Colombia: denialism on slayings of social leaders

In his Christmas message to the Colombian people, President Juan Manuel Santos said that the country was experiencing "at last a true night of peace." But deadly violence against social leaders, especially in the countryside, continues in spite of the peace accords with the FARC guerillas. According to a count by El Espectador newspaper, at least 115 social leaders were assassinated nationwide in 2016, with 40,000 seeking protection form the authorities in response to threats—double the figure for 2015. (El Espectador, Dec. 27) The most recent slaying came Christmas Day, when Anuar José Álvarez Armero, a campesino leader and local organizer for the Marcha Patriotica movement, was gunned down in a roadisde ambush in Argelia municipality, Cauca. (Contagio Radio, Dec. 25)

Diplomats from the UK, Germany, Switzerland, the Low Countries, Norway, Sweden and the European Union, serving as assessors in the peace process, issued a joint letter Dec. 20 warning that "all the efforts we have made for construction of a stable and lasting peace in Colombia will be insufficient if the assassinations continue of leaders and human rights defenders."  (El Espectador, Dec. 20)

But Vice-Minister of Defense Aníbal Fernández de Soto, speaking to a meeting of local military commanders in Medellín, said that the assassinations of social leaders and rights defenders are "not systematic." (El Espectador, Dec. 26) Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas in his year-end statement played up the news that total homicides in Colombia are at their lowest since 1974, at a rate of 24.4 per 1,000 inhabitants. (El Tiempo, Dec. 28)

Activists and rights workers maintain that surviving right-wing paramilitary networks are behind the terror wave, despite official denialism from the government about their existence