Some 40,000 people took part in a Bogotá march for victims of Colombia’s paramilitary and armed forces. Organized by the State Crimes Victims Movement (MOVICE), the march was a direct response to last month’s mobilization against the FARC guerillas. The Bogotá march was joined by a three-day cross-country procession, mostly by campesinos, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians from the war-torn departments of Chocó and Cauca, which swelled along the way with marchers from Colombia’s central departments of Tolima, Huila and Cundinamarca. The BBC reported that “hundreds of thousands” marched in local mobilizations in cities and towns across the country.
When the cross-country march reached the Rio Magdalena where it forms the Tolima-Cundinamarca border March 4, participants threw thousands of flowers off the bridge into the water in a “national homage to the victims of paramilitarism, parapolitics and crimes of the state.”
One participant in the cross-country march was former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus told IPS: “We must all acknowledge the pain of the rural villages, of the remote and isolated regions… [T]hese mobilisations should give rise to a conviction, a momentum that leads us to say ‘Never Again.'” Warning against the temptation of “short-cuts, easy solutions and short-term results,” he said “we must learn the patience of the long way round, which is the way solid results are achieved.” He cited the March 1 attack on a FARC guerilla camp in Ecuador as an example of such counter-productive short-cuts.
On the evening of March 5, the marchers reached Soacha, a shantytown on the southwest side of Bogotá, where Liberal Party candidate Luis Carlos Galán was assassinated 19 years ago—where they were received by his son, current Liberal Party senator Juan Manuel Galán. In Soacha, the march was joined by some 200 displaced persons who had been holding a four-day vigil in Bogotá’s central Plaza de Bolívar to read out accounts of their suffering.
The latest report by the Colombian human rights group Justice and Peace states that “more than 1,700 indigenous people, 2,550 trade unionists and 5,000 members of the Patriotic Union were killed between 1982 and 2005. The paramilitaries committed more than 3,500 massacres and stole more than six million hectares of land.” (BBC World Service, March 7; AP, March 6; IPS, March 5)
The Patriotic Union is a leftist political party whose members were targeted in a campaign of extermination by the paramilitaries in the 1990s. One leader of the March 6 mobilization was Iván Cepeda, the son of Patriotic Union leader Manuel Cepeda, who was assassinated by paramilitaries in 1994. Iván Cepeda explicitly rejected the endorsement that the FARC had offered the mobilization, saying, “We do not accept the support of armed groups who act on the margins of the law.” (La Jornada, Mexico, March 6)
On March 5, several anti-war groups and conscientious objectors from military service in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and eslewhere in the region issued an Anti-Militarist Declaration rejecting the attack on Ecuadoran territory and the ensuing war fever.
See our last posts on popular peace initiatives in Colombia