After Alfredo Camelo’s suspicious death, threats on Colombians in Switzerland

Find below the translation of two articles published in Switzerland, which should raise serious concern among all Colombian refugees in Europe and elsewhere, as well as all defenders of peoples’ and human rights.

Threat to Colombians in Switzerland 

Christophe Koessler, Le Courrier, 27/10/2021
Translated by Joseph Hillstroem, Tlaxcala

Christophe Koessler is a journalist with the Swiss daily Le Courrier. @ChrisKoessler

The Geneva-based activist Alfredo Camelo, who was found dead in September, was allegedly hit with a bullet shot from a firearm. This information should be accepted with caution, but in the context of a growing threat to Colombian political activists.

In May 2021, demonstrators called on the United Nations and Swiss authorities to demand that Bogotá respect human life and the right to demonstrate. DR

On Sunday morning (Oct. 24), a well-known Swiss-Colombian activist found the inscription engraved on the rim of his car in Geneva: "AUC", for United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, the name of the far-right paramilitary militia. In Colombia, the inscription is as good as a death threat. On closer inspection, the human rights defender, accompanied by a police officer, discovers that his tyre has been damaged by a puncture that could lead to it bursting once the vehicle is launched at full speed - the hypothesis is mentioned by the police officer according to the activist. "For me, this is an attempt on my life and that of my family," says the activist, who filed a complaint yesterday.

The case has a particular resonance, as almost at the same time Le Courrier received another piece of information that remains to be verified. The Colombian activist Alfredo Camelo, whose body was found on the banks of the Rhone River at the beginning of September, had been shot with a bullet from a firearm. We heard this from a police source who probably inadvertently confided in someone known to the editors.

Rumour or information? What is certain at this stage is that more than a month and a half after the events, the investigation into the circumstances of his death, now entrusted to the Geneva Public Prosecutor's Office, is not yet complete. If it was a suicide, why is the justice system taking so long to confirm this theory, people close to the case are asking themselves?

Contacted by Le Courrier, the public prosecutor's office, the only one authorized to speak about this case, replied that it "is not passing on any information, in view of the ongoing investigation which aims to determine the circumstances and causes of death".

Paramilitary in Switzerland ?

This does nothing to reassure the comrades and friends of Alfredo Camelo, nor, a fortiori, the Colombian activists, who are numerous in Switzerland. On September 27, National Councillor Stéfanie Prezioso (Ensemble à gauche/Together Left) submitted a question to the Federal Council, expressing concern for the safety of political refugees in our country in the wake of the death of the activist.

In its response, the Swiss government asserts that it had no information about the Camelo case. More generally, without going into the security of Colombian exiles, it replies summarily: "It cannot be excluded that individuals close to the Colombian paramilitaries are staying in Switzerland".

In recent weeks, other events have confirmed this hypothesis. Last Thursday, a Zoom meeting of members of the Colombia Humana party in Switzerland was hacked by a man who then threatened to kill the participants and their families, using the mafia-like and outrageous language of the paramilitaries.

The session, which was recorded, was posted on Twitter on October 25, showing the face and voice of a masked man attacking some of the activists by name and insulting them. Colombia Humana is the main political force on the left and the stakes are high with less than a year to go before the presidential elections.

"Switzerland is responsible for our security" − Karmen Ramírez Boscán

Followed by a stranger

The activist Karmen Ramírez Boscán, leader of the indigenous Wayuu people and candidate of Colombia Humana in Switzerland, issued a public denunciation and filed a complaint in the canton of Bern.

Ms. Boscán was also reportedly followed in the street: "This man openly followed me for several hours and tried to intimidate me with his eyes and body language. At first I thought it was my imagination, ‘no, in Switzerland, such things don't happen’. But it was confirmed," she says. The indigenous leader says that another person was followed in Geneva and that a young member of Colombia Humana was threatened with messages on his mobile phone.

"The Colombian community abroad is very important for the reconstruction of the country. In Geneva, we mobilized 2,000 people in the Place des Nations in May. We need to keep this momentum going," says Karmen Boscán.

These threats worry Colombian activists in Switzerland and sometimes intimidate the less experienced among them. This kind of practice is the daily experience of their comrades inside Colombia, where hundreds of them are murdered every year. "We will have to be more careful, that's for sure. But we don't want to worry the young people involved or their families. We have to keep our wits about us," says a political refugee who is active in several associations.

