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Report Recounts US-Backed Atrocities in Colombian Civil War

New government report is a gesture towards coming clean, but human rights advocates say much more is needed

Sarah Lazare

Over 54 years of civil war in Colombia—fueled by decades of US financial backing of the nation's rightwing government in alliance with paramilitary groups—nearly a quarter million people were killed, 4 out of 5 of them civilians, according to a government report released Wednesday.

Commissioned in 2011 as part of government 'peace talks' with the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the report has garnered mixed responses from human rights advocates who are wearied by years of cosmetic government gestures towards dealing with widespread atrocities committed by its soldiers and allies.

The over 400 page report that is capturing global headlines states that violence spiked between 1980 and 2012, with a majority of massacres carried out by Colombian government-allied paramilitaries. The report details chilling atrocities—including photographs of massacred civilians—that the US and Colombian governments have long denied.

Approximately 4.7 million had been forcibly displaced since 1996, according to the report.

The document briefly acknowledges a scandal that was exposed in 2008 in which government soldiers slaughtered civilians then dressed their bodies in guerrilla clothing and claimed them as killed armed combatants.

The report documents over 5,000 disappearances—most of them unsolved—and over 20,000 assassinations.

Extensive atrocities throughout Colombia's half decade of armed conflict have been flamed by staunch US support—including funding and training for the Colombian military, and by extension, its paramilitary allies. Multinational corporations, including Chiquita, also financed paramilitary organizations to enable their continued economic grip on the country, and civilians, social activists, leftists, and guerillas have been brutally targeted over the past decades.

Since 2000, the US has dumped over $8 billion dollars into "Plan Colombia" an extension of its 'War on Terror' and 'War on Drugs' that escalated military violence throughout Colombia, policies that have been continued under the Obama administration.

Human rights groups are cautious as the Colombian government gestures towards coming clean on this horrific history, as the military build-up—in conjunction with the US—continues.

Some expressed skepticism that this latest report represents a meaningful shift in direction. "When the Colombian government presents itself as struggling with paramilitary, it is disingenuous," Liz Delitio, member of School of the Americas Watch who has worked extensively in Colombia, told Common Dreams. "They are deeply involved with what goes on."

Others say it is a positive step in a peace process with serious shortcomings. "What we need is a real truth commission," John Lindsay Poland—organizer with the Fellowship of Reconciliation— told Common Dreams. "This report could be a prelude to a broader truth commission, one that is more independent of the state."

"As far as I am concerned, the current peace process is important but limited," said Poland. "It is limited because civil society is not very involved. You might get agreement for guerrillas to participate in a political process, but other aspects of political process that are extremely corrupt or have limited discourse are not addressed."

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