Colombia: rural violence persists despite 'peace'

Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. On March 1, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the Amnesty Law agreed upon as part of the transitional justice process for ex-combatants. The ruling also restricted it somewhat, giving Congress greater power to determine when a defendant applies for the program. (Contagio Radio, March 1) The National Land Agency (ANT) reports that the Land Fund established for a new agrarian reform as a condition of the peace accords now holds 200.000 hectares. ANT hopes to have 3 million hectares for redistribution to landless peasants by 2028. (El Tiempo, March 1)

But violence in the countryside across Colombia remains at an alarming level, with social leaders being targeted for assassination by paramilitary factions. Last month saw thousands displaced from rural communities in Antioquia department by threats and violence from "illegal armed groups." In Cáceres municipality, in Antioquia's Bajo Cauca zone, some 1,500 have fled outlying veredas (hamlets) to seek shelter in the town center. A similar situation was reported from Ituango municipality. (El Espectador, Feb. 28)

A blow to the paramilitary network was reported in Febraury, when authorities announced that security forces had slain a leader of the Clan del Golfo (the regional cartel said to be behind the Gaitanista paramilitary force). Donaldo Antonio Mercado González AKA "Polocho" or "El Viejo" was apparently killed in a gunfight in the Bajo Cauca. He was said to be former commander of the Catatumbo Bloc of the disbanded AUC paramilitary network. (El Espectador, Feb. 17)

It remains to be seen if such decapitations of the para network will have any impact on the violence. On March 3, the latest attack was reported from Orito municipality, Putumayo department. The lifeless body was discovered of Over Larronda, leader of the Communal Action Committee in the community of Los Alpes. (La FM, March 3)

On Feb. 18, yet another campesino leader was reported slain in the restive Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department. The body of Elkin Fabián Toro, from San Calixto municipality, was found in an outlying rural area of neighboring El Tarra municipality. (El Tiempo, Feb. 18)

Two local social leaders were gunned down the night of Feb. 9 in La Soledad vereda, Guapi municipality, Cauca department. Jesús Orlando Grueso Obregón and Jhonathan Cundumi Anchino were leading activists in the National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM). (Caracol Radio, Feb. 10)

Another COCCAM leader was assassinated Jan. 29 in the Cimitarra Valley, a key coca-production region. Nixon Muttis was slain in Chaparral vereda, Cantagallo municipality, Bolívar department. (Prensa Rural, Jan. 30)

However, leaders cooperating in the government's "voluntary eradication" and "crop substitution" programs are also targeted, ironically. The latest such was Antonio María Vargas, a leader of the Communal Action Committee in Nueva Ilusión vereda, San José de Uré, Córdoba, assassinated Jan. 31. San José de Uré is another municipality where hundreds were displaced by violence in January. (El Espectador, Jan. 24; Contagio Radio, Feb. 1)

In a similar case, Nilson Dávila, president of the Communal Action Committee in Chaparral vereda, Cantagallo, Bolívar, was slain just one day earlier. He had also been a leader in promoting the crop substitution program in the community. (Las2Orillias, Jan. 30)

Colombia's Fiscalía says it will prioritize the case of Temistoclés Machado, an Afro-descendant community leader in the Pacific port of Buenaventura who was assassinated Jan. 28. Machado had been a prominent organizer of the regional strike the paralyzed the coastal region for several weeks last year. (El Espectador, Jan. 31; RCN, Jan. 28)

Another Afro-descendant activist was killed just days earlier in Ipiales municipality, Nariño. José Olmedo Obando was a leader of the self-declared autonomous community of Afro Nueva Esperanza. (Prensa Rural, Jan. 23)

In an attack that has not been explained, 11 were killed when gunmen opened fire on villagers during Carnival festivities at El Plateado community, Argelia municipality, Cauca. (El Tiempo, Jan. 22)

The ELN guerilla organization—which, unlike the FARC, remains in arms—released a statement noting that January had seen an assassination every day across the country, and charged that rightist paramilitary networks are carrying out a "systematic genocide." It named the most affected departments as Cauca, Nariño, Antioquia and Chocó—those where campesino struggles for land and autonomy are most advanced. (ELN Voices, Feb. 12)