Colombia: the new killings

20 rural leaders have been killed since the definitive bilateral ceasefire. The suspected killers are the same "dark forces" that have not stopped operating in Colombia under different names. Português Español

Antonio Caballero
4 January 2017

A supporter of the peace deal with rebels of the FARC argues with an opponent in downtown Bogotá. Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. AP Photo/Ivan Valencia.

For almost 90 days, only one armed incident between the army and the FARC has been reported. But according to an investigation by La Silla Vacía, 20 rural leaders have been killed, one by one - six of them, members of the Patriotic March Party.

"They are repeating the dose," says with macabre humour its president, Aída Avella, a survivor of the extermination of 3.000 members of the Patriotic Union 30 years ago.

The killings have increased since October 2, when the No won at the plebiscite. But they began way back, when the peace talks with the FARC got under way. Every progress in the Havana agreements was matched with a death toll in the Colombian fields: regional and communal leaders, human rights activists, victims’ and displaced people’s lawyers (105 last year), and many members of the Communist Party and the Patriotic March (124 in the last four years).

Who kills them? No one knows. Hitmen on motorcycles. But in today's rural Colombia everyone rides a motorcycle, both the murderers and the murdered, and there are plenty of would-be assassins in a demoralized population after 50 years of dirty war.

Who orders the killings? The "dark forces", President Virgilio Barco said, undaunted, 30 years ago - though he did not bother to explain who they were. And that is the reason why they grew. The then minister of his cabinet and future president César Gaviria counted more than 50 "dark" organizations, which began to be called "narco-paramilitaries": narco, because they were partners with the drug traffickers, and paramilitaries because they acted in a mutual-aid agreement with the military. Many years later, the names of some gang leaders began to be known: Castaño, Mancuso, Báez, Tovar Pupo... Some were extradited to the United States by Álvaro Uribe’s government, to be tried there for drug smuggling - and not in Colombia for the killings in the rural areas. Others were thrown into Colombian jails and revealed some of the names of their partners in the Armed Forces - the most notorious of them General Rito Alejo del Río, and some of his friends in Congress, assembly members, governors and mayors: the parapoliticians, some of which also went to prison, after duly voting the government’s projects, as requested by Uribe.

Now, it is the same story all over again. The perpetrators of this new wave of crimes are probably the same "dark forces" which have not stopped proceeding in the same way under different names. They are no longer called narco-paramilitaries, but "bacrim" - that is, criminal bands: Black Eagles, Urabeños, Stubbles, Vichada Liberators, the Anti-land restitution Army. Their criminal structures, though, remain the same. And they are financed by the same old landowners of 30 years ago, and also the new ones who in the last 30 years have become rich exploiting the land which had been seized from hundreds of thousands of rural families – the people that the supporters of No at the plebiscite (former president Uribe and his “little eggs”, i.e. the Fedegan ranchers, former attorney and presidential candidate Ordóñez) cynically call “the bearers of good faith". For although they can no longer deny that people were despoiled from their land (Uribe's advisor José Obdulio Gaviría simply called them “internal migrants”), they keep on denying that there were any despoilers. They do not want to give back graciously what they got through unfair means.

If Juan Manuel Santos’s government, which after much effort has just signed a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas for the third time, does not take the situation firmly in hand; if it does not seriously investigate who the leaders of the new killings are; if it does not find out whether they now have, again, the complicity of military chiefs, political leaders, notaries, and local authorities; and if it does not pursue them accordingly, the three-time signed peace will only last as much as a speech.

This article was previously published by Lalineadefuego.

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