MILITARY OPERATIONS IN RURAL AREAS
A. General Considerations
1. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss military operations in rural parts of Colombia and their impact on the local and Indian populations. In making this review, the Commission does not seek to make a thorough analysis of such a complex problem as the situation of the Indians. This problem, as it is in any other country in the Americas, has implications of different types, among them, anthropological, sociological, legal, economic, cultural and religious.
2. Colombian military authorities have informed the Commission that these operations have not resulted in the militarization of certain geographical areas. Military regimes have not been established in any of these areas and the civil authorities designated by the central government continue to carry out their normal functions.
In recent months, the Commission has received claims and information referring to military operations in certain rural parts of Colombia. According to that information, these operations have had adverse effects on the local farm population and on certain Indian communities.
Some of the information that is in the hands of the Commission speaks of “militarized” zones, resulting from military operations aimed at eradicating subversive movements and the armed and political activities of guerrilla groups, among them the FARC and the M-19, in those rural areas.
B. The Case of the El Pato region
1. On September 12, 1980, the Commission received the following claim:
Three thousand campesinos from the El Pato Region have come to Neiva, the capital city of Huila Department. This exodus started on August 27 following air bombardments and other military operations. Legislative bodies such as the Council of Neiva have announced their unanimous opposition to new acts of repression against the civil population and have demanded the demilitarization of farming areas and implementation of full guarantees for the local people. Last August 31, 100 police agents occupied the lands of the Embera-Katia Indian community in the municipality of Bagadó, Chocó Department. As a result of this punitive action Luis Enrique Arce, an Indian and the Governor of Cabildo, Jairo, were killed.
The Indians have denounced the disappearance of five children and the destruction of huts, personal belongings, tools and the loss of a large sum of money that was to be used to pay the workers of the gold mines they own. /
2. In a communication dated October 15, 1980, the Government replied to the Commission’s request for information as follows:
1. It is not true that three thousand campesinos have left the El Pato region as a result of air bombardments or other types of military operations. This exodus of people has been caused by subversive elements belonging to the FARC who have attempted to stop the public force action that was being carried out in neighboring areas as a result of the serious incidents caused by that criminal organization last August 18 when three soldiers of the national army were killed.
2. Members of the National Congress and the Colombian press went to the El Pato region and saw that the area had not been subjected to bombardment by the air force. This type of military action was used only once to bring about the capture of a clandestine airport located in the Las Perlas area, outside the El Pato zone, This airport had been used by these anti-social elements as the delivery point of large sums of money as ransom for persons kidnapped. As the congressmen and journalists were able to see, no houses or properties that could have been affected by the air force action exist within ten kilometers of this airport.
3. The President of the Republic and several ministers had the opportunity to talk with a delegation of approximately 80 campesinos that said they were from El Pato. The purpose of this meeting was to examine the situation, which has arisen there. During this meeting the Government informed them that the persons actually responsible for the disturbances of that region were the members of the FARC. It then read out the names of 103 local people who had been killed by that subversive organization in violation of their human rights. One interesting point, it should be noted, is that there were only eight campesinos at that meeting who were actually from the El Pato region. The other 72 were recruited from areas around this capital city through a deceitful maneuver by several leaders of the Communist party.
4. The large majority of the campesinos involved in the August 27 exodus have now returned to El Pato, the area in which the national Government and the army, in particular, have been building an important highway and other works of interest for development of that region.
5. As for the situation that has arisen in the municipality of Bagadó, Department of Chocó, between the members of an Indian Community and the national police, it should be recalled that this intervention of the public force was carried out under the terms of an injunction issued by competent civil authority. An investigation is being conducted into the incident between the authorities and the Indian community. /
The Colombian Government has turned over to the Commission other documents on this case. These documents deal with different aspects of these military operations. One of these documents reads as follows:
Since 1954 the Guayabero and El Pato region has been used as the chief refuge and center for organization and training of the armed groups that operate in different parts of the country under the direction of the Communist Party of Colombia and, at this time, the self-named Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.
From the start this organization has been carrying out intense activity in an effort to convert and coerce the people living in the region. They have conditioned their stay there and their lives on gaining their support.