The activists called on the Swiss authorities to take the measure of the problem, to immediately investigate these threats, to protect those exposed and to prosecute the criminals. "Switzerland is responsible for our security," said Ms. Boscán.

Alfredo Camelo: the theme of violent death becomes clearer

 Christophe Koessler, Le Courrier, 29/10/2021 
Translated by Joseph Hillstroem, Tlaxcala

Journalist Daniel Mendoza Leal had access to another source corroborating that the Genevan-Colombian activist Alfredo Camelo was shot in the stomach.

"Deserter, opponent of the military regime in Colombia, Alfredo Camelo had been imprisoned and tortured for nine years in his country," recalls on its website the Solidarités Party, of which the Swiss-Colombian activist was an active member. He had co-created Pluriels, the centre for ethno-psychological consultations and studies for migrants. Photo THIBAULT SCHEEBERGER/SOLIDARITES

On Wednesday evening, Oct. 27, Le Courrier revealed that a police source had affirmed that the psychologist and Swiss-Colombian activist Afredo Camelo, found dead September 5 in Geneva, had been hit by a bullet. The information is confirmed this Friday with the testimony of Daniel Mendoza Leal, journalist, director, and Colombian lawyer-criminologist refugee in France, who had access to another informant: "I have a reliable and first-hand source who confirmed to me that Alfredo Camelo was found with a bullet in his stomach," explains to the Courier the man famous in Colombia for having created the documentary series Matarife (available on Youtube), which accuses the former head of state Alvaro Uribe of drug trafficking and links with the paramilitarism of the Colombian far right.

"I had already heard that he had been shot in the stomach, but I had no evidence. When I confronted my informant with this, he confirmed the information," the journalist said. He added, however, that the Geneva public prosecutor's office is currently investigating the possibility of suicide: "It is technically possible, but it defies all laws of logic. I am convinced that it was an assassination perpetrated by the Colombian narco-state paramilitaries," says the criminologist.

More than a month and a half after the body was found on the banks of the Rhone River, the Public Prosecutor's Office has still not delivered its conclusions. "It is probably not very convenient for Switzerland that a victim of paramilitarism is discovered on the banks of a Swiss river, as dozens are found in Colombia," he comments. The case could have important diplomatic repercussions.

Motive: to terrorize activists

Why would the Colombian paramilitaries attack Alfredo Camelo, a long-time refugee in Switzerland, who, as far as we know, did not play a role as a leading activist? "I was able to verify that for some months Alfredo Camelo had been collaborating with the Truth Commission (created as part of the peace agreement signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in 2016), which is investigating the crimes of paramilitarism and former president Alvaro Uribe Velez." Alfredo Camelo was also close to a refugee in Switzerland, member of the family of Rodrigo Granda, a former FARC guerrilla leader, architect of the peace agreement.

Did they want to silence him, to hide information? “I don't think so,” says Daniel Mendoza Leal. “I think he was collaborating mainly as a translator. The motive would be rather the usual one for the Colombian paramilitaries: to terrorize the activists. They wanted to leave a ‘symbol’, as they say in Colombia, to frighten the Colombian community in Europe, which is mobilized in favour of peace, on the eve of the presidential elections next May,” the director says. The threats received by other activists in Switzerland in recent weeks (see our edition of Wednesday) would not be a coincidence: “Colombian paramilitarism has been present in Europe for decades. MEPs, NGO representatives and left-wing journalists have been followed and bugged”. Le Courrier had documented this situation in 2017.

Today, the Colombian criminal underworld has crossed a line and Switzerland in particular is being targeted: “In the world, and especially in Colombia, Switzerland is perceived as a safe haven. The message is clear: if you are not protected in Switzerland, you are not protected anywhere,” proposes Daniel Mendoza Leal. For him, whether this grim enterprise succeeds will depend on the reaction of the Swiss authorities. The Geneva-based NGO Aidhes (International Association for Human Rights and Social Development) has called on the Federal Council and stated in a press release that “the Swiss authorities must take a firm stance on the above-mentioned cases, investigate and ensure the protection of Colombian and Swiss citizens, refugees and residents who are in danger”. The case is beginning to gain momentum and is already being echoed in France in Le Parisien daily.


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