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Colombia: News & Updates
Colombia has the world's second largest population of internally displaced persons (five million) due to the half-century internal armed conflict—the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere (since 1964). Control for territory and popular support among the three main groups (left-wing rebel forces FARC & ELN, right-wing paramilitaries, Colombian police/military) has left 220,000 killed, 75% of them non-combatants. Since 2000, the US has exacerbated the violence by sending more than $9 billion in mostly military assistance. Colombia, which has both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, holds strategic interest for the US for global trade and military posturing.
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July 23, 2020
Environmental leader Jani Rita Silva's life is being threatened in Putumayo, Colombia. We sent letters to the director of the National Protection Unit and other officials in Colombia about acts of intimidation, surveillance, and a recently revealed plan to assassinate Jani Rita Silva. She is the legal representative of the Association for the Integral and Sustainable Development of the Amazon Pearl (ADISPA). She has been a vocal advocate for full implementation of the Peace Agreement of 2016, promoting reforestation initiatives, and denouncing the socio-environmental effects of oil extraction operations, including those of Amerisur, whose partners include Houston-based Occidental Petroleum. On May 26 we wrote that the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) disclosed information from an anonymous source about a plan to assassinate her. This month, CIJP learned from a confidential informant that there is indeed an assassination plan being conducted by the criminal group “La Mafia.” Organized criminal groups are putting heavy pressure on farmers to grow coca for the cocaine trade. It is presumed that Jani Silva is considered an enemy because of her active promotion of the crop substitution program (PNIS) in Putumayo.
July 7, 2020
McGovern (D-MA) and Pocan (D-WI) 94 members of congress through a dear colleague letter urging Trump administration to push for peace in Colombia!
RRN Case Update
July 1, 2020
April, May and June RRN case summaries at a glance
On behalf of our 190 Rapid Response Network members, IRTF volunteers write and send six letters each month to government officials in southern Mexico, Colombia, and Central America (with copies to officials in the US). Who is being targeted? indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders, labor organizers, LGBTI rights defenders, women’s rights defenders, journalists, environmental defenders, campesinos, and others.
June 22, 2020
The government of Colombia unjustly targeted and arrested six campesino men from Mapiripán, Meta Department, in a joint operation carried out June 7-8 by “an elite body of the police with the support of the Colombian Air Force and in coordination with the Attorney General of the Nation,” according to Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo. The campesinos arrested are Carlos Julio Betancourt Flores, José Isidro Martín Barreto, Carlos Julio Diaz, José Vicente Hernández, Norbey de Jesús Bustamante Cardona, and Luis Alberto Méndez. They are longtime residents and well-known members of several rural zones around Mariripán. We are disturbed that Defense Minister Holmes Trujillo has alleged that the six men belong to a residual organized armed group and are the authors of “forced displacement and threats against social and community leaders, and the substitution of illicit crops in both Meta and Guaviare.” Their families and community members strongly deny such accusations and are concerned that the government is constituting a new case of judicial “false positives.” The government is suggesting that these campesino men are working against the PNIS crop substitution program. Not true; five of the six men are active participants. Despite its overwhelming success, PNIS is being actively undermined by millions of dollars of Colombia governmental funding to security forces to forcibly eradicate coca in the name of the “War on Drugs” and commit human rights abuses in the process. More than 50 members of COCCAM (National Coordinator of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana), one of the leading organizations of farmers active in the program, have been killed since the Peace Accords were signed in 2016. We demand that the government 1- immediately release all six men, 2- repair damages to community infrastructure and property incurred during the arrest operation, and 3-conduct a thorough review of the investigation that led to the arrest of these six men, including disciplinary investigations into those who ordered and conducted the arrest, and disclose any irregularities
June 19, 2020
The human rights association Proceso Social de Garantías para la Labor de las y los Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Antioquia (Social Process of Guarantees for the Work of the Human Rights Defenders of Antioquia) has warned authorities in Colombia about a grave threat to the inhabitants in and around Ituango, Antioquia. A few weeks ago, the AGC paramilitaries began implementing their strategy Operación Mil, surrounding Ituango with 1,000 armed forces in order to take complete control of the urban and rural areas. The AGC has been mobilizing paramilitary units from the departments of Chocó and Córdoba to implement this plan. It is feared that they are also engaging in forced child recruitment to supplement their forces. The threats of violence are real. On June 6, armed persons committed a massacre of several persons in the Quebrada del Medio rural zone of Ituango. The victims include: Camilo Sucerquia Durango, the 15-year-old son of an ex-FARC combatant; Carlos Barrera, age 17; William Pérez, a truck driver; and at least two unnamed persons. It is worth noting that this massacre occurred just one day after members of the Social Process of Guarantees for the Work of Human Rights Defenders held a meeting with the Mesa Territorial de Garantías (Territorial Roundtable of Guarantees) with high level government officials, such as the Vice-Minister of the Interior. The human rights defenders left the meeting disappointed in what they described as responses from the officials that were “ambiguous” and reflected “institutional negligence, bureaucratic incompetence, [and] dangerous inaction.”
