We’ve added a fifth resource to this site’s page of “Explainer” documents: a graphics-heavy overview of the growing network of FARC “dissident” groups around the country. These are armed groups founded by, and mostly comprised of, fighters who either rejected the 2016 peace accord outright, or demobilized in 2017 only to take up arms again. The Explainer covers the groups’ origins and estimated size, their illicit revenue streams, their poor human rights record, the two main national dissident confederations, and some regions in which dissidents are embroiled in violent territorial disputes.
The following April 23, 2020 statement is cross-posted from wola.org. We are alarmed that Colombia is not only going ahead full-throttle with manual eradication operations in coca-growing zones during a pandemic, but that eradicators’ security-force escorts have killed two civilians in the past four weeks.
Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, April 22, in an Indigenous community in southwest Colombia, public security forces killed one person and injured three others who were peacefully protesting a police operation to manually eradicate coca plants. Members of the police eradication team fired into a group of Awa Indigenous people, who were attempting to talk to them about why Indigenous authorities hadn’t been consulted about the planned eradication, as required by law. The death is the second related to manual coca eradication operations since Colombia went into national quarantine in late March.
Even while imposing a strict national quarantine, the Colombian government has launched more intense and aggressive coca eradication operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. These operations, which often require the deployment of public security forces without appropriate protective equipment, have sparked long-standing tensions in six Colombian departments. In addition to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 due to the deployment of eradication forces, the aggressive eradication campaign has ignored key elements of the historic 2016 peace accord.
In the operation that led to the death of one Indigenous community member and three wounded in southwest Colombia, the government had failed to consult with the community prior to the operation. Additionally, in many of the other municipalities targeted in the last month, the Colombian government has systematically failed to deliver payments and other productive project support for crop substitution programs as laid out by Chapter 4 of the peace accords.
The Duque administration’s push to intensify coca eradication has largely responded to an aggressive pressure campaign from the Trump administration. Citing rising rates of coca production and cultivation, the Trump administration has pushed the Duque government to expand its eradication teams from 25 in 2017 to nearly 150 today. This rapid expansion appears to have vastly outpaced any instruction in use-of-force protocols that the security forces accompanying the eradicators were receiving, heightening the risk that when these teams go into rural communities to destroy what is, for many families, their only steady source of income, the resulting confrontations involve excessive or even lethal force.
Beside increasing coca eradication operations during the nationwide lockdown, Colombia has seen no slowdown in the pace of attacks and threats against social leaders, including those who are advocating for implementation of the peace agreement’s illicit crops chapter. On April 22 alone, three people at a local community council in southwest Nariño department were killed by dissident fighters from the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla group; another social leader, who formed part of the leftist Marcha Patriótica political movement, was killed in Cauca department; and two more were killed elsewhere in Cauca. Various Afro-Colombian communities in Cauca and Chocó department have also expressed concern about eradication operations and threats by armed groups in their area. According to Colombian think tank Indepaz, at least 71 social leaders were killed during the first three months of 2020; at least another dozen have been killed since Colombia’s national quarantine began.
The Colombian government needs to rigorously and promptly investigate the killings of social leaders, securing convictions for those who carried out and those who ordered the crime. Additionally, instead of a drug policy that emphasizes forced eradication of coca, the Colombian government should uphold its commitments in the 2016 peace agreement and promote rural land reform, sustainable development, and the establishment of state presence in coca cultivation areas. Finally, given the number of leaders from farmers’ association the National Agrarian Coordinator (Coordinador Nacional Agrario) and the Marcha Patriótica who have faced violent attacks and threats, all armed actors—including FARC dissident groups and government forces—should avoid involving civilians in armed conflict.
Abbey Steele of the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences is a scholar of violence and politics who has done most of her work in Colombia. She is the author of Democracy and Displacement in Colombia’s Civil War (2017, Cornell University Press).
