by James Patrick Jordan
Killings of Colombian social leaders and peace process participants have skyrocketed over the past month to a rate of over one victim per day. As if to underscore the point in blood, on January 21, 2020, two persons were killed, two wounded, and 70 persons displaced in Tarazá, in Colombia’s Bajo Cauca region (Antioquia). The paramilitary attack happened only two hours after President Iván Duque concluded a visit, declaring that “Bajo Cauca is in my heart,” and promising protection for the area. The attack also occurred while protests against political violence were happening across the country as part of Colombia’s national strike.
Since December 22, 35 social leaders and community activists, and two former insurgents, have been murdered, putting at risk the 2016 Peace Accords and generating massive displacement.
According to the organization Indepaz, since Peace Accords were finalized November 24, 2016 until September 8, 2019, 666 human rights defenders were murdered, as well as 151 former insurgents, and 35 family members of former insurgents, with a total of 852 victims. Since President Duque took office on August 7, 2018, 268 social leaders have been assassinated, and impunity for these crimes is near 100%. Most the threats, killings, and violent displacement of communities have been perpetrated against peasant, indigenous, and Black communities. Among these communities, the most frequently targeted are those living collectively or who are organized into community advocacy groups and unions, such as the Fensuagro federation of agricultural unions.
Colombia has the world’s largest internally displaced population. Violence and dispossession of land follows a pattern, without exception, in areas wanted for foreign extractive and energy development, big agribusinesses, and/or narco-trafficking. The Duque administration has not honored peace accords for rural development, crop substitution, and land rights. The lack of compliance and the refusal to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses has given a green light for death squad assassins. The administration of the U.S. government has only encouraged the situation. President Donald Trump has taken an active interest in undermining the peace accords, and Congress just voted to raise military and security funding for Colombia to its highest level in nine years.
Before the current surge in killings, the Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) death squads sent out yet another of their general threats on December 22, 2019, announcing that
“We, the BLACK EAGLES come to clean out these false social leaders and union members, we have demonstrated the capacity for annihilation and we say clearly that we are helping ESMAD [Colombia’s U.S. funded and created riot police, responsible for multiple abuses and killings of social leaders]…. This will be…a BLACK DECEMBER.”
The perpetrators of most acts of violence against social leaders, rural communities, and peace process participants are paramilitary death squads like the Black Eagles, and the Colombian Armed Forces, whether in official operations, or via unofficial coordination with paramilitaries. Narco-traffickers are another major source, as well as some former guerrillas who did not lay down arms. The most recent victims range in age from 18 to 71 and include a married couple on their honeymoon, a mother and son, a cultural worker with Black youth, a rural community sports director, and a teacher in indigenous schools with 20 years of service.
Despite this worsening humanitarian crisis, the U.S. Congress just approved
$448 million in primarily military and “security” aid for Colombia, $30 million over last year’s allotment, the highest in nine years. Besides Colombia’s shameful record for repression, Colombia was also just named by the German NGO Transparency International as the world’s most corrupt government.
Colombia is in the midst of a huge and by far and large peaceful uprising against the government of President Ivan Duque. Since November 21, 2019, there has been a national strike throughout the country that has involved millions of supporters. On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, the strike leaders called for a day to shut down business as usual and demand an end to political violence and fulfillment of the Peace Accords.
The demands of the strike are many. In addition to support for the peace process, strikers call for the government to respect and protect labor and human rights, pursue public investment and development instead of austerity measures, and recognize the land rights of rural, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The response of the Duque administration has been repression; a refusal to make any concessions to the strike committee, not even recognizing talks as negotiations; passage of anti-labor laws that prompted the strike; and veiled and sometimes not so veiled encouragement of political violence while doing nothing to stop the almost 100% impunity for right wing murderers.
Those of us living in the United States and NATO countries hear remarkably little about the strike or Colombia’s humanitarian crisis. That is because these nations are closely allied with the Colombian government. Colombia has received over $12 billion in mainly military, police, and jail funding from the U.S. government since late 2000. It is NATO’s sole Global Partner in Latin America. Corporate media has maintained a virtual blackout of coverage of the strikes that have swept across Latin America and that are most militant and continuous in Colombia. Not only this, but at a December 2, 2019 event at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said,
“We in the Trump administration will continue to support countries trying to prevent Cuba and Venezuela from hijacking those protests and we’ll work with legitimate (governments) to prevent protests from morphing into riots and violence that don’t reflect the democratic will of the people.”
Pompeo is repeating the absurd allegation that the recent popular uprisings in Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia have been orchestrated by Cuba and Venezuela. A November-December labor delegation by the Alliance for Global Justice and U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) was present for the beginning and first two weeks of Colombia’s national strike. We saw hundreds of thousands of persons participating in strike activities in Bogotá and Cali. The delegation met with strike leaders in those cities and in rural areas in the Departments of Cauca and Valle de Cauca.
Every strike leader we met with was Colombian. There were no foreigners in the room directing or giving advice. The foreigners interfering in matters in Colombia are the U.S. and NATO military advisors; the U.S. Embassy and White House personnel plotting with Duque to break the peace accords; and the transnational corporate reps meeting with Colombian oligarchs and helping finance paramilitary death squads. Pompeio’s promise to help Latin American governments repress protests is the only real evidence so far of any foreign insertion into matters regarding these mobilizations.
