SEMANA INTERNATIONAL / Roundup Report | 2/17/2009 12:00:00 AM
The FARC's losses
Feb. 9th – Feb. 17th — The massacre of at least 17 indigenous peasants of the Awa community in the province of Nariño was an issue that deeply concerned European press. A Swiss peace emissary who supposedly mismanaged his mission in Colombia was also news.
The dispatch of Human Rights Watch (HRW) reached every corner of the world at the speed of light. On Tuesday night (February 10th), a HRW e-mail flashed in the accounts of journalists throughout Europe. It contained a message condemning the massacre of at least 17 members of the Awa indigenous community in Colombia. The text started: “The recent killings (…) by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the province of Nariño show its utter disregard for the lives of civilians and refusal to respect the most basic tenets of humanitarian law”.
The announcement shocked media throughout the whole political spectrum in the continent. Accused of being extremely right-winged by the government of Venezuela, and of being radically left-winged by the government of Colombia, among European journalists HRW has nonetheless managed to maintain its prestige as an independent organization.
One of the first newspapers to cover the news was Germany’s major socialist daily “Neues Deutschland” (ND). In the article “FARC Massacre Among Indigenous People”, published on Monday (February 16th) in the print edition, “ND” Colombian correspondent Tommy Ramm writes: “With the recent release of some of their hostages, FARC wanted to improve their international reputation. Yet almost at the same time the rebels were carrying out a massacre (…).” “ND” quotes the Governor of the Nariño region, Antonio Navarro Wolff, himself a former guerrilla fighter, saying: “I am absolutely sure that the perpetrators are to be found within the FARC.”
The newspaper also quotes Luis Evelis Andrade, President of the Union of Native Peoples, assessing: “FARC will be accused internationally for these serious violations of Human Rights and for this type of barbarism.” Reporter Ramm also depicts how the killings took place: “According to reports, a guerrilla unit occupied indigenous settlements at the Pacific coast (…); they had tortured their victims before murdering them; the rebels accused them of collaborating with the army.”
The readers of Spain’s major daily paper “El País” could also find an extensive article about the massacre in its print edition of Saturday (February 14th). “El País” Bogotá correspondent Pilar Lozano starts her story by writing: “Exhausted, hungry and wearing rubber boots for the march through the jungle. In this way, indigenous people of the Awa tribe are arriving at Samaniego, a town in the Nariño region, in the South of the country. They are running away from the zone where, according to various witnesses, FARC have assassinated natives in two different massacres.”
Relying on reports by HRW and the National Indigenous Association, Ms. Lozano affirms that the rebels tortured and killed the indigenous people with knives—in a region difficult to access which serves as a strategic corridor for cocaine and weapon trafficking. After describing how dozens of affected tribe members are now fleeing, “El País” quotes an anonymous local leader saying: “It’s the FARC; they are up there right now (…). While they fight against another guerrilla, the ELN, and against other armed groups, they have installed anti-personnel mines all over the place. (…) Every group wants to kill us, or wants us to help them, to serve them. This led to the massacre.”
THE GONTARD DOSSIER
Agathe Duparc, Geneva correspondent of France’s major daily “Le Monde", met Jean-Pierre Gontard, the official Swiss peace emissary who ended up entangled in a judicial case for supposedly mismanaging his mission in Colombia and wrote an article which was published last Sunday (February 6th) in the print edition of “Le Monde”.
Reporter Duparc writes: “His contact people called him ‘The Brave Grandpa’, or ‘The Swiss Man’, or ‘The Professor’. During ten years, Switzerland’s 68 year-old peace emissary was a determined man: he was the only non-marxist western to meet more than twenty times with FARC leaders.” Ms. Duparc explains then how Mr. Gontard’s fate suddenly changed after Ingrid Betancourt and 14 more FARC hostages were released in July 2008. “In Bogotá, the partisans of zero tolerance towards FARC rejoiced, and Jean-Pierre Gontard was suddenly held as a fervent sympathizer of an organization considered by Washington and Brussels as terrorist, responsible for the death of thousands of Colombians.”
The justice department in Bogotá had started an investigation against Mr. Gontard for supposedly having delivered 500,000 dollars to FARC for the release of two employees of Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company. During their conversation, Mr. Gontard told Ms. Duparc his version of the affaire: “(Gontard) highlights the fact that this ‘old story’—very well-known to the Colombian government—was brought back to life by his biggest slanderers, Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos and his cousin Vice-President Francisco Santos, the newspaper that published the first attacks.”
The Colombian government bases its accusations against Mr. Gontard on e-mails presumably found in the laptops of FARC leader Raúl Reyes, who was killed in March 2008 after jet fighters bombed his camp in the Ecuadorian jungle. The government argues that the documents not only prove that Mr. Gontard transgressed his duties by delivering money for the release of Novartis’ hostages, but also that he transported money from FARC to a correspondent of the guerrilla in Switzerland.
In this regard, Mr. Gontard told “Le Monde”: “(During the negotiations for the release of the Novartis experts) I made a big mistake: in order to protect the enterprise, I asked FARC not to mention its name—instead they started to mention mine.” He adds: “I noticed that the rebels liked me. I listened to them without prejudices. I was neither a priest, nor a cop, nor a sympathizer of their fight.” Regarding the e-mails found in Reyes’ laptop he said: “Not a single one of those documents was penned by me.”