In this episode, she discusses her work in Apartadó, in Colombia’s Urabá region, which saw forced displacement by paramilitary groups intensify after Colombia began direct local elections and leftist parties performed well. She calls what happened “political cleansing” or “collective targeting”: the paramilitaries targeted entire communities for displacement based on election results.
Steele explains this and other findings, particularly how communities have organized to resist the onslaught. She has a sharp analysis of the challenges that continue for the displaced—and for communities and social leaders at risk of political cleansing—today, in post-peace-accord Colombia.
Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.
We’ve added a fourth article to this site’s page of “Explainer” documents: an overview of the National Liberation Army, ELN, Colombia’s largest existing guerrilla group. The Explainer moves rapidly through the ELN’s difficult history, its command structure and way of operating, its geography, its revenue streams, its poor human rights record, and Colombia’s experience engaging it in peace talks. All in a concise 5,400 words—but with numerous photos and maps.
As of early April 2020, Colombia has documented a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, and in cities at least, the country has taken on strict social distancing measures.
This has not meant that Colombia’s embattled social leaders and human rights defenders are any safer. WOLA’s latest urgent action memo, released on April 10, finds that “killings and attacks on social leaders and armed confrontations continue and have become more targeted. We are particularly concerned about how the pandemic will affect already marginalized Afro-Colombian and indigenous minorities in rural and urban settings.”
In this edition of the WOLA Podcast, that memo’s author, Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, explains the danger to social leaders, the shifting security situation, the ceasefire declared by the ELN guerrillas, the persistence of U.S.-backed coca eradication operations, and how communities are organizing to respond to all of this.
Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here.
Colombia, along with the rest of the world, is dealing with the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus. Similar to governments across the globe, it is adapting the best it can to this unprecedented public health threat. As of April 9, 69 Colombians have died, and another 2,223 are infected with the virus that has spread across 23 departments. In this update, we include information received from our partners with their view on how the pandemic is affecting their communities, along with concerning reports of on-going killings, attacks, and threats against social leaders; armed conflict; insecurity; and other abuses. Sadly, despite the national quarantine in Colombia, killings and attacks on social leaders and armed confrontations continue and have become more targeted.
We are particularly concerned about how the pandemic will affect already marginalized Afro-Colombian and indigenous minorities in rural and urban settings. Additional measures must be put in place to protect the health of these already marginalized communities. For this to be effective, consultation, coordination, and implementation are required with ethnic leaders in both rural and urban settings. On March 30, the Ethnic Commission sent President Duque a letter with medium and long-term requests to best help ethnic communities. In sum, they ask the government to coordinate with them; guarantee food supplies, seeds, and inputs for planting their crops; and to strengthen their organizations so they can sustain their national and regional team that attends daily to the situation of the peoples in the territories. At present, the National Organization for Indigenous Peoples (ONIC) has developed a national system of territorial monitoring of the COVID-19 virus in indigenous territories. They have organized territorial controls with indigenous guards to limit contagion in indigenous areas. AFRODES has circulated guidelines for displaced Afro-Colombians in urban settings.
The 2016 Peace Accords created the Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition Commission (La Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la No Repetición) via Article 5.1.1. This entity is the truth component for the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition (Sistema Integral de Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y No Repetición, SIVJRNR). The government established the Truth Commission through Legislative Act 01 of 2017 and structured its functioning through Decree 588 of 2017. According to the Decree, the Truth Commission will operate for a period of three years following an additional six-months of institutional preparation. The Truth Commission started operating on November 28, 2018.
According to the Peace Accords, the Truth Commission aims to fulfill three main objectives before the end of its mandate:
- To investigate and explain the armed conflict, and to promote its understanding emphasizing its least known aspects
- To promote the recognition of individual and collective victims, and the voluntary acknowledgment of responsibility, in support of non-repetition
- To promote tolerant, respectful, and democratic coexistence across the country’s territories based on the dignity and rights of victims.
Here, the Truth Commission’s activities are explored based on how they broadly advance each of the three objectives.
