By Anahí Arizmendi – May 18, 2021
The assassination of social leaders in Colombia is an expression of the crisis of the Colombian political system and the influence of US government interests on its political agenda, interests that erase the possibility of ever reaching a stable peace in the country. Deaths that were previously concentrated in marginalized, impoverished regions, and occurred either at strategic production and distribution points for drug trafficking networks, or in hydrocarbon extraction areas, have now spread throughout the national territory as a result of the protests against the neoliberal policies of the Colombian government. Most of the targeted assassinations are linked to land ownership and natural resource conflicts or to former guerrilla combatants and peace accord promoters.
The numbers are rising
According to some official US government documents from the 1960s, targeted assassination is accepted as an American foreign policy instrument. Encouraging the assassination of social leaders or uncomfortable people for the United States is considered as a means to advance a certain political agenda. In fact, in some CIA and US State Department manuals, there are hundreds of pages containing instructions on how to select targets, how to use weapons, training advice, preparation, and effective and adequate cover-up methods.
The practice of targeted killings has a long history in Latin American countries. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were hundreds of complaints by human rights organizations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia and Haiti in regard to targeted assassinations carried out by paramilitary groups, many of them financed by the United States.
Despite the Colombian Peace Accords, human rights organizations of the country, such as INDEPAZ, denounced the murders of 310 social leaders, indigenous and Afro-Colombian peasant leaders, sexual identity activists, 64 Peace Agreements signatories and 12 family members of the signatories in 2020.
State-sponsored terrorism against social leaders and activists has a long history in Colombia. Some social organizations estimate that every 4 days a social activist is killed in the country. The website of Pacifista.TV features 384 murdered social leaders; among them are board chairpersons of community organizations, peasant guard members, indigenous leaders, students, and others. The list is described as an extensive “tragic logbook of what it means to lose the men and women who try to maintain peace in their regions or who defend community rights.”
Number 384 on the Pacifista.TV list is Beatriz Moreno Mosquera, who was the president and representative of the Education Workers United Union. For more than 40 years, she was a teacher in Buenaventura who sought the implementation of an ethno-education model in the region.
Moreno was murdered on Monday, May 3, 2021, on the beach at La Barra near Ladrilleros in Buenaventura, in Valle del Cauca department. It is still unknown who were responsible for her murder; however, in this municipality operate criminal gangs with alliances to the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), which is linked to the Clan del Golfo.
Pacifista.TV also registers the murder of 32-year-old Juan David García, a leader of the anti-tax reform marches organized in San Luís Antioquia, as part of the 2021 national strike. García was a member of the social organization Colombia Humana, and together with his father Jaider García, led a presidential campaign in 2018. Hitmen assassinated García one afternoon in San Luis when, according to relatives, he was preparing to collect funds.
Indigenous leaders have also been among the principal targets of hitmen and paramilitary groups. On April 20, Sandra Liliana Peña, an indigenous leader and governor of the Siberia Lagoon protection group in Cauca, was murdered after having received death threats for her work against the presence of armed groups in the area and the growing of illicit crops.
The intentional disregard of the armed conflict and its social causes, manifested by the Colombian government, as well as its indifference towards the enforcement of autonomy of the indigenous territories and the exercise of their rights as indigenous populations, has resulted in mass mobilizations of thousands of indigenous peoples of different ethnicities since 2008. Members of the Indigenous Minga, a way of organizing synonymous with resistance and mobilization, have denounced that “the rich families of Cali, together with the National Police fired indiscriminately against the indigenous guard and protestors” during a mobilization on the occasion of the national strike this year.
Additionally, last year, during the Minga in Bogotá, four indigenous community members were killed by gunmen in less than 24 hours.
The results of a joint investigation led by several institutions, including the Colombian Jurists Commission, the National University of Colombia and the Institute for Political Studies and International Relations, have shown that during the past 50 years of internal war, “military and police tactics have been marked by an anti-insurgent approach that has affected the civilian victims of the conflict. Social movements and their leaders who have fought for changes in the status quo, and human rights defenders who have denounced arbitrariness, exclusion and impunity, have all been considered as internal enemies who must be subdued and defeated by the security forces.”
The investigation highlighted how, since the end of the 1990s, military plans have been strengthened and applied extensively via Plan Colombia, Plan Patriota, and the National Plan for Territorial Consolidation, all with US support and financing, which have resulted in an overwhelming militarization of society and the State.
The study condemns how current military manuals promote military extermination of civilian “enemy” populations and the promotion of covert operations as well as the creation of paramilitary structures.
Moreover, persecution and selective assassinations in Colombia have overwhelmingly harmed women. During the course of peaceful demonstrations of the ongoing national strike, women’s rights organizations have decried that the police and the army have captured and attacked 47 women, 10 of them were raped and, according to data from the NGO Temblores, 19 women have been injured and 33 are missing. Temblores describes the situation in Cali as alarming, where sexual violence against women leaders and protesters is on the rise.
On May 13, while the national strike protests were going on in the capital of Cauca, a 17-year-old girl in Popayán committed suicide after being sexually assaulted by four police officers while she was in detention.
Sexual violence against activists has been an alarming feature in recent protests all over Latin America. In 2020, the Chilean Public Prosecutor’s Office investigated 558 cases of human rights violations during the October and November 2019 protests; among these, more than 200 victims reported being stripped or raped by police and army personnel.
Targeted murder has also become more technified. The United Nations has warned that at least 102 countries now have military drones and that at least 11 countries have deployed them with forceful intentions or for committing selective assassinations. This information was presented in a report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Extrajudicial Executions, Agnes Callamard. According to statements by the Cali Police, more than 50 aircraft, 33 drones and 42 tanks were used to reinforce “public order,” as commanded by President Iván Duque. The UN states that “murders carried out with unmanned aircraft are not considered legal by national and international laws.” The Colombian people are pleading their government for peace. Instead, state-sanctioned impunity for targeted killings reinforces the culture of death in Colombia.
Featured image: Protesters in Colombia demand an end to state-sponsored violence and murder. File photo.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune