In recent days, after coming to a new final agreement in Havana, Cuba between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP and at eves of the implementation of peace agreements, the human rights and political persecution is increasing: 4 more social and community leaders have been killed and one student activist was reported missing.
The government has not released any statement on the matter and seems to ignore the situation despite the fact that these practices of persecution to political opponents are rooted to the causes of the existence of the armed conflict itself. At this stage of the Peace process, the continuity and spike of assassinations of political opponents raises serious concerns on the willingness of the government and far right political sectors to stop the use of weapons for political means.
These cases have common elements: They are all perpetrated against members of the social and political movement Marcha Patriótica (MP hereafter) and they are all well known activists in their respective regions, their activism and organizing capacity is perceived as a threat to economic and political sectors that insist on the use of violence and unwillingness to process political differences within the framework of democracy.
The region of Caquetá:
On Friday November 25, Erley Monroy, a community leader who in recent times raised awareness and organized the community on the high environmental and social costs of the Fracking project set for the Losada-Guayabero zone, was shot dead on a road leading to his farm near the Cazadores Battalion of the Armed Forces, he was a member of MP and had denounced the Mayor of San Vicente del Caguán for stigmatizing him and the community.
This community leader was also an activist in pro of the constitution of a Peasant Reserve Zone in his region, which is something that is already contemplated in Colombia´s legal framework –but has rarely been implemented due to political constraints by powerful economic sectors- and that allows the establishment of a zone in which the environmental, territorial, economic, social and cultural ordering is planned out by the community itself according to its interests and with the assistance of the State.
Another peasant leader that worked with Erley was also shot when he was returning home from the burial of his friend; this took place on Saturday November 19 at 11pm, his name is Hugo Cuellar, also a member of the MP and president of the local peasant association of the La Victoria rural settlement, he is currently receiving medical attention after being wounded in his abdomen by a gun shot.
Unfortunately, the suffering by the peasants of this region doesn’t end there; early in the morning of that same Saturday, Didier Losada, another peasant activist member of MP was shot dead in front of his wife and child when masked men barged into his house in the San Juan de Losada rural settlement.
National spokesperson of the MP, David Flórez stated that “it is not possible to move towards a process of construction of a stable and lasting peace […] while paramilitary groups take action against very prominent leaders of the regions” to RCN radio, adding on that “we [MP] have been denouncing that despite the fact that the dynamics of the armed conflict between the FARC and the national government have decreased, the murder and persecution of social leaders and human rights defenders throughout the territory has increased”.
The regions of Cauca and Valle del Cauca:
John Jairo Rodriguez, member of MP in the Cauca region and also activist in pro of constituting the Peasant Reserve Zone of Caloto, was found dead with three gunshot wounds on the road between the Toez indigenous reserve and the village of El Palo. He was a father of four children and member of the Popular Unity Process of the Colombian Southwest (PUPSOC).
He was also a prominent leader and his death was only one of many that had been occurring in the region; the FARC-EP in a communiqué in rejection of the infamous murder of this leader stated that “This new murder is proof of the slow genocide against Marcha Patriotica and the popular movement carried out by sectors that are enemies of peace. Four years after its foundation, more than 120 of its leaders have been killed. These killings and other human rights violations create a climate of fear and represent a potential threat to a country that dreams of the end, once and for all, this violent conflict”.
Alejandro Ramírez, a leader of MP in the southwest region explained to Pazífico Noticias how José Antonio Velasco, activist in pro of the constitution of the Peasant Reserve Zone of Caloto was approached on the night of November 16 by unknown men in a truck, “they illegally retained him, pulled him into the truck, tortured him and left him badly injured on the road” after which he was found and taken to a medical institution where he passed away.
These cases are attributed to paramilitary organizations; Alejandro Ramírez called for “paramilitarism to end as a State policy. Paramilitaries are not only private death squads but also a product of the National Security doctrine that is still immersed in the Armed Forces” adding on that “we [MP] believe that a first step is to democratize the security policy of the Armed Forces in order for the paramilitary element to disappear”.
The dynamic of political persecution is not only something that peasants have to live with, in the cities these cases are also increasing. 24 year old student activist Hannier Hurtado was reported missing on October 30; he is also a member of MP and of the Popular Unity Process of the Colombian Southwest (PUPSOC), he left his house that day and never came back.
A couple months before, in a pamphlet that circulated at his university (Universidad del Valle) included a list of 10 student activists of MP that were threatened to be killed if they continued their political activism. Also, in a letter written to a friend days before, Hannier Hurtado expressed that he was frightened because his life was at risk. To this day, his whereabouts are unknown.
The silence kept by government officials and the lack of coverage on mass media outlets on these cases may be understood as a form of complicity. It can be said that this is a humanitarian crisis and it is important for the national and international community to spread this information and request guarantees for the exercise of political opposition in Colombia in order to advance towards the longing of Peace.
Colombia cannot repeat its history of political extermination.