Tuesday, June 30, 2009

State policy of spying and persecution of Peace Community and prestigious human rights defenders revealed

In mid February the weekly news magazine Semana revealed that the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), Colombia’s domestic intelligence agency that answers directly to the president’s office, had for many year conducted (and perhaps still conducts) illegal surveillance of Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, prosecutors, human rights defenders, and journalists. When the scandal broke, the government tried to claim that a few “bad apples” conducted the spying.

Just after the Semana story broke, subsequent news reports revealed that many files, computer hard drives, and recordings had been destroyed. In response to the reports, the Cuerpo Técnico de Investigaciones (CTI), the Attorney General's Office's judicial police, began an investigation into DAS operations. Despite the destruction of much of the evidence, documents that remained, which covered the years 2004-2005, revealed that a secret group within the DAS – known as the G3 – was responsible for carrying out a systematic policy of political surveillance and even sabotage against dozens of groups and individuals not in complete agreement with the government’s policies.

So far, the public has only had access to the index of the files, but even the index demonstrates the astonishing scope of such operations. According to CTI report, missions of the G3 included surveillance of “people and organizations opposing government policies in order to restrict or neutralize their activities”. The report clearly shows that (a) totally legitimate activities were targeted and, (b) the purpose of the surveillance went much further than information gathering; it was intended to sabotage and criminalize legitimate activities.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Finally, after delaying my departure date several times and having survived long set of bus trips, I find myself in Bogotá, Colombia's capital city. I am now officially part of FOR Colombia's Bogotá team, and will be working and living here for the next six months. My job will include responding to emergencies in the Peace Community and making sure our team there stays safe, meeting with foreign embassy and Colombian government officials, organizing and leading delegations, and periodically accompanying organizations like the Peasant Farmers Association of Antioquia and the Youth Network of Medellín.

The change has been a shock to my body and soul: to go from living in a tiny village in the middle of mountainous jungle to a chilly city of 6.7 million people is not easy. My eyes smart from the pollution, I shiver all the time from the cold (I know, I'm a wus, but after year of an average 28 degrees centigrade, 15 degrees feels quite cold!), I marvel at my ability to pop down to the corner store, I pine for the vast greenness of the mountains of Urabá. And 9-5 working hours! I am definitely having trouble adjusting to that schedule, and it doesn't help that I arrived just as a scandal errupted about the government illegal spying on members of the poitical opposition, including the Peace Community, in order to sabotage their work, giving us plenty of work to do. I will write more about that scandal very soon, but in the meantime, some photos of my apartment so you have a sense of where I am.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A stranger in our midst

The arrival the other day of a stranger to the caserío of La Unión reminded me of how much this conflict distorts human relations and making people suspicious and fearful of each other.

As usual, those of us in the FOR house (read: the gringos) hadn’t even noticed that a stranger had been hanging around since 10am until two of the community’s internal council members came to the house in the afternoon requesting accompaniment to go speak with the man. (Our obliviousness was likely due to two things: we don’t know each and every family member or long-lost neighbor in this area, so it’s not uncommon for someone who is a stranger to us to pass through, and, despite our training as accompaniers, we aren’t as finely attuned to the subtle daily changes around here.)

Around here, everyone pretty much knows everyone, and this isn’t exactly and easily accessible place (see my post on my commute!), so strangers don’t just tend to wander by. The stranger’s presence here soon raised alarm bells, and a few particularly threatened individuals event went so far as to hide in their beds under the blankets. By the afternoon when he still hadn’t left – in fact, he had been wandering around a bit, raising even more suspicion – the council members asked us to accompany them to talk to him in the kiosko (central community meeting space, covered by a round palm-thatched roof), where he had been hanging out for the previous hour or so. The community members with whom we discussed the incident before heading to the kiosko were quite worried and very visibly shaken up.