Colombian society has taken to the streets en masse to confront a model that brings nothing but misery and blood for its sons and daughters. Uribe’s government via Duque aligns itself with the interests dictated by the United States and advances against the wishes of a population that seeks peace and prosperity.
The causes, variables, changes in the numbers of the war before and after the signing of the peace agreements, the perspectives of human rights in Colombia, are some of the topics that Prensa CRBZ discussed with Camilo Gonzalez Posso, president of the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), director of the magazine Punto de Encuentro and member of the Observatory of the Human Rights of the People.
How would you describe in general terms the human rights situation in Colombia? What elements characterize the country from this perspective?
With the signing of the peace agreements in November 2016, the human rights situation and the violations of the norms of International Humanitarian Law changed in favour of the population, there is a notable decrease in the indicators of socio-political and armed violence. However, responses to the new challenges have been slow and insufficient since the governments and resistance to implementing the peace agreements in the current administration. With the end of the war and the laying down of arms by the FARC-EP, in the years 2017 and 2018 we saw a radical decrease in political killings, forced displacements, extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, forced disappearances and deaths in combat. But in the regions with the most recent history of violence, the social state never arrived and the parapolitical mafias, drug traffickers, paramilitaries and land grabbers quickly moved in. The transition to post-conflict has been difficult due to the belligerence of an ultra-right wing that has wanted to destroy the peace pacts and that maintains the discourses of war and hate. The atmosphere of polarization and the political capacity of the supporters to continue the war without giving space to negotiated solutions is facilitating the recomposition of many forms of violence and the persistence of a humanitarian crisis in many regions of the country. Colombia is in a traumatic transition phase, with a majority of the population hoping for peace, emerging in their millions to demand a halt to the violence and clashing with powerful groups that have used the war as their best strategy to remain in power and accumulate wealth.
What are the reasons for such a high number of murdered leaders? What factors and actors come into play and in what way? What are the methods and modus operandi with which political violence takes place?
With the signing of the Peace Agreement between the State and the FARC EP, a massive social and political movement of hope and new demands emerged in the country and in the affected regions. The role of hundreds of thousands of leaders who emerged from the villages and communes as spokespersons in defence of their territories and deferred demands became visible. At the national level, movements and parties were reconfigured to the point of expressing themselves in a dispute without precedent for the Presidency of the Republic and territorial administrations. This advance of new leaderships has clashed with small and large interests of legal and illegal groups that respond with violence. And the current government, instead of responding with the expansion of democracy and social policies, is prioritizing a new strategy of war and persecution by abandoning the agreements on rural reform, agreements on the substitution of coca economies, land restitution and rights for the victims of the war, which amount to more than 10 million Colombians.
The main determinant of the persistence of violence in the post-agreement period is the lack of policies and measures from the government. In particular, the refusal to fully implement the peace agreements as a central state strategy. These weaknesses have left room for the mafias, narco-paramilitaries, paramilitaries, politicians and businessmen used to violent environments to dispute territories and spheres of power. Armed groups have reorganized and are active in nearly 250 of Colombia’s 1100 municipalities, especially in the border areas. In addition, negotiations with the ELN have failed, and it is impossible in the current period to resume a scenario of dialogue and de-escalation of the confrontation that continues to be present in nearly 100 municipalities and generates skepticism about the possibility of peace. The change of administration in the United States has meant a return to the war on drugs as a cover for geopolitical and military control over the region. This is reflected in many violent dynamics, such as the resumption of military operations against nearly 2 million Colombians in coca-growing economies, the strengthening of military border controls, and the activation of hundreds of intelligence and covert operations personnel.
Has this situation of assassinations of social leaders changed in any way since the Peace Accords? How did the Peace Accords affect these assassinations?
