Colombia: para terror persists despite 'peace'

Despite peace accords with the FARC guerillas, remnant right-wing paramilitary forces remain active across Colombia, and are escalating their reign of terror against indigenous and campesino communities. Several families have been displaced from the Afro-Colombian community of Juan Santos along the Río Naya (Cauca department) since an April 17 attack by a group of gunmen who abducted three residents. The families, numbering some 50 people, have taken refuge in nearby communities, fearing a new attack.  (Prensa Rural, May 7)

On May 26, an indigenous Nasa couple were abducted from their community of Delfina (Buenaventura municipality, Valle del Cauca); their bodies were found days later with signs of torture. On May 28, a member of the Chamí Indigenous Guard in the resguardo (reserve) of Garrapata (Valle del Cauca) was assassinated by gunmen who invaded the community. (Contagio Radio, May 29)

A leading rights group reported in late April that Colombia has seen a spike in assassinations of social leaders this year. A total of 46 social leaders have been killed so far in 2018, up from 26 in the same period last year, found a study by Somos Defensores. The perpetrators of the vast majority of the murders, 35 in total, remain unknown. Paramilitary groups were responsible for three; four were murdered by remnant guerillas, and another four were killed at the hands of security forces. The study also counted a total of 132 acts of aggression against social leaders so far this year. Of the registered acts, there were 12 attacks, 66 death threats and one case of forced disappearance. (Colombia Reports, April 27)

Survivors of the "political genocide" carried out by right-wing paramilitaries against followers of the leftist Patriotic Union party won some hope for justice when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case. Rights group Hijos e Hijas por Colombia say they have documented over 6,500 threats and attacks against party adherents over the past generation. (Contagio Radio, May 16)) This history is particularly relevant at the moment, with the FARC re-organizing as a political party.

The links between the landed gentry and the clandestine right-wing networks was again evidenced when the former boss of the Colombian ranchers' federation was sentenced to nine years in prison June 14 for his leading role in a bloody paramilitary offensive that displaced millions. Business leader, former senator and former ambassador Jorge Visbal collaborated with the leadership of the now-disbanded paramilitary umbrella organization AUC between 1998 and 2005 when he was the director of FEDEGAN, the country’s federation of cattle ranchers. According to the court, the powerful businessman "held constant meetings" with the AUC leadership. (Colombia Reports, June 20)

And even as these links emerge, the ag-biz lobby is aggressively achieving its policy ends in Colombia. On May 2, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the law that created the new Rural Economic-Social Development Interest Zones (ZIDRES). Law 1776 of 2016 had been challenged by a group of congress-members from the leftist Polo Democrático and Alianza Verde, who argued that it unconstitutionally abrogates the land rights of campesino communities. Sen. Jorge Robledo said the law violates a precedent established by the same Constitutional Court that unused public lands must be put aside for the country's landless campeisnos. (El Espectador, May 2)