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Thursday, 16 February 2017 00:00

Colombia: Government turns its back on social leaders and political opposition

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While the government remains distracted in a semantic discussion on the terms "systematicity" and "paramilitarism", left winged social leaders in Colombia continue to be murdered and threatened. Whatever link there could be among these cases –that are increasing in a dangerous and frightful manner- it is clear that the Government is being incapable of guaranteeing its monopoly of force throughout the country and unable to control criminality, which in turn deeply hurts the dream of having a more robust democracy with peace.

Although there is no consensus on an exact number, reports from organizations such as Indepaz point out that only in 2016 the number of members of social, environmental and political movements that were assassinated amounted to 116; that’s without counting the more than 300 who have been threatened and the almost 50 victims of attacks. So far in 2017, 13 social leaders have been murdered: two of them members of Marcha Patriotica (MP), three community leaders, two land claimants, two representatives of communal action boards, one from an indigenous community and the rest are members of peasant associations. What more evidence is needed in order to accept that we are facing an emergency?

The response of the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, although vehement in the speech has proved to be ineffective in practice. It causes concern that the Government uses each case to explain that there is no systematicity between these events (which in the government’s opinion, should calm the anguish caused by the occurrence of a genocide similar to the one of the Patriotic Union) and that the Minister of Defense, Luis Carlos Villegas, said that "there is no paramilitarism. Admitting its existence means to grant political recognition to bandits dedicated to common and organized delinquency".

Also read "Colombia: 419 Human Rights violations to social movements in the last five months"

Even if one accepts official precisions, the State's inability to protect human rights defenders is indeed systematic. What can be said about a country that is in post-conflict and in which "normal criminality" is capable of purging, one by one, those voices that have been historically isolated from national political debates?

Not surprisingly, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) questioned the lack of action in cases such as that of community leader Aldemar Parra García, who was murdered in Cesar department on January 7, despite "the fact that the State had been informed through its early warning system of death threats against members of the community and the presence in the area of suspicious men". Amnesty International on its part said that "these courageous activists are being silenced by powerful local and regional economic and political interests, as well as by various armed groups including paramilitaries, due to the fact that they [social activists] defend their rights and or because they expose the country’s tragic reality”.

Also read "US Congressmen worried about assassinations of leaders in Colombia"

If all this sounds familiar, it is because the bosses are the same, the motives for persecution have not changed, the places of influence are those that have State power vacuums and the actors are very similar to the "extinct" paramilitaries. "We do not want any more guerrillas or drug traffickers in Cauca" says a written threat that seeks to intimidate Jonatan Enríquez Centeno Muñoz, a departmental spokesman of the MP social and political movement. How many messages such as this have we not seen in Colombian’s history?

Just last weekend two social leaders were attacked in Cesar department of Colombia. It is time to end with the discussions regarding how we denominate this situation and rather focus on the elephant in the room: Colombia remains a hostile country for those who think differently.

Source: El Espectador

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