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Stop the killing of social leaders in Colombia

Gustavo Monteiro

August 2, 2019

On Friday, July 26th, hundreds took to the streets of Toronto to walk for Life & Peace in Colombia, joining a worldwide call aimed at drawing attention to the alarming number of assassinations and threats to social leaders in the country. This global call saw actions in Colombia and over 100 cities around the world. In Turtle Island, events took place in Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City, Winnipeg and Toronto where the walk for peace was organized by CASA (Colombia Action Solidarity Alliance), Common Frontiers, Colombia Working Group and LACSN (Latin America and Caribbean Solidarity Network).

Violence against social leaders, many of them Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, campesinos and union leaders, has increased since the peace accords were signed in 2016 and amounting to more than 700 people killed according to peace and development think thank INDEPAZ.

Dário Esguerra, a member of CASA, told the Toronto’s demonstration:
It’s important that people know what’s going on in Colombia, because since the signing of the peace agreement, people believed that all problems were resolved. However, in reality, social leaders have been assassinated, economic problems and repression are still part of Colombia’s situation. It’s also important to respect the special judicial system for peace, because there we’ll find the truth for Colombia and the world need to see what really happened.

President Ivan Duque has undermined the historic work of the peace agreement since taking office and shown no political will to respond to the demands from Colombians and the international community to protect those under risk. In fact, his government has done the opposite and expanded the militarization across Colombia and created more problems for communities defending their territory from paramilitary groups or state military forces. Beyond this already chaotic and bloody situation, social leaders have faced disruptive and violent interventions from mining, energy sector and other resource extraction companies (many of them Canadian) trying to impose harmful projects in the country. For example,the Ituango dam project which will cause widespread ecological and social destruction impacting hundreds of thousands of people.

Claudia Gomez who joined the Toronto rally explains what this violence is causing on peoples’ lives:
“I think this march has an importance to draw attention to the world about what’s going on with social leaders in Colombia. We’ve been assassinated, persecuted, the quality of our lives have changed extremely based on fear, terror that these leaders and their families and consequently the whole community go through, because these social leaders are the ones who defend our fundamental rights related to the territory, education, health care and organizing of our social base and community. We’ve noticed a systematic offensive which is against those who organize these communities and this a threat to Colombians in general. They’re killing us, they’re persecuting us and we have to let the world know what’s happening so we can also denounce that this mustn’t happen in any other country in the world”.

Demonstrators in Canada had a clear demand that the Canadian government ensure that corporate economic interests do not prevail over human, labour and social rights. As well they called for the Canadian government to put pressure on the Colombian State to end from criminalization of social activists in Colombia.

Luis Alberto Mata, member of CASA, also explained the situation and why people were marching:
We’re making an urgent call. We’re declaring to the Canadian government that the Colombian government isn’t a model of democracy nor human rights’ defender and not the perfect ally in Latin America. Colombia needs an international hearing for human rights. Around 700 social leaders were assassinated since the end of 2016 up to now, after the signing of the peace agreement and it’s extremely difficult to see that in a country where people are fighting for peace, there’s a government and far-right wingers pushing an anti-peace discourse. Colombia doesn’t need mining companies, Colombia needs human rights and that’s why we’re marching peacefully, with love but also angry because we cannot allow anymore killings of innocent people in Colombia. We want peace, we want social justice, this is our dream. The mining companies, not only the Canadian ones, are somehow connected to this violence in Colombia. Paramilitary groups have killed and displaced people from their territories so they can give them to the mining industry and they know about it. They may have not financed these groups to do that, but they know what’s going on and they have blood on their hands too”.

Clearly this crisis in Colombia won’t be solved under Duque’s government, especially because his government doesn’t want to comply with basic aspects of the peace agreement such as land reforms. Instead his government had done the opposite, giving land to mining, industrial agriculture and logging companies. He has also continued with widespread political persecution and has refused to accept FARC as a political party. Disastrously, the government’s new drug policy has also left families who agreed to stop cultivating coca-plants and switch to different crops without anything to replace the coca. This makes the farmers easy targets for the drug trafficking groups and statistics have shown an increase in coca cultivation in 2018. Finally, Duque and his party (far-right Democratic Center party) have cut the budget for the truth commission, not recognized the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, made impossible for victims to reclaim their land and, actually, nominated Jaime Castro (former palm oil federation chief) in charge of land restitution and ended peace talks with the ELN (National Liberation Army) showing that this whole process was only to disarm and demobilize the FARC.

For more information see:
Latin American and Carribean Solidarity network
Colombia Action Solidarity Alliance

Common Frontiers



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