East and the location of the oil (bordered with Venezuela), placed large pressure on the US and radical action was imminent in the case of Colombian resources, thus the introduction of paramilitary units. This kind of deviant behaviour, engaged by the state, and its allies, is also cited by the Pearce model of corporation and capital gains, which is described as: mainly for profit, where a suitable environment is needed and control mechanisms are applied to any social impediments (1976). Catalyst for action: Lifting off Social Impediments The creation of an illegal means within a legal framework was a method adopted by the Colombian Government but under the framework of Plan Colombia. The US previously engaged in a war against both the FARC and ELN, using the avenue of Plan Colombia, but the true meaning of what Plan Colombia is, is unclear. Numerous atrocities were committed under the framework of Plan Colombia and several evidences link the government, the elites and multinational parties (Amnesty International, 2004). Plan Colombia was designed to combat civil wars and illicit drug cultivations including smuggling. Plan Colombia s agenda was set up during President Andres Pastrana s administration and during the first meeting held in Colombia in The US White House team, CIA and other supporters were present and some of the US policies such as: putting an end to threats posed by insurgency, the promotion of the respect for human rights and socio-economic development were incorporated into the plan. This behaviour is defined in Green and Ward (2004:28) by both Kramer and Michalowski that: state crime is socially harmful and it is an interaction between,

6 6 policies or practices for the attainment of goals, for either one or more institutions of political government. Other goals include one or more institutions of economic production and distribution (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000:282). Controlling Social Movements North-eastern Colombia is oil wealthy. However, the state failed to use its resources to provide for Colombian citizens. Many players are engaged with oil resources, including the guerrillas who engage in the extortion of oil and threaten to incapacitate those engaged in oil exploitation (Amnesty International, 2004). Similar patterns of peasant struggle and violence found between the 1920s and 1948 were also identified with the violence that occurred between 1990 and Higginbottom argues that the enclave economy of the 1920s became dominated by Tropical oil and the United Fruit Company but the methods used now, are that, the entire nation is dragged into an enclave, servicing an unholy alliance of new latifundistas, finance capital and multinationals (2005:124). Social movements then increased, which gave rise to insurgency, activists and guerrillas. The Colombian government lost control over its citizens, thus turning to violent behaviour against its citizens through the use of AUC paramilitary units. The aim, of course, was to protect economic, political and social interests, mainly against left wing insurgents around Colombia. The legal status adopted with the formation of paramilitary organizations was stripped based on the many atrocities committed. Meanwhile, the government has denied collaborating with the bad apples who committed these atrocities (BBC News, 2007) regardless of the constant connections between the government, paramilitary units and the Colombian armed forces. This clearly shows the denial of responsibility as proclaimed by Cohen I did not hurt anyone, or when the state buries their head pretending that nothing occurred (2001:60). Conclusion The factors identified in this paper affirm that the Colombian government uses paramilitary organizations for economic, social and political interests. They then cover up the atrocities committed in exchange for elite, multinational and corporate capital interests. Those who witnessed these atrocities became indirect victims as a result. After the Colombian government, witnessed the distress that paramilitary organizations caused to innocent individuals, they proceeded to bring its use to a halt. Regrettably, as a result of the paramilitary s prevalent role in Colombian affairs, they have not truly been stopped. Colombia s future looks to be in jeopardy as elements of the paramilitary are still within government. It begs the question: will Colombia ever be safe?

7 7 References Amnesty International. (2004). Colombia: Laboratory of war - Repression and violence in Arauca. [Online] Available at: < [Accessed: 27/12/2012]. BBC News. (2007). Colombia Militia Link Alleged. [Online] Available at: < [Accessed: 03/01/2012]. BBC News. (2012). Profiles: Colombia s Armed Groups. [Online] Available at: < [Accessed: 03/01/2012]. Cohen, S. (2001). States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity Press. Green, P. & Ward, T. (2004). State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption. London: Pluto Press. Guillen, G. & Reyes, G. (2008).Details of the Testimony That Links Uribe to Massacre. El Nuevo Herald, [Online] 27 April. Available at: < [Accessed: 27/12/2012]. Higginbottom, A. (2005). Globalization, Violence and the Return of the Enclave to Colombia. Development, 48(3), pp Human Rights Watch. (2000). The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military- Paramilitary Links. Human Rights Watch [Online] 12. Available at: < [Accessed: 27/12/2012]. Inter-American Court of Human Rights. (2006). Case of the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia. [Online] Available at: < [Accessed: 26/12/2012]. Kramer, R. (1982). Corporate crime: An Organizational Perspective. In: Wickham, P. & Dailey, T. (Eds). White-Collar and Economic Crime. Massachusetts: Lexington.

8 8 Kramer, R. & Michalowski, R. (1990). Toward An Integrated Theory of State- Corporate Crime. Baltimore, November. Maryland: American Society of Criminology Meeting. Leech, G. (2009). Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist. Massachusetts: Beacon Press. Lijphart, A. (1971). Comparative Politics and the Comparative Method. American Political Science Review, 65(3), pp Matthews, R. & Kauzlarich, D. (2000). The Crash of Valujet Flight 592: A Case Study in State-Corporate Crime. Sociological Focus, 3(3), pp Murilo, A. (2004). Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destablization. Toronto: Seven Stories Press. Needleman, M. & Needleman, C. (1979). Organizational Crime: Two Models of Criminogenesis. The Sociological Quarterly, 20(4), pp Palacios, M. (1980). Coffee in Colombia : An Economic, Social and Political History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pearce, F. (1976). Crimes of the Powerful. London: Pluto Press. Rebellion. (2008). FARC-EP Confirms Death of Marulanda through a Statement. [Online] Available at: < [Accessed: 27/12/2012]. Wolf, P. (2002). Notes on Counterinsurgency and Counterterror. [Online] Available at: < [Accessed: 27/12/2012].

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