April 2, 2010
The biggest human rights scandal in years is developing in Colombia, though you wouldn’t notice it from the total lack of media coverage here. The largest mass grave unearthed in Colombia was discovered by accident last year just outside a Colombian Army base in La Macarena, a rural municipality located in the Department of Meta just south of Bogota. The grave was discovered when children drank from a nearby stream and started to become seriously ill. These illnesses were traced to runoff from what was discovered to be a mass grave — a grave marked only with small flags showing the dates (between 2002 and 2009) on which the bodies were buried.
According to a February 10, 2010 letter issued by Alexandra Valencia Molina, Director of the regional office of Colombia’s own Procuraduria General de la Nacion — a government agency tasked to investigate government corruption — approximately 2,000 bodies are buried in this grave. The Colombian Army has admitted responsibility for the grave, claiming to have killed and buried alleged guerillas there. However, the bodies in the grave have yet to be identified. Instead, against all protocol for handling the remains of anyone killed by the military, especially those of guerillas, the bodies contained in the mass grave were buried there secretly without the requisite process of having the Colombian government certify that the deceased were indeed the armed combatants the Army claims.
That this grave was discovered just outside a Colombian military base overseen by U.S. military advisers — the U.S. having around 600 military advisers in that country — is especially troubling, and raises serious questions about the U.S.’s own conduct in that country. In addition, this calls into even greater question the propriety of President Obama’s agreement with President Alvaro Uribe last summer to grant the U.S. access to 7 military bases in that country.
The discovery of this mass grave by sheer accident raises the prospect that there are more yet to be found. Certainly, it is the consensus of human rights groups in Colombia that this is only be the tip of the iceberg. In any case, the discovery of this grave, on top of the large magnitude of the “false positive” scandal already known, justifies a serious rethinking of U.S. policy toward Colombia — a policy pursuant to which the U.S. has sent over $7 billion of military aid to Colombia since 2000 and still counting. This policy, which President Obama is only deepening, has continued the U.S.’s long-standing practice of giving the most military aid to the worst human rights abusers. The time is way overdue for this practice to end.