Objective 1: To investigate and explain the armed conflict, and to promote its understanding emphasizing its least known aspects
On November 28, 2021, the Truth Commission will publish a comprehensive report explaining Colombia’s protracted armed conflict. For this, the Truth Commission is undertaking a multi-step investigative process. Throughout the first stage of its investigative process, the Truth Commission is hearing from victims and armed actors.
In 2019, the Truth Commission received a total of 10,755 testimonies from 5,988 individual and collective interviews. 20% of these testimonies were from Ethnic Peoples: 2,086 persons testified during eight collective interviews, and 61 testified in individual interviews. These indigenous communities were significantly impacted by the armed conflict. For approximately every seven victims, one victim was an indigenous person. Notably, civilian actors (such as members of the business community who financed the conflict) only gave 2% of the testimonies. Also notable, the Truth Commission received 365 testimonies from exiles.
Some prominent individuals provided testimonies to the Truth Commission including Former President Ernesto Samper who testified on allegations that the Cali Cartel financed his 1994 presidential campaign, as well as, former Senator David Char who spoke about the paramilitary’s activities in Atlántico and their involvement in his Senate campaign. Additionally, this year, José Miguel Narváez, former Deputy Director for the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS), is set to testify about the paramilitaries’ infiltration in the intelligence agency. Narváez is currently serving a 26-year sentence for the assassination of journalist Jaime Garzón.
On March 9, 2020, the Truth Commission launched a new mechanism for collective interviews called Listening Spaces (Espacios de Escucha). With this initiative, the Truth Commission seeks to hear from a more diverse set of individuals involved in the conflict. Among the individuals scheduled to testify are former combatants from every irregular armed group, politicians from different parties, business leaders, journalists and members of the Armed Forces. This year, the Truth Commission expects to hold eight national and 56 territorial Listening Spaces —at least two in each of its 22 regional offices or Truth Houses (Casas de la Verdad). During the first Listening Spaces former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) members spoke about the assassinations of fellow ex-guerillas and other security issues they currently face.
To solidify its explanation of the Armed Conflict, the Truth Commission will contrast the conclusions from the testimonies gathered with secondary sources. In 2019, the Truth Commission received 118 reports from various social and ethnic organizations describing the incidents they and individuals from their territories suffered. Recently, for example, a group of women from the Nukak Maku peoples submitted their report on the sexual violence they endured for over 20 years. The social organization Region Corporation (Corporacion Región) also submitted their report: an account of the conflict’s impact on Antioquia based on more than 90 testimonies by individuals from the San Carlos, Granada, and San Rafael municipalities.
The Truth Commission aims to transversally apply the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Accords. This Chapter requires an ethnic-based perspective in the implementation of the Accords. To guarantee that the ethnic perspective is properly integrated, the Truth Commission met with the Permanent Working Table for Indigenous Peoples, and the Permanent Working Table for the Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero Peoples, and the Permanent Working Table for Women from the Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero Women. These Permanent Tables bring together representatives of indigenous and Afro-Colombian organizations to the Truth Commission in an advisory capacity. At these meetings, participants discussed the implementation of truth-seeking methodologies sensitive to the racism and ethnic intolerance that many communities suffer. They also stressed the importance of adopting a narrative that explains the differentiated experiences ethnic and racial communities suffered during the armed conflict in the final report. Groups that were present at these meeting were the Matamba Collective National Space for Previous Consultation (Colectivo Matamba Espacio Nacional de Consulta Previa), Paez’s Captaincy (Capitanía de Páez), the Network of Women from Matamba and Guasa (Red de Mujeres Matamba y Guasa), Other Black Women (Otras Negras), and Feminists (Feministas).
Objective 2: To promote the recognition of individual and collective victims, and the voluntary acknowledgment of responsibility, in support of non-repetition.
