by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), September 6, 2001
WELLSTONE. Mr. President, sometimes one speaks in the Senate Chamber and
is not sure what exactly the effect of it all is--maybe more than sometimes.
I am speaking today
on behalf of a lot of the human rights workers and social service workers
and community development workers, civil society people in Colombia. I
am hoping--I will be very straightforward about it; I don't think this
is illusion--that the words of a Senator on the floor of the Senate about
a priest and about a very important organization, of which two members
have been brutally murdered in the last 35, 40 days, communicates a message
that our Government cares deeply about human rights in Colombia and about
the importance of the Government and the military defending civil society
I rise today to
speak out on behalf of many defenseless human rights workers, social service
providers and community economic development workers, in our neighbor
Colombia, who are besieged by the growing paramilitary violence in their
county. These individuals, some of whom I have come to know personally,
all of whom I greatly respect, are heros for their contributions to democracy
and peace in Colombia. They deserve to be heard and to be aided by the
United States government.
I have traveled
twice to the city of Barrancabermeja, sometimes called ``the Sarajevo
of Colombia.'' During those visits, I have come to know the extraordinary
and courageous work of a Colombian non-profit program based in a largely
rural region of oil refineries, rivers, and mountains. In many hamlets
and towns it provides the only hope amidst so much despair.
The Program of Development
and Peace of the Magdalena Medio, located in Barranca, is lead by the
Jesuit Father Francisco De Roux. The Program's name gives away their mission--sustainable,
locally based social and economic development in the context of an inclusive
community at peace. They stand for democracy, civil rights, and human
rights. They are against the war, and have no enemies in the conflict.
They strive for
an inclusive community where disputes are settled by civil authorities
and not by armed gangs. They want to provide opportunity for all in their
community to work and raise they families in peace and dignity. But paramilitaries
are taking over their region and extrajudicial killings are a daily threat.
Recently, they have
been beset by tragedy. Two defenseless staff members have been killed
and multilated. Ms. Alma Rosa Jaramillo was a volunteer attorney, a dedicated
mother and courageous member of her community. Her dismembered body was
found in the community of Morales on July first of this year. On July
17, another brutal assassination took the life of Eduardo Estrada. He
was murdered right in front of his family, after a family reunion. He
was a respected leader in the community of San Pablo, working as the coordinator
of the Program of Development and Peace.
Why are these innocent
people, who are doing such good work, being targeted? Lamentably, these
are just two more examples of paramilitary impunity in Colombia.
As the Plan Colombia
debate has unfolded in the U.S. Senate, we have come to know the terrible
reality of the last few decades for the people of Columbia--kidnaappings,
assassinations, disappearances and terror by the guerrilla and the paramilitary
organizations. I am no defender of the guerrilla organizations. They are
vicious in their treatment of the civilian population and publicly renounce
universally accepted human rights standards.
But the paramilitary
organizations, because of their open association with the Colombian military,
also must be held to the highest standards of human rights. They cannot
be allowed to justify their human rights abuses by equating the laudable
civic involvement of those they persecute, with sympathy for the guerrillas.
The paramilitary organizations have penetrated ever deeper into Colombian
civil society, bringing their terror to communities all across Colombia.
In many cases, they do so with the acquiescense of the Colombian military
and government, at the local and even national level.
The Colombian government
must find a way to respond to the paramilitary threat. It is a threat
to the rights of free speech, free assembly, and moreover, the rule of
law in Colombia. We must send a message to all violent actors in Colombia,
especially parammilitary groups: ``The targeting of the civilian population
with murder, extortion, kidnapping, torture and multilation is unacceptable!''
The United States
has an obligation to nurture and defennd civil society efforts in Columbia.
The Program of Development and Peace of the Magdalena Medio is doing critically
important work, helping Colombians find a way out of the labyrinth of
war and terror. They need and deserve our thanks and our encouragement;
for they represent the future of hope and peace for Colombia.
In my view, a peaceful,
prosperous Colombia is a better neightor and partner of the United States.
We must defend these courageous people who daily risk their lives for
human rights, democracy and peace. Given our deep involvement in Colombia,
we have an opportunity, and a duty, to defend Colombian civil society
against the abuses of guerrillas and paramilitaries alike.
Mr. President, I
traveled twice to the city of Barrancabermeja, sometimes called the ``Sarajevo
of Colombia.'' During the visits, I have come to know a very courageous
priest who is in charge of an organization, a nonprofit organization,
that does the economic and social development work in a largely rural
region of oil refineries, rivers, and mountains. For many hamlets and
towns, this organization is the only hope for people.
The name of the
organization is the Program of Development and Peace of the Magdalena
Medio located in Barranca, led by a Jesuit priest named Francisco de Roux,
also called Father Poncho. The program's name gives away its mission.
The occupant of the Chair would love it as a businessperson and a Senator
from New Jersey. They do the most credible local sustainable economic
development work. They stand for democracy, civil rights, and human rights.
They are against the war. They are not aligned with the FARC, ELN, or
any of the left groups--the paramilitary--and they should have no enemies
in this conflict.
has been beset by tragedy. Two defenseless staff members have been killed
and mutilated. Ms. Alma Rosa Jaramillo was a volunteer attorney, a dedicated
mother and a courageous member of her community. Her dismembered body
was found in the community of Morales on July 1 of this year. On July
17, another brutal murder took place. This assassination took the life
of Eduardo Estrada. He was murdered right in front of his family after
a family reunion. He was a respected leader of the community in
[Page: S9154] GPO's
San Pablo, working as the coordinator of the Program of Development and
Peace headed up by Father Francisco de Roux.
Why are these innocent people, doing this economic development work--who
have done such good work--why are they being targeted? Lamentably, these
are just two more examples of paramilitary impunity in Colombia.
I intend for this
statement not only to be made on the floor of the Senate, but I hope it
is sent out throughout Colombia. As the Plan Colombia debate has unfolded
in the Senate, we have come to know the terrible reality of the last few
decades for the people of Colombia--kidnappings, assassinations, disappearances,
and terror by the guerrilla and paramilitary organizations.
I am no defender
of the guerrilla organizations. The FARC and ELN are involved in narcotrafficking
up to their eyeballs. They have been vicious in their treatment of the
civilian population. They publicly renounce universally accepted human
rights standards. But the paramilitary organizations, the AUC, because
of their open association, because of their extrajudicial killings and
open association, especially at the brigade level with the Colombia military,
must be held to the highest standard of human rights. They cannot be allowed
to justify their human rights abuses by equating the laudable civic involvement
of those they persecute with the sympathy for the guerrillas. The paramilitary
organizations penetrated ever deeper into Colombian civil society and
brought terror to many of the communities--in many cases, with the acquiescence
of the military.
I rise as a U.S.
Senator on the floor of the Senate to communicate a message to the Colombian
Government that the paramilitary should not be allowed to murder civil
society people, defenders of human rights, people doing good work, as
the men and women in Father Francisco de Roux's organization do, with
impunity. We must send a message to all the violent
actors in Colombia,
especially the paramilitary groups: The targeting of the civilian population
with murder, extortion, kidnapping, torture, and mutilation is unacceptable.
Our Government has an obligation to nurture and defend civil society efforts
in Colombia. The Program of Development and Peace of the Magdalena Medio
is doing critically important work. They need and deserve our thanks and
encouragement. They represent hope and peace for Colombia.
Before you came
to the chair, Mr. President, I was saying this organization is doing the
best, by all accounts, social and economic development work. This priest
is beloved and highly respected. Two members of his organization have
been brutally murdered in the last 40 days. Their plea, and the plea from
many civil society people in Colombia, is: Please, U.S. Government, please
U.S. Senate, call on the Government and the military and the police to
defend us. That is what I am doing. That is supposed to be part of Plan
We have a deep involvement
in Colombia. Therefore, we have an opportunity and a duty to defend Colombian
civil society against the abuses of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries
alike. The message needs to be communicated to the military in Colombia
that with the Blackhawk helicopters and the military assistance come human
rights conditions you have to live up to. Otherwise, we are going to continue
to see the murder of innocent people with impunity.
I want this statement
to certainly be sent out to Colombia because I want the paramilitary forces
and others to know we are paying attention to Father Francisco de Roux
and his organization, the Program for Development and Peace, and their
work, and that we mean to defend civil society people.
Again, I want to
point out that the Colombian Government has an obligation to defend civil
society people from the violence both from the guerrilla left and the
paramilitary right. Up to date, they have not defended people from violence
in Barranca, which I have visited twice now. The paramilitary cut the
telephone wires, isolated the people. They have no phone service. They
took away their cell phones and moved into their homes. They control the
city. With the exception of the bishop and the priest and his organization,
and a few others, hardly anybody can speak up any longer without the real
risk that they will be murdered.
Francisco de Roux's
organization, widely credited for this great economic development work,
has had two members--a woman and a man--dismembered, brutally murdered.
It is time for our Government to make clear to the Colombian Government
and police and military that they have to defend these civil society people.
As of October 25,
2001, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/B?r107:@FIELD(FLD003+s)+@FIELD(DDATE+20010906)