The strike in Colombia, like the strikes happening in all Latin America, in Iraq, in India, around the world, are not the results of foreign manipulation. They are demands for national and community sovereignty. They are outcries against Empire and for liberation. Many of these strikes are being repressed with weapons provided by the U.S. government and U.S. based corporations. The very resources we could use to rebuild our own national infrastructure are robbed from our coffers to fund aggressions against people’s movements in Colombia and globally.
For those of us in the U.S. and NATO countries, all this begs a question. Which side are we on? To misquote the famous poet, “Don’t ask for whom the people strike; they strike for thee.” We not only have a duty and an obligation of solidarity to the popular movements and the national strike in Colombia. It is in our interests to stand with them in this struggle for true freedom. The chains these movements are breaking include our own.
Following is a list of the people who have lost their lives to political violence in Colombia between December 22, 2019 and January 21, 2020:
- December 22: Efraín Cabal Rendón teacher at the Toez indigenous reserve, burned alive in area of El NIlo, Caloto
- December 22: Jairo Ortiz, of the Nasa indigenous reserve in Huila, shot by two assailants on motorcycles
- December 22: Nilson Caicedo, of the Community Council for the Development of Black Communities of the Mountain Range, in Nariño. Assassinated in Putumayo.
- December 23: Lucí Villareal. Social and youth leader. Assassinated in Tumaco, Nariño.
- December 23: Mariano Cuero Ruiz, lawyer and human rights defender, shot down in Cali, Valle de Cauca..
- December 23: Natalia Jiménez y Rodrigo Monsalve, newly married couple and ecological activists from César, their bodies found in Palomino, La Guajira.
- December 25: Carmen Nene, from indigenous resguarda in the municipality of Silva, Cauca. Her throat was cut after being tortured.
- December 25: Unknown man decapitated, in Puerto Claver, Antioquia, in the El Bagre neighborhood, his head posted with a sign bearing the initials of the Bloque Virgilio Peralta Arenas, associated with Clan del Golfo narco-traffickers, who, in turn, are associated with the paramilitary Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia.
- December 25: Reinaldo Carillo, social leader in barrio Los Pinos, Pitalito, Huila.
- January 1: Benjamín Banguera Rosales en Guapi, Cauca, reincorporado, shot, first ex eombatant killed in 2020.
- January 2: Carlos Cardona, social leader and health workers, assassinated in Ituango, Antioquia.
- January 3: Cristian Caicedo, 22 years, assassinated in Guapi, Cauca.
- January 7: Gloria Ocampo, social leader assassinated in La Estrella, village of Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo.
- January 7: Virginia Silva, 71, gunshot, Resguarda Indígena De Belalcázar Páez, Cauca.
- January 8: Carlos Alonso Quintero, assassinated in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo
- January 8: Oscar Quintero, assassinated in in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayuo
- January 8: Emilio Campaña, assassinated in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo
- January 8: Mireya Hernández, assassinated in Algeciras, Huila.
- January 8: Gentil Hernández, assassinated in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo
- January 9: Anuar Rojas Isaramá, leader of the Indigenous Guard in Agua Blanca, municipality of Nuquí, Chocó
- January 10: Henry Cuello, 48, assassinated in Chiriguana, César
- January 10: Juan Pablo Dicué Guejia, 18, assassinated in the La Buitrera sector, on the road that connects Caloto with Toribío, in the north of Cauca.
- January 10: Amparo Guejia Mestizo, 41, assassinated in the La Buitrera sector, on the road that connects Caloto with Toribío, in the north of Cacua. Leader of Nietos de Manuel Quintín Lame, CONPI, CENPAZ, Marcha P. Cauca.
- January 10: César Tulio Sandoval, assassinated in Tibú, Norte de Santander, local coordinator for ASCAMCAT agricultural workers union, and member of COCCAM and the Marcha Patriótica.
- January 10: Nelson Enrique Meneses Qules, 29, assassinated in Inzá, Cauca. Member of ANZORC National Association of Peasant Reserve Zones and Marcha Patriótica.
- January 10: Sergio Narvaez Tapias, former Turbo City Councilor, assassinated in the Nueva Colonia de Turbo, Antioquia.
- January 11: John Fredy Álvarez, in Algeciras, Huila. Member of FENSUAGRO, ANZORC, Marcha Patriótica.
- January 13: Jorge Luis Betancourt Ortega, Sports Coordinator for the Community Action Council for San Francisco del Rayo, Montelibano, Córdoba.
- January 14: Jaiber Alexander Quitumbo, assassinated in Toribío, Cauca.
- January 15: Jimmy Antonio Baquero, decapitated and head displayed as a warning to the community of the El Toro village in the municipality of Bajo Cauca, Antioquia.
- January 15: Belisario Villegas, decapitated and head displayed as a warning to the community of the El Toro village in the municipality of Bajo Cauca, Antioquia.
- January 15: Federico Peñalosa, assassinated in Novita, Chocó.
- January 16: Yordan Tovar, FENSUAGRO youth leader, Marcha Patriótica, assassinated in Teteyé, Puerto Asis, Putumayo.
- January 18: Hover Arias Giraldo, 36, ex combatant, Dabeiba, Antioquia.
- January 21: In Tarazá, Antioquia, Bajo Cauca region, two as yet unidentified persons killed by paramilitaries, along with two wounded, and seventy displaced in an attack just two hours after a visit by President Iván Duque.
(The above list was compiled from various sources, especially from reports by Fensuagro, Indepaz, the People’s Human Rights Observatory, and the Paz y Liberación Whatsapp group)
Demand your Representative take action today to stop killings of activists and former insurgents in Colombia!
Tell Colombian authorities to respect human rights and stop killings of activists and former insurgents!