May 26, 2020
Because she is an outspoken defender of the environment and territorial rights in Putumayo (Amazon Basin), Jani Rita Silva has been subjected to intimidation, surveillance and death threats. In March, the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIPJ) reported that an anonymous informant told them of a plan to assassinate her. After an investigative visit to the Amazon Pearl Peasant Reserve Zone earlier this month (May 2020), representatives of CIJP reported that the military is conducting illegal surveillance on the environmental defender (as well as against staff of CIJP). Jani Rita Silva is the legal representative of the Association for the Integral and Sustainable Development of the Amazon Pearl (ADISPA). As such, she has denounced the oil extraction operations of the multinational company Amerisur, whose partners include Houston-based Occidental Petroleum.
May 25, 2020
The militarization of drug eradication in Colombia is resulting in violence and death. The Colombian government is feeling the pressure from Washington, so they're deploying their army onto coca plantations where they are facing resistance from campesinos. Since March, the Colombian army has been conducting forced eradication operations in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander Department. On May 18 they opened fire on unarmed rural workers who were protesting these activities, killing Emerito Digno Buenida Martínez, age 44, and injuring Miguel Hernández León, Juan José Orozco, and Jimmy Alberto González. The murder of Emerito Buendía Martínez comes just weeks after Colombian security forces (also in the Catatumbo region) killed Alejandro Carvajal, age 20, in his home on March 26. Alejandro was the nephew of a well-known community leader and had been working in crop substitution programs to replace illegal crops with traditional alternatives. We urge that the government of Colombia put an immediate end to forced crop eradication and allow the voluntary substitution program to proceed according to the Peace Accords of 2016.
May 12, 2020
Agricultural union member Hamilton Gasca Ortega, age 33, was assassinated in his home along with his sons Robert Gasca and Kevin Gasca. Another massacre of a family occurred at the home of Alvaro Narváez Daza, president of his local community action board. Armed men broke into his home in southern Cauca and killed him, his wife, his son, and his teenage granddaughter. The same day, a former community action board president, Uenseslao Guerrero de la Cruz, was gunned down in the streets. The first few months of 2020 saw the highest rate of murders of social activists since the peace agreement was signed in Colombia in November 2016: on average, one social leader is killed every other day.
May 1, 2020
We are deeply concerned about attacks on rural community leaders in Cauca Department. This is part of a wave of violence that continues to impact many regions of Colombia. Since January 1 more than 60 social leaders have been assassinated across the country. In a period of just one week, these four social leaders were assassinated in Cauca: Teodomiro Sotelo Anacona, Andrés Andrelio Cacimanca Burbano, Mario Chilhueso, and Hugo de Jesús Giraldo López. We urge the president and attorney general of Colombia to: 1- carry out transparent and thorough investigations into the assassinations listed above, publish the results, and bring the perpetrators to justice; 2- provide protection measures to members of the organizations listed above, in strict accordance with the wishes of their local leaders; 3- demilitarize the rural areas of Cauca because of the military’s complicity in the armed violence, forced displacement, and targeting of rural social leaders.
April 26, 2020
On April 12, journalist Eder Narváez Sierra reported on two killings in Caucasia, Antioquia. The following day, he received text messages from a person claiming to be the commander of the paramilitary organization Los Caparrapos. The commander took credit for the killings. He also threatened that if Eder Narváez Sierra did not heed the warning “not to talk so much…the only news that will be heard in the coming days is that they killed the NP guy.” (Eder Narváez Sierra is the founder and editor of the local news website NP Noticias.) We are urging authorities to: 1- thoroughly investigate the death threats made against Eder Narváez Sierra, publish the results, and bring those responsible to justice,and 2- instruct the National Protection Unit (UNP) to assess the level of risk to Eder Narváez Sierra, and, in direct consultation with him, implement the necessary measures to safeguard his life and integrity. We call on the government of Colombia to be resolute in their commitment to protect freedom of the press and the safety of journalists.