Colombia

Colombia: indigenous 'minga' marches on Bogotá

Some 10,000 participated in a cross-country march and motorcade through Colombia's southern Andes, dubbed the "Minga for Life, Territory, Democracy and Peace," culminating in a mass demonstration in Bogotá on Oct. 21. The Bogotá rally was swelled by thousands of students, teachers and labor unionists who walked out of classes and off their jobs. Called by Nasa and Guambiano indigenous leaders in the southern department of Cauca, the Minga (a traditional Andean word for "collective labor") was joined by Afro-Colombian and mestizo campesino communities in its 10-day trek to the capital. Chief among the marchers' grievances is the ongoing wave of assassinations of social leaders by illegal armed groups operating on indigenous lands. They charge that their communities have been betrayed by President Iván Duque's failure to fully implement terms of the peace accords with the demobilized FARC guerillas.

Colombia: paramilitary boss returns to face justice

Rodrigo Tovar AKA "Jorge 40," one of Colombia's most wanted paramilitary leaders, was flown back to his home country Sept. 28 after spending 12 years in US prisons for drug trafficking. Once a local official in his hometown of Valledupar, Tovar became commander of the feared "Bloque Norte" of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary network in the first decade of this century. Revelations upon his demobilization in 2006 triggered the so-called "parapolitics" scandal, with his testimony implicating top government figures in the officially illegal armed networks. But Tovar stopped cooperating with Colombian justice after his brother was assassinated in 2009, a year after his extradition to the US. He now faces multiple charges of war crimes and human rights violations in Colombia, most notoriously the February 2000 massacre of 60 civilians at the village of El Saldado, in the Medio Magdalena region. His one-time mentor in the paramilitary movement, Salvatore Mancuso, is currently fighting deportation to Colombia after also serving a drug trafficking sentence in the US.

Monumental controversy hits Colombia

Local indigenous people on Sept. 16 toppled the statue of the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar in Popayán, capital of Colombia's southwestern Cauca department. The statue came down 84 years after local authorities had erected it atop of Morro de Tulcán, a hill that had been a sacred site for the Misak indigenous people. The Movement of Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest (MAIS) issued a statement saying the move to overturn the monument was taken following a decision by traditional elders of the Misak community. The monument to Belalcázar, who founded Popayán in 1537, had long been viewed as an insult to the native population of Cauca, Colombia's most heavily indigenous region. Maria Violet Medina, a leader from the local Nasa indigenous people, said: "The conquistadors brought disease, both physical and spiritual, to indigenous people. It was a genocide. That history isn't told. The statue of Belalcázar represents pain, revictimization, and causes resentment."

Colombia: anti-police protests rock Bogotá

Colombia's capital Bogotá has seen nightly protests since the Sept. 9 slaying of a law student at the hands of the police. Video footage taken by a friend showed Javier Ordoñez, an attorney and father of two, being repeatedly shocked with a stun-gun before being taken to a police station, after he was stopped for public drinking in violation of COVID-19 containment measures. He died in a hospital later that night. Protests erupted after his death, with hundreds gathering outside the station where he had been held in Villa Luz district, and police responded with tear-gas and flash-bang grenades. At least seven people have been killed and 80 arrested since then, as protests have spread throughout the city, and into neighboring Soacha. The Defense Ministry says that 53 police stations and posts have been attacked, with 17 incinerated. The military as well as elite National Police anti-riot force ESMAD have been mobilized to put down the protests.

Students massacred in Colombian village

Eight young people at a social gathering were killed in Colombia's southern Nariño department when unknown gunmen barged in and opened fire Aug. 15. The victims, between the ages of 17 and 25, were university students who had returned to the village of Samaniego due to the pandemic. They were enjoying a small party at a family farm on the edge of the village when the attack took place. One woman and one minor were among the dead. Nariño Gov. Jhon Rojas said the massacre was probably related to a struggle for control of narcotrafficking networks in the region. He did not name any group as responsible for the attack, but noted the presence in the area of ELN guerillas, "dissident" FARC factions that have remained in arms despite the peace accord, and the Clan del Golfo drug cartel.

Colombia: indigenous journalist slain by army

An indigenous journalist was among two killed when army troops were called in to evict a land occupation in Colombia's southern Cauca region Aug. 13. The lands of three haciendas had been under occupation for months by Nasa indigenous campesinos at El Guanábano, in Corinto municipality, as part of a land reclamation campaign dubbed "Liberación de la Madre Tierra." The elite National Police riot squad ESMAD was first mobilized to clear them, burning their huts and destroying crops. When the occupiers fought back, the army was sent in as back-up, and troops opened fire. Abelardo Liz, who was covering the confrontation for Nación Nasa community radio station, was shot in the abdomen, and died while being rushed to the hospital in Corinto. (El Tiempo, Las2Orillas, Las2Orillas, Bogotá, La Opinión, Cúcuta, Aug. 13)

Colombia: massacre sparks mass displacement

A massacre that left eight campesinos dead in northeast Colombia's Catatumbo region spurred the forced displacement of some 450 people, local authorities report. The July 18 massacre at Totumito vereda (hamlet) in Tibú, a rural municipality on the border with Venezuela, took place amid a territorial dispute between the ELN guerrillas and Los Rastrojos, a criminal paramilitary network that largely controls the nearby border city of Cúcuta, capital of Norte de Santander department. According to the local Catatumbo Campesino Association (ASCAMCAT), the Rastrojos carried out the attack after the ELN planted a banner with their logo in the vereda. More than 100 families have fled to the municipal centers of Tibú or Cúcuta, fearing another attack. Control of drug-trafficking routes over the Venezuelan border is said to be at issue in the conflict.

Colombia: campesinos massacred in Huila

A band of armed men in trucks and on motorcycles invaded two veredas (hamlets) in the rural zone of Algeciras municipality, in Colombia's central-south department of Huila, on the night of July 16, terrorizing local residents. The approximately 10 armed men entered various homes in the veredas of La Danta and Quebradón Sur, menacing the families at gunpoint, before finally identifying one family they had apparently marked for death. Four family members were killed, and two more wounded, including an eight-year-old boy. The gunmen fled before they could be identified. However, both "dissident" elements of the FARC guerillas who have remained in arms in defiance of the peace deal and right-wing paramilitary groups are active in the area. Accounts indicate the attack targeted the family of an ex-guerilla of the FARC's demobilized Teófilo Forero Column.

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