On November 12, 2002, the military and police rounded up more than 2,000 people in Saravena and took them to the sports arena in the first mass arrest in the state of Arauca. On September 27 of this year, more than 2,000 people again filled the arena – this time to denounce the human rights abuses committed by the military and police during the past five years. The Human Rights Commission of the Colombian Senate held a public hearing in the arena that day which lasted for more than six hours.
Bernardo Arguello was the first victim to testify. He described being taken from his home and brought to the arena on that morning of November 12. “We were tied together and forced to walk past a car with polarized windows.” Two paid informants inside that car pointed out the people to be arrested. Bernardo was imprisoned for 15 months for “rebellion.” It appears that his real crime was being a leader of the Saravena Community Water Company – a very inspiring company that is owned and managed by the people of Saravena. Bernardo returned to Saravena after his release from prison and, less than a month later, he was arrested again – this time for “terrorism” and he spent another 26 months in prison. “I will continue working for our communities as I have always done,” said Bernardo, “but I fear for my safety, and I hold the government responsible for what could happen to me and my family.”
Sandra was the second victim to testify. She described the murder of her husband by the military during the La Cabuya massacre on November 20, 1998. The army killed five people in the community that night, including a woman who was seven-months pregnant. “They pounded on the door and my husband opened it – begging them not to kill him,” said Sandra. “They knocked him to the ground and then took him outside and shot him.” She said that as a victim of government repression, she wants the truth to be known and justice to be achieved. Sandra concluded, “I hold the military and police responsible for what could happen to me,” in reprisal for her testimony.
Alonso Campiño read the report of the Arauca Social Organizations. The military and police came to his home early in the morning of August 21, 2003 during the second mass arrest in Saravena. Alonso’s three-week-old son, Marlon, was grabbed from his father’s arms. His twelve-year-old son, Camilo, was forced to the ground and a soldier put a boot on his back. Alonso was arrested for “rebellion” and spent three years in prison and house arrest. It appears that his offense was being a teacher, vice president of the Arauca labor federation, and a leader in the movement to prevent Occidental Petroleum from drilling for oil in the territory of the U’wa indigenous people. Alonso said, “More than 120 community leaders have been kidnapped (arrested) by the government in Arauca, and there could be more arrests prior to the October 28 elections.”
Our friends in Saravena worked really hard in preparation for the Senate hearing, and they were very glad that the arena was filled and people had the courage to denounce the abuses they had suffered. Two hundred people filed complaints, either publicly or in private, during the course of the hearing.
The organization of the public hearing was generously supported by the Lutheran World Federation which is working with four excellent social organizations in Arauca. I returned to Colombia just three days before the hearing, and I’m very fortunate to be working now as a volunteer with the Lutheran World Federation as their representative in Arauca.
In love and solidarity,
Photo of Alonso Campiño (and hundreds of other people!) singing the Arauca anthem at the start of the Senate hearing in Saravena. His shirt has the photos of Leonel Goyeneche, Alirio Martinez, and Jorge Prieto – three renowned community leaders that were killed by the army in Caño Seco on August 5, 2004: