Colombians march against state, paramilitary violence

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 ChocĂł 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

  1. FOR statement on Colombian march against state violence
    I Am Colombia, We Are Colombia, Who Is Colombia?

    On February 4th, millions of people around the world marched against the FARC, with slogans like: “no more killings, no more kidnappings, no more FARC” and “I am Colombia.” Their message was a rejection of guerrilla violence. Without knowing more about the political-social context in Colombia, it seemed to be a noble one: we’re tired of this war, we don’t want the guerrillas to wreak havoc in our country anymore. But the protest became politicized before it happened. The government gave an official endorsement and all public employees the day off to participate, schools were in session for only a half day and Salvatore Mancusco, a powerful paramilitary boss currently in jail and responsible for numerous human rights abuses, encouraged people to join. The media in Colombia not only gave full coverage of the events, but became part of the organizing effort–in newspapers, radio programs and on websites there were articles, statements and links to the protests that would happen around the world. The result was a march that not only focused on the atrocities of the FARC, but also a rejection of Chavez and an endorsement of Uribe. The left-leaning Polo Democratico participated in the march, but rather than “all sides” joining forces to call for peace, the streets of Colombia became a battle ground for the two opposing parties to insult each other.

    The anti-FARC protestors shouted pro-Uribe statements and accused the opposing party of being guerrilla supporters (If you speak Spanish, check out this video: “Lo que no se vi? en la marcha del 4 de Febrero.” The tensions were not only found in Colombia, but can be seen in this video in New York as well (

    Perhaps the most troublesome part of the February 4th message is that it clearly excluded other kinds of victims — Colombia’s 40-year old conflict, which has been brutal on all sides, was reduced to the crimes committed by one of the armed groups. The victims of the FARC have been many: some executed and some held as prisoners in the jungle for years at a time in terrible conditions. But it is equally as important to reject the violence played out by the armed forces, police and the paramilitaries, which according to the Attorney General’s Office, make up some 90,000 victims.

    In response to the February 4th protests, human rights organizations declared that they would hold another protest on March 6th and mobilize people around the world to speak out against state and paramilitary-sponsored violence. Not
    surprisingly, government officials have said they will not support the March 6th mobilization like they did on February 4th. Uribe’s advisor Jose Obdulio Gaviria said the government will not endorse the march because it is being organized by those whom they just marched against on February 4th (i.e. the FARC) and that State [and paramilitary] violence, “don’t exist as a systematic crime in Colombia.” Ivan Cepeda, leader of the National Victims Movement Against State Crimes (MOVICE), claims that he and others have been victims of recent intimidations and that “the origin of these intimidations are part of the confusion that has been generated for all Colombians, mainly because of the declarations made by presidential advisor Jose Obdulio Gaviria, when he attributed the organizing efforts of this protest to the FARC.”

    In their call to action, the National Victims Movement states the case against the paramilitaries and state: “the
    paramilitaries, alone or together with members of the Armed Forces, have disappeared at least 15,000 patriots and they have been buried in more than 3,000 common graves or they have thrown their bodies to the rivers. They have assassinated 1,700 indigenous, 2,550 trade unionists and 5,000 members of the Patriotic Union. From 1982 until 2005, they perpetrated more than 3,500 massacres and stole more than six million hectares of land. Since 2002, after their “dembolization” they have assassinated 600 people each year. Since 2002 until today, members of the National Army have committed more than 950 executions, the majority presented as ‘positives.’ Only in January of 2008, the paramilitaries committed two massacres, 9 forced disappearances, eight homicides and the army has committed 16 extrajudicial executions.”

    According to a recent Inter-Press Service article, Claudia Giron, a psychologist and organizer of the Victims Movement (MOVICE) said, “Saying ‘I Am Colombia’, the slogan of the previous march, is to say that the Colombia that I accept is the Colombia that thinks like I do. We believe pluralism and diversity are important. It is more important to say that we are all Colombia, whether or not we think alike,” she said. In MOVICE “we don’t turn a blind eye to the crimes committed by guerrilla groups. But a state that violates human rights is a problem at another level, because it is not just any actor — it supposedly guarantees respect for those rights. That doesn’t mean that the pain of the insurgent groups’ victims isn’t the same as our pain,” she added. “We profoundly take into consideration their pain as human beings and repudiate the crimes committed against them.”

    Fellowship of Reconciliation’s counterpart the Association of Campesinos of Antioquia declared the following about the mobilization:

    “On the 6th of March we will be there again, present to remember… In the midst of impunity which dominates our country, we will be there to echo the cries to demand that justice be done, that the truth be told and that the damages incurred be paid by those in powerful positions; there are those who have been blind to pain which is foreign to them because they don’t see it or simply because they don’t care.

    “We will walk on the 6th of March for all those who have been thrown off their lands, for those who continue to resist in their territories, for those who have never been heard, for the disappeared, for the indigenous people of this land, and for the land itself which is also a victim of the voracity of power. We will march for truth, for free information, for the assassinated [and] exiled journalists who were doing their work ethically and with dignity…”

    In San Francisco, the Bay Area Colombia Working Group, Fellowship of Reconciliation and American Friends Service Committee will have a local event to commemorate the victims of the massacre of San José de Apartadó and other victims of state and paramilitary crimes. To see other events being organized around the world, click here.

    From Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia Program Monthly Update, February 2008