In order to guarantee continuous input from victims during its recognition process, the Truth Commission held 131 sessions with victims’ working groups. 4,476 individuals participated in such sessions. They held sessions with the following groups:
- Sexual Violence: 37 tables with 1,034 participants.
- In Search of Disappeared Individuals: 35 tables with 834 participants.
- Children, Adolescents and Young People: 37 tables with 2,004 participants.
- Rural Farmers: 22 tables with 637 participants.
- Solidarity and Dignity: 1 table with 11 participants.
These tables aimed to guarantee the participation of victims in the planning and development of four Encounters for Truth (Encuentros por la Verdad). The Truth Commission designed these events to recognize victims of the Armed Conflict and to promote the acknowledgement of responsibilities. Each Ecounterhad a specific focus:
First Ecounter for Truth: My Body Tells the Truth, Cartagena, June 26, 2019:
At Cartagena’s Adolfo Mejía Theater, more than 400 women and members of the LGBTQ+ community gathered to recount their experiences as victims of sexual violence. During the event, the attendees heard the stories of 17 victims who, at the hands of paramilitaries, guerillas, police officers, and U.S. officials, were raped, tortured, or slaved. The stories emphasized the particular vulnerability of indigenous and Afro-Colombians to this criminal modality. Later in the day, approximately 2,000 individuals participated in artistic and cultural events in recognition of the victims’ courage and resilience. Cartagena (Bolívar) – as one of the Caribe region’s main cities – was chosen for the first Encounter because approximately 30% of reported sexual violence cases took place in the city.
Second Encounter for Truth: Recognition of the Persistence of Mothers and Families Searching for Disappeared Individuals, Pasto, August 26-28:
For three days, the Truth Commission organized a series of events in the city of Pasto (Nariño) to commemorate the victims of forced disappearance. These included theater plays, academic forums, art displays, and concerts in which more than 17,000 individuals participated. At the Encounter’s main event, the Truth Commission held an open dialogue ceremony with the mothers and families of the disappeared. There, the relatives of the victims (who are also considered secondary victims themselves) narrated their decades-long struggle to find their loved ones. Despite the lack of accurate data, estimates calculate around 80,000 to 100,000 individuals were disappeared during the armed conflict in Colombia. This criminal modality involved every actor in the conflict: guerilla groups, paramilitaries, and state agents.
Third Encounter for Truth: Never Again Children in the War, Medellin, November 22-23:
At two separate events in Medellin (Antioquia), the Truth Commission and more than 1,000 attendees heard the stories of twenty-six children and adults that –as children–were victims of the armed conflict. Their accounts highlighted that, during the conflict, minors were especially vulnerable to massacres, forced recruitment, murders and internal displacement. Notably, this was the first Encounter where perpetrators faced their victims and publicly acknowledged their responsibility. Rodrigo Londoño (former FARC leader), Fredy Rendón (former paramilitary commander), and Daladier Rivera (a military major) stood in front of the victims and recognized their direct or indirect responsibility for the crimes they committed. According to Colombia’s Victims Unit (Unidad de Victimas), approximately 2,500,000 children were victims of the armed conflict.
Fourth Encounter for Truth: The Countryside Tells the Truth, Cabrera, December 12-13:
The Truth held the fourth Encounter for Truth in Cabrera (Cundinamarca), a town at the center of the Sumpaz Rural Farmers’ Concentration Zone. This Encounter consisted of multiple intergenerational and inter-territorial tables where rural farmers (victims of the armed conflict) shared their experiences. More than 700 individuals participated. For decades, these individuals suffered forced displacements, land dispossession, and political persecution. Out of the more than 8 million individuals internally displaced in Colombia during the conflict, approximately 6 million are rural farmers. Such massive displacement has contributed to a highly unequal land ownership regime in which 1% of the productive units own more than 80% of the land.