In addition to this, these groups and specifically, those in the area of influence of Guayabero and El Pato, have conducted several criminal activities in the past five years:
Attacks on neighboring villages 11
Known kidnappings 10
Ambush of army and police patrols 10
The following persons were killed in these
Ambushes. 2 Officers
7 Non-commissioned Officers
6 Police Agents
- On June 4, 1980, in the area surrounding the Uribe (Meta) police inspection station, anti-social elements of the FARC ambushed an armed patrol and killed five soldiers.
- On August 18, 1980, in the area of Puerto Crevaux, these same anti-social elements ambushed another army patrol and killed two soldiers at this time.
Following these events, the army with the corresponding and necessary support from the air force launched operations on August 19. To date, the army has located the following installations:
- The installations of the so-called “chiefs of staff,” located on right bank of the Guayabero River, with two lodgings for personnel, four huts for the kitchen, dining room and dispensary, an escape tunnel 20 meters by one meter, and infantry training field and wooden training rifles.
- Installations occupied by Luis Alberto Morantes Jaimes (also know as Jacobo Arenas), the political chief of the organization, located on the Right Bank of the Leiva River, with the following facilities: hut, kitchen, dispensary, camp for 40 men and training field. This area had fortified surroundings.
- Landing field on the left bank of the Leiva River with two huts for the kitchen and lodging for men. This 800-meter long field was built by the bandits whom they used for landings and take-off of DC-3 airplanes.
- Installations at Puerto Chiguiro, with shoe-repair, leather-working, sewing, and carpentry shops, a dental clinic, an armory, two huts, lodging for 80 men each, and a conference building for 150 men. The area sound this installation is also fortified.
- Installations at Guayabo Negro, with lodging for 20 men, kitchen, a sugar mill, shooting range and dispensary. This area is also fortified.
- Installations in the Moja Huevas gorge, with hut, dining room, sports fields, and housing for 100 men. This area is also fortified.
- Camp across from the so-called Sara Cruz house, on the Guayabero River, with hut, dining room, kitchen and lodging for 60 men. This area is also fortified.
2. EXODUS OF LOCAL PEOPLE
As a result of the presence of troops in the area where, for a considerable length of time, there has been no authority other than that of the seditious elements and since the local population is afraid of them and obedient to them, the so-called chiefs of staff of the self-named FARC gave the order to evacuate the area for the following purposes:
- To generate a social problem in the city of Neiva to pressure the Government into compliance with their demands.
- To use certain local persons to conduct a well designed propaganda campaign thorough the national media to have public opinion condemn the action of the troops.
- To remove small groups of local persons to the principal cities for the apparent purpose of looking for human solidarity but for the real purpose of promoting disorder among students and workers.
3. CIVIC ACTION OF THE MILITARY FORCES
In the operational area the military forces encircled the El Pato and Guayabero region to keep the anti-social elements from spreading their criminal activities beyond the control area, and to support the different works that the military command is carrying out there. These projects include civil and military cooperation in the so-called rehabilitation plans.
These plans, developed after 1966 directly by the army command in coordination with governmental, semi-official and private agencies, were designed to build the basic infrastructural works needed to rehabilitate the region, to reintegrate it into the national economy and to eliminate the primary socioeconomic causes of the disturbances of public order. Many of these social problems were started by the FARC groups and were being exploited by them in their political conversion activities.
At the start of execution of these plans, the decisive participation of the military forces helped to achieve the following:
1) The reintegration of former inhabitants who had been removed from their land by the anti-social elements. More than 300 families returned to the El Pato region during this stage.
2) A loan program was conducted by the Caja Agraria for families who resettled in Alto Pato. Under this program, each family received a loan of $74,000.
3) A road section of the Platanillal – Balsillas road 24 kilometer long was built.
4) A mule path 40 kilometers long from Yucales - Balsillas San Jorge was built.
5) A dirt road 13 kilometers long between Holanda and Pueblitos was build.
6) Organizational assistance was given to a number of consumer cooperatives, with the help of the national Superintendence of Cooperatives and IDEMA:
7) The National Coffee Growers Federation helped to build a school in Upper Pato region in 1975. Later, another was built in Galicia (Middle Pato).
8) A health center was built at San Jorge (Upper Pato) for permanent health services in the person of a nurse from the National Health Service.
