Colombia recorded the world's highest number of killings of environmental defenders in 2022, with 60 individuals murdered, according to a report released on Sept. 12 by activist group Global Witness. The organization, which has been documenting environmental defender deaths since 2012, found that the number of environmental defenders slain in Colombia nearly doubled in 2022, compared to the previous year. These killings have pushed Colombia's environmental defender death toll to 382 since 2012.
A Venezuelan indigenous leader who fought against incursions by Colombian armed groups and outlaw gold miners into the country's southern rainforest was shot dead on June 30 in the Escondido 3 sector of Puerto Ayacucho municipality, capital of Amazonas state. Virgilio Trujillo Arana, a member of the Uwottujja indigenous people, was the leading force in the creation of the Sipapo Territorial Guards in Autana municipality, Amazonas. The Territorial Guard patrols were launched with support from the Amazonas Indigenous Peoples' Regional Organization (ORPIA).
In Episode 128 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg provides an in-depth analysis of the under-reported multi-sided armed conflict and deepening human rights crisis in Colombia on the eve of an historic run-off election that poses two populist "outsider" candidates for the presidency: Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla leader and Colombia’s first leftist presidential contender, versus Rodolfo Hernández, a right-wing construction magnate whose pugnacious swagger inevitably invites comparison to Donald Trump. This turning point comes as Colombia has established a new "partnership" with NATO, obviously in response to Venezuela's deepening ties with Russia. Yet Colombia's armed forces continue to collaborate with the outlaw paramilitary groups that terrorize campesino and indigenous communities. If elected, Petro will face the challenge of breaking the state-paramilitary nexus, and charting a course independent of the Great Powers. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Despite a peace process that has faltered under President Ivan Duque, the internal war in Colombia continues nearly across the country—now involving multiple armed actors: remnant guerilla groups, resurgent paramilitary forces, regional cartels, and the official security forces. Thousands have been displaced in recent months, as campesino and indigenous communities are either caught in the crossfire or explicitly targeted.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on June 2 released its 2021 Annual Report, revealing that Colombia only partially adopted necessary measures to prevent human rights violations both by its security forces and unofficial paramilitary groups. The report called on Colombia to: "Adopt the appropriate measures for the members of the security forces who are allegedly involved in cases of violations of human rights or IHL [international humanitarian law] to be suspended from active duty until a final decision is issued in the disciplinary or criminal proceedings in such cases." Noting "the reorganization and persistence of illegal armed groups on its territory," the report also called on Colombia to "dismantle the armed groups that emerged after the demobilization of the paramilitary organizations or that continue to pursue the same objectives." (Jurist, June 5)
Following a first round of presidential elections May 29, "between two populisms" is the catchphrase being used by Colombia's media for an unprecedented moment. A pair of political "outsiders" are to face each other in the June 19 run-off: Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla leader and Colombia's first leftist presidential contender, versus Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate whose pugnacious swagger inevitably invites comparison to Donald Trump. Hernández, an independent candidate and the former mayor of Bucaramanga, rose precipitously in an ostensibly anti-establishment campaign driven by social media, winning him the epithet "King of TikTok." But Colombia's political establishment is now lining up behind him to defeat Petro. The former mayor of Bogotá and a veteran of the demobilized M-19 guerillas, Petro is the candidate of a new progressive coalition, Colombia Humana, emphasizing multiculturalism and ecology as well as more traditional social justice demands.
A new assassination of a campesino leader is reported from the self-declared "peace community" of San José de Apartadó, in Colombia's conflicted northern Urabá region. On Dec. 17, Uber Velásquez was slain by unknown assailants in the vereda (hamlet) of La Balsa, one of those adhering to the "peace community" which for more than 20 years has refused all cooperation with armed actors in Colombia's conflict—and whose leaders have been repeatedly targeted for death. Velásquez had recently been involved in a citizen oversight committee monitoring a road improvement project in the area, and had reported delays that could point to corruption.
Rural communities in Colombia's northeastern Arauca department held anti-war protests amid inter-factional guerilla violence that has been terrorizing the region. Demanding attention from the government and international human rights organizations, some 1,200 marched in the hamlet of Puerto Jordan on Jan. 4, and another 500 in nearby Botalón, both in Tame municipality. Mayerly Briceño, an organizer of the protests in Tame, told El Espectador: "The state has no presence here, absolutely none; they only come here to protect the oil companies, to safeguard the petroleum. This is not about them coming to militarize... More zones are leaving behind fear and taking to the streets to demand peace. It is the only thing we can do as a people, to demand that peace comes to our territory."