The Truth Commission also held six events titled “Dialogues for Non-Repetition: Truth Comes Alongside Social Leaders.” These were public round table-type discussions were stakeholders considered how the phenomenon of social leaders’ assassinations affects peacebuilding and non-repetition in Colombia. Many of attendees were representatives from social organizations. Others included social leaders, journalists, opinion leaders, and government officials. More information on the events:
During this dialogue, speakers introduced the phenomenon of social leaders’ assassinations. According to data mentioned at the discussion, 4,788 social leaders have been assassinated in the country since 1986. The departments most affected are Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño and North Santander. All four of them have a significant number of coca crops and are strategic locations for drug trafficking. The speakers also discussed the causes and dimensions of this phenomenon. They highlighted that, since 1997, the government has signed legislation aimed at protecting social leaders. However, as the speakers pointed out, the government has failed to comprehensively implement these measures partly because it lacks presence in the most vulnerable areas.
At this second dialogue, speakers expanded on the causes of social leaders’ assassinations discussed in the first dialogue. The speakers agreed that the indiscriminate stigmatization of social leaders as guerilla sympathizers is among factors that cause this deadly phenomenon. They also explained the role of social leaders as the voice of the country’s communities: they regularly report corruption in their territories and fight against private or public projects that go against their community’s wellbeing. The speakers also emphasized the wide discrepancy between the central government’s concept of security and that of the rural, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. They argued that the general security measures crafted at the central level do not match different local-level needs.
At this third dialogue, speakers explored the relation between the assassination of social leaders and Colombia’s peace-building efforts. In their interventions, many of them emphasized the particular history of Cordoba as the stage of multiple peace processes. Cordoba saw the demobilization of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejercito Popular de Liberación, EPL), the United Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), and now of the FARC. Nevertheless, social leader’s assassinations are on the rise in this department. Among others, the speakers presented two factors as causes for this increase: (1) a general effort to exclude ethnic and racial communities, and (2) the efforts by irregular groups to maintain political and economic control of strategic regions as other groups demobilize. Different from the last two dialogues, legislators from three different political parties participated in this discussion.
The focus of discussion during the fourth dialogue was the Middle Magdalena region, a historic epicenter of the Armed Conflict and a region that extends into 8 departments. At this dialogue, speakers tried to answer the question: how has the aggression against social leaders evolved recently? In their answers, the speakers introduced a new level of analysis for the phenomenon: the extraction-based economy. Barrancabermeja is a national center for the extraction of oil, and as armed groups fight to capture some of the oil rents, to the risk to social leaders increases. The speakers also discussed other topics mentioned before such as the lack of state presence in vulnerable areas of the territory as well as the endemic corruption present in many of the country’s departments.
The Armed Conflict disproportionately affected departments like Chocó: with precarious standards of living, widespread poverty, and acute state abandonment. At its capital Quibdó, the speakers discussed these and other dire socio-economic conditions and how they impact the efforts at non-repetition. They emphasized the disparities between urban and rural territories, and why the latter experience higher levels of social leaders’ assassinations. Notably, this was the first time that a former FARC leader took part in the dialogues. Pastor Lisandro Alape, now a political leader, centered his remarks on how the lack of implementation of multiple elements of the Peace Accords hinder efforts at closing the country’s socio-economic gap. These elements include the comprehensive rural reform (Chapter 1) and the 16 congressional seats for victims of the conflict (Chapter 2).
During the last dialogue, four social leaders provided concluding remarks on the impact of social leaders’ assassinations on their communities. They reiterated the crucial political and cultural role that social leaders play in pace-building. After their remarks, Francisco de Roux—the Truth Commission’s president—and eight Commissioners spoke. They summarized the general points on the causes of social leaders’ assassinations as well as the particular impact of this phenomenon on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. This concluding dialogue centered on themes such as the lack of appropriate region-specific protection measures, and the forced displacements caused by social leaders’ assassinations cause. De Roux also mentioned the proposals discussed at the dialogues. Among others, he explained the need to strengthen self-defense mechanisms like the Afro-Colombian Cimarrona guard and the indigenous guard. He closed by calling for the full implement the Peace Accords.
