The Marcha Patriotica social movement has called the surge in violence a “new political genocide” against its members.
Colombia’s second largest guerrilla army, teetering on the brink of formal peace talks with the government for months, has weighed in on the wave of violence against social leaders and activists in the country, warning that a new “dirty war” is holding Colombia back from its much-awaited era of peace.
The National Liberation Army, also known by its Spanish acronym ELN, released a statement late Tuesday blasting “political persecution” targeting human rights defenders and social movements, particularly the Marcha Patriotica, a big-tent movement bringing together some 2,000 organizations.
The rebel group criticized the government’s failure to provide adequate protection to those facing threats of violence and “false accusations,” pointing to a culture of stigmatization and violence.
“The extreme right has promoted and implemented terror against the people and practices — as part of the dominant regime — a policy of double jeopardy,” reads the statement. “On one hand they promise security, property, order and false peace; on the other, they deny basic political rights, repress mobilization, criminalize popular protest, stigmatize, displace, disappear and assassinate.”
The strong words come in response to a surge in violence against rural leaders and social activists in recent months despite the historic rapprochement between government forces and the FARC. The breakthrough deal has been heralded as bringing an end to the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere. But as blood continues to run in rural communities, the promise of peace is still distant.
The Marcha Patriotica reports that at least 124 of its members have been assassinated since it was founded in 2012, the same year peace negotiations kicked off between the FARC and the government. A slew of attacks on movement members have happened in the past week alone, including three murders and two attempted assassination in the span of just 48 hours, according to the organization. Leaders have warned of a resurgence of illegal paramilitary activity. In the north of Cauca, one of the areas hardest hit by the armed conflict, community members have launched an unarmed security watch force called the Campesino Guard in the face of rising threats, the online platform Pacifista reported.
The recent attacks mirrior a bloody spate of systematic violence that exterminated the left-wing political party Patriotic Union beginning in the 1980s. The ELN slammed the spike in violence, saying it “seeks to limit the construction of a just Colombia in peace for all” and derail the peace process, aimed at finding political solutions to more than half a century of armed conflict.
“We are exploring paths to dialogue for the construction of a new country,” wrote the ELN, which is poised to begin a peace process with the government. “However, we continue to see these strong signs of war, which will only stopped with pressure exerted by society.”
The ELN was scheduled to launch formal peace talks with the government last month in a process paralleling the peace negotiations with the FARC, but the meeting was called off by the government at the last minute. The two sides had differing interpretations of preliminary agreements on the release of hostages, sparking a deadlock.
The FARC, which already finalized a historic peace agreement with the government after four years of talks, released a similar statement earlier this week calling on the government to acknowledge and address far-right interests in prolonging the war and the wave of violence it has enabled.
President Juan Manuel Santos said earlier this week that the government is meeting with local politicians to address the security situation in high-risk areas.
“We are not going to allow the violent ones to put the advances of the peace process at risk,” he said during a press conference Tuesday.
Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timoleon Jimenez or Timochenko, are scheduled to sign a revised version of the peace deal on Thursday in Bogota.
Colombia’s 52-year civil war has claimed the lives of some 260,000 people. Paramilitaries are estimated to be responsible for at least 80 percent of civilian deaths.