Since the signing of the agreements in November 2016 to January 2020 there have been 793 murders of social leaders in Colombia. The annual average of political killings in times of intense war between 1990 and 2010 was 10,000 people and 20% were social leaders. With the peace negotiations, that figure was reduced, but unfortunately the fragmented nature of the process, with division at the highest level of government and the persistence of armed disputes over territory, has led to the persistence of murders, threats and the return of forced displacement and extrajudicial executions. According to the records kept by Indepaz (Institute of Studies for Development and Peace) with the Patriotic March, there have been 208 assassinations of leaders in 2017, 282 in 2018, 253 in 2019 and for 2020 there have been 41 assassinations within a month and a half, one leader killed every day. The majority are indigenous and peasant defenders of territorial rights and among them 85 small-scale coca growers who have been killed for defending the substitution programs announced with the peace accords. The political persecution is evident in the number of assassinations of leaders of the Patriotic March and the continued massacre of former FARC combatants, amounting to 250 victims of assassinations and attacks. The government denies the systematic nature of this wave of murders and attacks, but it must be said that there is a pattern that stems from the denial and stigmatization made from within the spheres of power and the governing party to create an environment of intolerance, rejection of transitional justice mechanisms and open or silent complicity with the violence that persists. The common denominator of the victims is that they are defenders of territorial rights and the peace agreements, and the most frequent form of aggression is the hiring of hitmen by intellectual authors interested in maintaining power and wealth through dictatorships of fear.
The political and social struggle that is taking place in such an adverse context, what instruments, mechanisms, strategies and paths have been constructed to sustain, grow and advance?
This period of transition has been an exceptional opportunity for the emergence and visibility of new social and political alternatives. This is one side of the coin. The downside is the violence that persists. The great mobilization that took place last November 21, which lasted until December 14, with millions of people protesting, marching, striking, banging pots and pans, has been the culmination of growing and synchronized waves of democratic mobilization by the youth and many other sectors against the policies of a return to generalized war and new measures of the neoliberal portfolio. Environmental, peasant, ethnic, labour and cultural mobilizations have been synchronized, and this mobilization will continue to mark the national scene in the coming years. The political situation is one of great polarization and instability between opposing forces. Duque’s government has been a government of crisis from the beginning and has weakened to the pace of the discrediting of the power behind the throne exercised by former President Alvaro Uribe. In the past elections for mayors and governors, Uribism suffered significant defeats even in areas of traditional dominance. Instead, center-left political expressions have been strengthened.
In the recent context of the national strike, how has the government reacted concretely? What specific actions has it implemented in response to popular mobilization and protest? Can an increase in political assassinations be noted?
The government of Iván Duque has responded to the protest and to its weakening by strengthening its security and defence strategies for another war and not to advance towards peace. It is increasingly aligned with the Trump administration and its hegemonic policies in the region. They have relaunched strategies of war on drugs in keeping with what was Plan Colombia, and the response in the regions with the most violence is around the military axis and the social action that is subordinated to it. In the face of urban protest, the government refuses to make concessions in its package of measures and legislative reforms and instead announced the strengthening of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD).
What are the prospects for the human rights issue in Colombia in the short and medium term?
Over the first days of 2020, the human rights situation has deteriorated at an alarming rate. There is a humanitarian emergency on the border with Venezuela, in the Catatumbo region, in Putumayo, to the south on the border with Ecuador, in the northwestern area of Antioquia, south of Córdoba and Chocó, in the north of Cauca. Faced with this situation and the lack of effective responses from the government, response mechanisms have been activated from the grassroots level of society and the sectors that defend peace. A great alliance in Defense of Peace has been strengthened and large mobilizations are announced in February, March and April, which provide continuity to the agenda of the National Strike. In Colombia, the great movement for peace and for progress towards a more complete peace is being maintained vigilantly. From these spaces and the majority sentiment, calls for war are being rejected, including those that continue to be made through the ELN or dissidents from the FARC party such as the one headed by Iván Márquez. In these years Colombia will continue to be at the crossroads: either progress is made in the implementation of the peace agreements and in the great front for democracy and peace or the forces of war will impose new tragedies.
Translation by Internationalist 360°