Objective 3: To promote tolerant, respectful, and democratic coexistence across the country’s territories based on the dignity and rights of victims
To promote coexistence, the Truth Commission held a number of capacity-building workshops with social and community leaders. The first series, conducted in partnership with the Foundation for Reconciliation (Fundación para la Reconciliación), trained 110 social leaders in: reconciliation, restorative practices, generative dialogues, and appreciative communication. The second series consisted of 5 “truth laboratories;” an idea proposed by the Center for Faith and Culture (Centro de Fe y Culturas). At these events, the Truth Commission sought to raise awareness about the role of the environment and the territories in the promotion of coexistence. Held in Urabá, North Santander, Cauca, Caquetá and the Pacific region, 84 social leaders participated in these.
The Truth Commission also created 58 spaces for capacity-building in coexistence practices. At these events, the Truth Commission worked with victims of the conflict on coping mechanisms, constructive communication strategies, and other tools to promote peaceful coexistence. With 1,508 participants, these spaces are territorially distributed as follows:
|Macro Region||Number of processes carried out|
|Antioquia and Eje Cafetero||6|
On March 16, the Cooperation Space for Peace (Espacio de Cooperación para la Paz – ECP) published a statement, signed by 17 international civil society organizations, urging the Colombian government to guarantee protections for social leaders throughout the country.
Social leaders are vital to the communities they represent. The statement argues that in its process of consolidating peace, Colombia cannot tolerate violence against leaders who work in their communities to improve living conditions and protect natural resources.
The statement calls on the Colombian government to provide adequate safety guarantees, ensure justice is enforced, and implement policies that dismantle the criminal groups responsible for the bloodshed against social leaders and their communities. Below is the English text of the statement:
STATEMENT TO THE PUBLIC AND A CALL TO THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT INTERNATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS
Bogotá, March 16, 2020. The international civil society organizations signed onto this statement express with deep pain and concern the persistence and increase of threats, attacks, harassment, and murders against individuals and human rights organizations who endorse the peace agreement and, in the process of reincorporation, move from a past of war to a future of reconciliation and peace.
In the past week, Astrid Conde Gutiérrez (March 5) and Edwin de Jesús Carrascal Barrios (March 10) were assassinated. Thus far, according to the FARC’s political party, these killings amount to 15 former combatants of the FARC killed since the beginning of this year and 190 former combatants killed since the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016. Additionally, the corporation Legal Solidarity (Solidaridad Jurídica) has also reported threats and harassment against other former political prisoners.
On March 11, a new threat from the Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) against an extensive list of lead social organizations and social leaders became public. It included the Wayuu Women’s Force (Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu)—a human and territorial rights organization that won the 2017 National Human Rights Defense Award and has been working for ethnic and territorial rights in La Guajira since 2006.
The lack of protections for social leaders and the lack of comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement put the sustainability of the process and the search for new paths towards peace in Colombia at serious risk. Thus, it is urgent for the State, who is responsible for the life of all Colombians, to:
- Provide sufficient guarantees for those who actively work towards peace and defend human and territorial rights so they can carry out their legitimate work in an enabling environment.
- Ensure that justice is enforced and that those responsible are identified, investigated, and brought before competent authorities. In doing so, a strong message in favor of peace would be expressed through Colombia’s institutions, currently governed by Iván Duque.
- Rapidly advance the design and adoption of public policies to dismantle criminal organizations that are responsible for killings and massacres or attacks on human rights defenders, social movements, or political movements. Such criminal organizations include paramilitary groups, successor groups, and their support networks (3.4.3 of the Peace Agreement). Civil society organizations have already submitted proposals about this matter.
The international civil society organizations signed onto this statement and members of the Cooperation Space for Peace (Espacio de Cooperación para la Paz) reiterate concern about these incidents and the lack of strong action by the Colombian State to clarify and finally stop this bloodshed in Colombia.