In a later stage of this work (starting in November 1976) the Balsillas. San Vicente road was started with a projected total of 111 kilometers. Of this amount, 36 are now designed and 25 are built, following an investment of $42,589,000.
At this time, the average cost of this work is $4,000,000 per kilometer. 
4. On October 10, 1980, the Permanent Committee for the defense of Human Rights published a press bulletin about this case. In addition to other points, this document makes the following:
This is not the first time that the Colombian army has committed aggression in the El Pato region. During the violence unleashed in 1948 throughout the entire country, this was one of the hardest hit areas. During the second wave of violence in 1955, military forces bombarded and systematically machine-gunned the region of Villarica and Galilea, converting their fields into cemeteries and forcing the survivors to move to El Pato and Guayabero. In 1965, under the same pretext that is brandished about now, that is, “suppressing the independent republics,” the Colombian army, advised by a United States military mission, committed the most ferocious genocide of campesinos of this region. Once again the area was machine-gunned and bombarded, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, property and other goods of the local people. Hundreds of settlers were detained and tortured. The others emigrated in a mass movement to the cities.
Later, in 1971, the Government guaranteed that the farmers could return freely to this area affected by violence and promised that the army would not intervene there militarily. It also promised these campesinos that hey would se socioeconomic development plants, school, health centers, loans, highways and other improvements. None of these plans has been carried out by the authorities.
Despite the promises to refrain from military operations in the region, In August 1980, troops of the Ninth Brigade invade, bombarded and machine-gunned these rural areas under the pretext of repelling a guerrilla attack and arguing that Colombia could not tolerate the presence of “independent republics.”
These new military actions provoked a new massive flight of the civilian population. Two thousand persons, among them men, women, old people and children, marched hundred of kilometers to Neiva and other cities to save their lives. The economic losses were great since crops and cattle were abandoned.
The Congress of the Republic has appointed investigating committees to find a settlement for this problem. Most of the departmental assemblies and the municipal councils have requested that the El Pato area be demilitarized.
For its part, the government and the military affirm that the army will remain in the area for an indefinite time and they refuse to offer sufficient guarantees to the campesinos so that they can return to their land without risking their lives. Authorities have also refused to guarantee that they will not impose measures that are in effect in other militarized parts of the country, among them, the implementation of military passes for moving about, constant personal appearances at control points, restrictions on the trade of foods and medicines, massive detentions, raids and tortures at the military Camps.
Thus, the problem still has no solution in sight. The campesinos refuse to return until they have sufficient guarantees and will continue taking refuge at the stadium in Neiva. Hundreds of the families there suffer form the inclement weather and one child has already died from gastroenteritis.
C. Other Military Operations
1. In a communication dated February 5, 1981, the Commission received information on new military operations in rural parts of Colombia. This information included press releases on those operations. The pertinent parts of this information follow:
We are also sending to you press clippings informing the Colombian people about a new military operation that covers all the territory of the Intendency of Caquetá and also the departments of Meta, Huila, Tolima and Cauca. As high military leaders have said, this is a military operation much broader than any others conducted to this time in Colombia. This war action, like the others before the civilian population, especially against local campesinos as has been occurring to date, always under the pretext of their being the helpers of the rebel groups.
We have just learned that preparations are under way for another military operation against other municipalities and regions in Meta department. Specifically, there is a threat of a large-scale military occupation of the area of Medellín del Ariari and the municipalities of Lejanías and San Juan de Arama. It should be noted that these places have large civilian populations and it has been more than twenty years since there has been violence there. To the contrary, Colombians in general know that the inhabitants of these places are hard working, peaceful people. I t is clear that this unusual activity of the Colombian Armed Forces is closely linked to the discussion and possible approval by the national Congress of the official draft law on a presumed amnesty for the rebels. The behavior of the high military commanders is aimed at increasing public tension and making it practically impossible to apply the benefits of the amnesty, which would obviously be qualified and limited. /
2. At the time, the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia turned over to the Commission a report of military operations conducted in 1980. This report reads as follows:
February 10, 1980 – Puerto Boyacá: Five thousand (5,000) soldiers were sent to reinforce the militarization oft his municipality. Dos Quebradas, El marfil, Pinzón and Guanegro are the targets of strong restrictive measures. Their inhabitants are under strict controls for purchases of food, medicines and goods in general. Troops raid the homes of these people. Some people have been detained and tortured. Among these are Luis Enrique Henao and his son, Luis Enrique and Luis Carlos Galindo, their family members have denounced their disappearance.
