Ex-Marine Freed, U.S. Contractors Killed During Colombia’s ‘Black October’

Violence continues amid peace talks

Ex-Marine Freed, U.S. Contractors Killed During Colombia’s ‘Black October’ Ex-Marine Freed, U.S. Contractors Killed During Colombia’s ‘Black October’

Uncategorized October 30, 2013 0

National Army of Colombia Photo Ex-Marine Freed, U.S. Contractors Killed During Colombia’s ‘Black October’ Violence continues amid peace talks On Oct. 27, the Colombian... Ex-Marine Freed, U.S. Contractors Killed During Colombia’s ‘Black October’
National Army of Colombia Photo

Ex-Marine Freed, U.S. Contractors Killed During Colombia’s ‘Black October’

Violence continues amid peace talks

On Oct. 27, the Colombian rebel group FARC released a prisoner they’d held captive for four months: ex-Marine Kevin Scott Sutay. The Afghanistan veteran reportedly ignored police warnings and proceeded with an extreme backpacking trip that wound through territory controlled by a rebel group that’s been fighting the Colombian government for over 50 years.

Sutay’s release was good news during a month which saw the crash of a U.S. spy plane, stalled peace talks with the FARC, a renewed offensive from the Colombian military and sporadic guerrilla attacks on electrical infrastructure. The surveillance plane — a twin-engine, turboprop Dash 8 — crashed on Oct. 5 near the Panamanian border during a counter-narcotics mission.

A non-commissioned U.S. Air Force officer, a Panamanian naval air force lieutenant and two American civilian contractors were killed. The plane, it would later be revealed, belonged to U.S. intelligence firm Sierra Nevada Corporation — which contracts clandestine operations for the secretive Air Force black projects agency “Big Safari.”

U.S. Southern Command — which oversees U.S. forces in Colombia — cited mechanical failure as the cause. “There was no aggression, no impact,” Colombian Gen. Nicasio de Jesus Martinez, whose troops responded to the crash, told the Associated Press.

Colombian army Black Hawk helicopters. Andrex22/Wikimedia photo

Black October

On July 20, 2013 — a day after FARC captured Sutay — guerrillas clashed with Colombian soldiers in the southwestern town of El Doncello. Later, the rebels ambushed soldiers protecting an oil pipeline in El Mordisco. This in the context of a major offensive by the Colombian military involving 50,000 troops. The FARC has responded with an offensive of its own called “‘Black October.”

The FARC is also still well-hidden in tunnels carved in to Colombia’s mountains, and have proven capable of shooting down aircraft.

Ten days after the crash which killed three Americans, the FARC set one aircraft ablaze — possibly with small arms fire — and members of the FARC’s 49th Front shot and wounded the pilot of a crop-spraying plane over southern Caquetá department on Oct. 19. Another aircraft crashed on Oct. 2 during a humanitarian operation. But “the FARC is very likely to claim responsibility for any aircraft crashes in areas in which it is active,” IHS Jane’s Intelligence Weekly noted.

But the FARC is on the decline. In 2002, then-Pres. Álvaro Uribe began an intense military campaign against the rebels, retaking territory ceded to the group by his predecessor and enacting a policy of demilitarization.

Thousands of FARC rebels have been captured, killed or given themselves up and their numbers have fallen from 16,000 in 2001 to an estimated 8,000 rebels today.

Uribe’s hardline policies were backed by large amounts of military and monetary support from the United States. In 2000 — after the kidnapping of three American contractors by FARC — the U.S. rolled out “Plan Colombia,” which began projects like Operation Martillo and pumped millions more dollars in aid. In 2013, $266 million was appropriated in the name of peacekeeping. The only country in the Western Hemisphere receiving more U.S. aid is Haiti.

The FARC’s numbers have been halved, their territories reclaimed by the Colombian government and many of their leaders have been killed. This is while the local populace has increasingly turned against the group. And despite talk of peace, the violence continues.

Living under rebel rule

FARC’s rhetoric declares them champions of the people. One of the reasons the peace talks have gone on so long is a disagreement over land reform, a key issue for FARC. But there’s a wide gulf between the group’s stated goals and how it exercises near-totalitarian control over swathes of rural Colombia.

Documents acquired by El Colombiano reveal what it’s like to live under FARC. The 46-page rule book published by the FARC’s 32nd Front — a rebel command that controls Colombia’s southern Putumayo department — details how the group enforces what it calls “coexistence for well-functioning communities.”

Latin American crime monitoring Web site InSight Crime translated portions of the document and revealed some of the rules. “Outsiders are not allowed to enter the territory without written permission from the FARC; a curfew is enforced between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.; and residents are obligated to inform guerrilla leaders before buying or selling property, businesses or vehicles,” summarized Insight Crime’s Natalie Southwick.

One family in the village of El Cedro learned these rules the hard way. In the middle of the night, a copy of the rule book was slipped under their door. A note was attached, pointing to the rule which expels families from the territory for having relatives who serve in the government.

They had three hours to leave the village. They were gone in 45 minutes, leaving behind their home and livestock.

The rebels also tightly regulate religious practices. One priest was warned after he conducted a private ceremony in his home — a violation of the rule prohibiting mass without FARC’s permission. Later, when he attempted to travel to another village to give mass, FARC blocked his entrance. Another one of the rules states that community members over the age of 15 must be logged in the “Community Action Board.”

“There are far more rules limiting the freedoms of the population in order to maintain the guerrillas’ security than there are furthering their ideological agenda,” Southwick wrote.