A country that genuinely aims to consolidate peace cannot tolerate violence against citizens of any kind, particularly against those in civil society who work to improve living conditions and protect territories and natural resources.
On March 30, 2020, the Action for Change (Acciones para el Cambio – APC) coalition published a letter addressed to the Colombian government urging it to stop forced coca eradication operations amid the COVID-19 public health crisis. The letter encourages the government to instead enforce quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the virus among vulnerable farmer communities.
Despite calls to follow quarantine measures, the Government of Colombia has continued forced coca eradication operations in the Catatumbo region and the departments of Caquetá and Putumayo. These operations, the letter states, violate voluntary substitution agreements signed with farmer communities within the framework of the peace accord.
The letter also highlights the increased use of force and violence against farmers and condemns the murders of Marco Rivadeneira and Alejandro Carvajal. Here is the English text of the letter:
THE ACTION FOR CHANGE (ACCIONES PARA EL CAMBIO – APC) COALITION CALLS ON THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT TO SUSPEND FORCED ERADICATION OPERATIONS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS TO GUARANTEE THE RIGHTS OF RURAL POPULATIONS
The COVID-19 pandemic places the Colombian State in a unique situation, in which it must implement rigorous measures to contain the spread of the virus and guarantee its citizens the right to life, health, and survival.
Despite the measures implemented by the national government to address the emergency, several organizations in the Catatumbo region and the departments of Caquetá and Putumayo have denounced intensified forced coca eradication operations, specifically in municipalities where collective agreements were signed under the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito, PNIS). To date, the national government has not fully complied with these agreements. Such noncompliance, coupled with uncertain isolation measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, has in recent days caused a number of violations to rural populations’ rights.
Amid the national quarantine on March 19, Marco Rivadeneira was assassinated in the Nueva Granada territory, located in Puerto Asís municipality, Putumayo. Marco was a prominent leader who promoted the substitution of crops in the department and sought alternatives for those who had been left out of crop substitution programs. According to data from the Coordinator for Coca, Marijuana and Poppy Growers (Coordinadora de Cultivadores de Coca, Marihuana y Amapola, COCCAM), Marco Rivadeneira’s murder raises to 60 the total number of people killed for leading crop substitution processes in Colombia. Three days after that, on March 22, the arrival of state forces was denounced, as they began to fumigate coca crops with glyphosate using manual spray pumps.
According to public complaints from the COCCAM and the Departmental Coordinator of Social, Environmental and Peasant Organizations of Caquetá (Coordinadora Departamental de Organizaciones Sociales, Ambientales y Campesinas del Caquetá, COORDOSAC), since March 23 in Caquetá, members of the National Army have carried out forced eradication operations using force and gunfire against farmers. Despite the public health crisis, these operations are occurring in the Palestina, Inspección Unión Peneya territory in Montañita municipality.
Finally, according to information from the Peasant Association of Catatumbo (Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, ASCAMCAT) and the COCCAM, Alejandro Carvajal was killed by members of the National Army in the context of forced and violent eradications last Thursday, March 26. This assassination occurred in the territory of Santa Teresita, La Victoria, which forms part of Sardinata municipality in Norte de Santander. The National Army has already assumed responsibility for said killing.
Faced with the aforementioned context, the APC coalition urges the Colombian government to:
- Investigate the incidents and punish those responsible for the killings of Marco Rivadeneira and Alejandro Carvajal. Additionally, investigate and punish the members of the National Army who use threats and force against rural populations in Catatumbo, Caquetá, and Putumayo.
- Implement the mandatory, preventative measures ordered by the President and suspend forced eradication efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The rural population is already at risk and its right to health and food security needs to be guaranteed.
- Respect and advance compliance with voluntary substitution agreements signed with farmer communities.
THE ACTION FOR CHANGE (ACCIONES PARA EL CAMBIO – APC) COALITION