February 17, 1980 - La Uribe (Meta): a large and representative group of inhabitants from la Uribe met with Minister Germán Zea Hernández and denounced the bombardment of their village. Military helicopters and airplanes took part in that operation in which the homes and streets of the village were indiscriminately bombed on several occasions. Later, land troops occupied the village and started to search homes, businesses and teaching establishments. Several of the repressive measures adopted by the troops are required passes, control of supplies, appearance of citizens before military base commanders and massive and indiscriminate detention of citizens. According to the members of this group, more than 50 persons have detained. These include farmers, businessmen, schoolteachers, and the physician of the Office of the Secretary of health and the Police Inspector.
April 1980 – Arauca: Hundred of soldiers belonging to the Seventh Brigade were sent to the Fortul region (Intendencia of Arauca) under the pretext of pursuing alleged members of the FARC. Troops of the Air Transport Battalion and the Guías del Casanare Battalion are participating in this military operation.
August 24, 1980 – El Pato: Military airplanes and helicopters bombarded the place know as Las Perlas in the lower Pato region between the department of Huila and the Intendency of Caquetá. The bombardment is part of the Pato operation planned by the Ninth Brigade headquartered in Neiva, the capital of Huila. As a result of the bombing, more than 1,500 families of local settlers left the area. These terrified campesinos abandoned their farms, livestock and crops and went to the cities of Neiva and San Vicente del Caguán. In Neiva, authorities sheltered the farmers and their families in a sports stadium. The unhealthy conditions, the confusion and the overcrowding resulted in the death of three small children.
September 1, 1980 – Chocó: A military operation approved and coordinated by the Ministry of Defense and the National Police command in Bogotá was carried out in the Upper Andágueda, a region located on the boundaries between the departments of Antioquia and Chocó. The Embera-Catín Indian tribe inhabits this jungle area. This tribe has been harassed for several years by military and police authorities who defend the interest of large Antioquia landowners interested in depriving the Indians of a rich gold mine located within the boundaries of their lands.
In all, 200 police agents armed with rifles and grenades took part in this repressive action. The press repots that news military and national police groups have gone to the area to strengthen the public forces involved in these operations. A committee of Indians reached Bogotá and claimed that during the repressive action, Jairo Rivera, Roberto Murillo and the Governor of the reservation, Enrique Daza, were killed. This committee also claimed that during the political aggression against the Indians, 4 children disappeared and 8 Indians were taken prisoner, several wounded among them.
September 10, 1980 – Urabá (Antioquía): The troops of Operational Command No. 11, headquartered at the La Maporita of Dabeiba Base, were reinforced by military units belonging to Voltígeros, Junín and Bomboná battalions, making a total of 10,000 men belonging to the infantry, the navy, the air force and the paratroopers. This was the start of a pincer operation under the pretext of putting and end to the rebels. As a result, the local campesinos fled to the city.
October 10, 1980 – Santander: The southern part of the department of Santander has been militarized and the municipalities of La Paz, Santa Elena, Vélez and Florián occupied. The reason for this, according to high military officers, is the murder of Nolasco Niño who was executed by civilians who have been seen many times accompanying army patrols. These persons also shot José Rodríguez, a teacher in the leg.
October 16, 1980 – Urabá: Several operational units of the Caucheras military garrison started a large-scale military operation in the Urabá region. Army soldiers and groups of individuals dressed in civilian clothing, who belong to the counter-insurgent force, occupied the districts of El Sungo, San Martín, La Pancha, San José, El Mariano, La Balsa, Los Mandarines, El Gaz, El Salto, Arenas, Oviedo, Caravallo, Caravallito, and Pueblo Galleta which are in the municipalities of Apartadó en Turbo. They also took the districts of Leoncito and La Curva in the municipality of Mutatá where they held and tortured seven (7) civilians, among them, Alfredo Pérez, Conrado Pérez and Tocayo Durán.
