In 2009, a mass grave, possibly the largest in Latin America, was discovered near La Macarena, Colombia, within sight of a major military base that is also used by U.S. military and civilian defense contractors. The discovery came, according to a report from Justice for Colombia, after residents learned their drinking water was contaminated with liquid seeping from a large number of improperly buried cadavers. Local human rights teams demanded a federal investigation that resulted in a February 2010 report from the Colombian Inspector General’s Office indicating “approximately 2,000” unidentified bodies were in the dump site.
Jairo Ramírez, secretary of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia, accompanied a delegation of British members of Parliament who also visited the site. “What we saw was chilling,” Ramirez told Público, a Spanish daily newspaper. “An infinity of bodies, and on the surface hundreds of white wooden plaques with the inscription NN [name unknown] and dates from 2005 until today.” The Colombian military claims that the bodies are guerillas killed in combat, but local residents blame the army for “disappearing” non-combatants. According to Jeff Ennis of the British delegation, “This phenomenon is common in Colombia as the regime there pays soldiers a bonus or gives them time off work for each supposed ‘guerrilla’ that they kill.”
Human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik has been working on labor union issues in Colombia since 2001. “That this grave was discovered just outside a Colombian military base overseen by U.S. military advisers ... is especially troubling,” said Kovalik, “and raises serious questions about the U.S.’s own conduct in that country.” The United States has provided financial and military aid to the tune of $7 billion since 1999 through Plan Colombia.