A delegation of counselors from the region requested a meeting with the Minister of Government and legislators from Antioquia for the purpose of requesting guarantees and the withdrawal of the army so that they are not forced to emigrate to the cities. The members of the group state that the operation has been in preparation since early in the year when the military garrison was installed at Caucheras. /
3. In January 1981, military authorities reported to the Commission on several parts of the military actions in rural areas and the operational fronts of the FARC in those areas. In conversations about this matter, the following points were covered:
a) The military operations were carried out in geographical areas where subversive groups have been active and where the FARC has been active for a long time;
b) The rural military action of the FARC includes the establishment of guerrilla fronts in the following areas:
i) The El Pato region in the department of Huila and in Caquetá;
ii) Department of Huila;
iii) Department of Caquetá
iv) Middle Magdalena Region;
v) Urabá region;
vi) Parts of the Cauca Valley;
vii) Meta department, specifically in the Guayabero region;
viii) Dismembering of the Fourth Front which operates north of Cimitarra;
ix) Department of Caldas;
x) Arauca region;
xi) Area along the border between the Departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca.
c) It was also explained that there were eight fronts in 1979 and eleven fronts by early 1981. /
 This claim was transmitted by the Commission to the Colombian Government in a communication dated September 12, 1980. The communication requested information about this matter. The Commission proceeded to open this case as No. 7561.
 The pertinent parts of the Government’s reply were transmitted to the claimant in accordance with the Commission’s rules.
 In addition, the Colombian Government gave to the Commission a report on the deaths caused by subversive groups in Huila and Caqueta. This list has 75 persons and their deaths have been attributed to the FARC. Another list of 16 dead persons has been charged to the Ejército Popular de Liberación while another list of 15 has been charged to the M-19. The Government also turned over to the Commission the press bulletins issued by the Ministry of national Defense in connection with the military operations in the areas of Guayabero and El Pato.
Press bulletin No. 041 dated August 25, 1980, reads as follows: “In connection with the military operations that army troops have been carrying out since last August 18, with the support of the air force, and under the jurisdiction of the Seventh and Ninth Brigades, the ministry of national Defense reports: 1. Following several actions carried out in the southern part of Meta department, the Seventh Brigade occupied and dismantled the command post of the FARC, and its training and supply areas located to the east of the place known as Puerto Crevaux. During these operations army troops took a clandestine airport located at the confluence of the Leiva and Guayabero Rivers, captured different war material, uniforms, tools for landing field maintenance, large quantities of medicine, implements to make uniforms, provisions and large amounts of communist party propaganda. The landing field is 800 meters long and 40 meters wide and trenches protect the ends of the runway. 3. While the Seventh Brigade was occupying a large zone of Meta department where the FARC had its command post, training and supply areas for a long time, the Ninth Brigade proceeded yesterday to occupy the general area of Las Perlas on the boundary between Meta department and the intendency of Caqueta. 4. During their retreat, the FARC burned their Camps and installations and abandoned equipment, arms, tools, livestock and crops, thereby losing the logistical support that they had organized over several years. There were also indications that in their flight, the FARC took their dead and wonder with them. 5. In these actions, First Corporal CARLOS AGUDELO MADRID lost his life in the performance of his duty and First Corporal FRANCISCO MONTOYA and soldiers ORLANDO HERNANDEZ HENAO, HENRY VARGAS MUÑOZ and JORGE YANTEN were wounded. The public is informed that the FARC took first all types of outrages, including low forms of humiliation and torture. 6. The command had refrained from conducting military operations in this part of the country in view of the situation of the local people who wee constantly advantage of to carry out their criminal intentions. The national Army and the Colombian Air Force will not stop their operations in the southern part of the Meta department until they succeed in reducing to insignificance the FARC elements operating in that zone.”
 The pertinent parts of this information from the claimants were transmitted to the Colombian Government by the Commission in a communication dated February 10, 1981, as part of case No. 7561. The press information that was released in Bogotá newspapers referred to the Government’s actions against the FARC and the M-19 in Caquetá. These publications include the message which the Commanding Officer of the Colombian Army, General Fernando Landazábal Reyes, issued to military personnel at the start of the offensive against the subversive groups. That statement reads as follows: “In making up this operational unit, a group of the most select officers and noncommissioned officers of the army were selected for command and staff positions. They will be under the command of Colonel Luis Eduardo Barragán Gutiérrez, a man with long experience in counter-insurgent warfare and skilled in all forms of army combat. These soldiers will carry out their missions. Operational Command No. Twelve will be in charge of troops selected form the Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Brigades belonging to the Vargas Infantry Batallion, the Serviez Air Transport Batallion, the Tenerife Artillery Batallion, the Magdalena Infantry Batallion, the Cazadores Infantry Batallion, the Juanambú Infantry Battalion and the Colombia Air Transport Battalion. I wish to emphasize the patriotism and dedication that the tactical units that make up operational command number twelve has shown at all times. In particular, I wish to emphasize the excellent work that they had carried out in the performance of their duties in the different jurisdictions where they have performance of their duties in the different jurisdictions where they have employed their will, enthusiasm and spirits to guarantee the tranquility, life, honor and property of all our compatriots. Placing Operational Command No. Twelve in charge of this is consistent with need to structure a properly commanded and out fitted organizations which, as a cohesive and disciplined unit convinced of the just cause of our democratic system, should make all efforts and sacrifices that the present times require to restore peace to these lands and tranquillity and trust among the people. I wish to take this opportunity to request that the people support and work with the troops. Remember that by being at their side, they are supporting liberty, the legitimate government, democracy, progress and peace. I wish to state that if, to the contrary, the people are indifferent or opposed to our cause, which is the cause of the whole country, they should be mindful, that they are unavoidable participating in this chaos and dissolution of the Republic. The Americas and the world offer examples, which I ask the people to consider. I wish to tell all these people, all men and women of Caquetá, Putumayo, El Pato, Coreguaje, El Guayabero, La Macarena, Yari and surrounding areas, that the flag carried by the soldiers is the flag of their traditions, their customs, their ideas, their liberty, their beloved Colombia. On the other hand, the banner of the subversive groups is nothing but he symbol of slavery, repression, and the despotism of the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat. Under this form of power, as we see in Poland, the proletariat is the slave and the Marxist Committee, the tyrant of the society, its people, their property and their destiny. I also wish to request civilian and ecclesiastical authorities to view these troops as a substantive part of our nation and to offer them their support, give them their counsel and guarantee them the completion of their duty, by all means available to them. I also ask them to pay whatever prices that loyalty and sacrifice may demand and to give the soldiers the constant support of the professional and patriotic enthusiasm in their hearts. I trust that with the help of God and the good will of the people of the region, every soon tranquility and order will be restores to this land of promise for the progress and happiness of the entire Colombian nation.”
 Information from the AFP Press Agency, dated January 24, 1981, Bogotá, on the military operation in the Caquetá zone, reads: “Approximately 1,000 persons including alleged guerrillas and their helpers have been detained since Friday in remote parts of southern Colombia. This was part of a gigantic regular troop offensive against insurgents, reliable sources said here today. Included in this operation being conducted in the vast, partially jungle area of Caquetá, are approximately 3,000 men of a new counter-insurgent command, which was launched yesterday by the Army Commander, General Fernando Landazábal. Most of the arrests were in Florencia, the capital of Caquetá, where Operations Command No. two, which will be supported by other battalion, will be based. In this area located in the Colombian Amazon the pro-Soviet rebel group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), has become a type of independent ¢Republic¢ as has occurred in other remote areas as will, according to military spokesmen. According to the same spokesmen, the FARC, the largest guerrilla group in the country, shot several campesinos in recent days as presumed traitors and kidnapped six land-owners and an important businessman, obviously for the purpose of demanding huge ransoms for their release. These sources also say this guerrilla counter-offensive is even larger than the one carried out mid-way through last year in the El Pato region, Huila Department, where thousands of settlers fled in fear of army bombardments directed at the FARC and the pro-Castro Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN).”
 The Government of Colombia turned over to the Commission a number of documents including requests from citizen groups, civic leaders, municipal authorities, and community action groups from different towns and departments of the country to re-establish army positions or police stations in those areas, or to expand their jurisdictions. The purpose of these actions was to protect the rural areas from violence and threats stemming from the action of the subversive groups.