Colombia has been a particularly violent country. And it still is.From 1830 until today, it has been involved in 10 civil wars, leaving more than 400,000 people dead and 80,000 people missing, according to official figures. We have a violent culture, which resolves differences through conflict and not through dialogue.
During this past week, citizens were faced with a ghost from the past: the revelation that the National Army seems to be illegally intercepting different high profiles, from political officials to journalists and justices. The revelation was made by SEMANA magazine and has resulted in politicians stating the same old excuses of: "I did not know," "I found out today," and "nobody had said anything to me."
However, what SEMANA's revelation did was, once again, get us into a fairly common cycle: we are used to violence to the point that we focus on other things.
So far in 2020, 17 social leaders have been killed. Even the most conservative figures are worrisome: in 2019, 107 social leaders were killed according to the UN; according to PACIFISTA !, the Colombian digital outlet, 254 have been killed since 2017.
Social leaders are being killed, almost systematically, in front of all our eyes. However, we are focused on and talking about illegal interceptions that, despite being scandalous, are not leaving two dead per week.
Why are they being killed?
The attack on social leaders is triggered by the signing of the Peace Agreement between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the former FARC guerrillas in December, 2016. When the FARC left the territories they controlled, a phenomenon known as “power vacuums” took place, where territories began to be disputed by different armed groups outside the law, responding to different interests, from large landowners and oligarchs, to criminal gangs and drug cartels.
This is a well-known and studied phenomenon; however, it seems that the Colombian Government did not prepare sufficiently to face it and did not make itself present in the most significant power gaps in the country, such as the areas of Norte de Santander or Cauca.
In these regions, communities are interested in implementing what the Agreement said, such as the substitution and / or eradication of illegal crops and land titling. As different armed groups continue to try to maintain control of these lands, groups that are mostly at the service of drug trafficking interests, aim to prevent what communities have already started to do. So, threats and murders begin: any communities’ social leader that defies the interests of illegal armed groups, represents a threat to their business and must be eliminated, says the logic of these perverse interests. That is why the vast majority of homicides occur in municipalities with presence of illegal crops or with conflicts over land ownership.
It seems that the Colombian Government did not prepare sufficiently to face it and did not make itself present in the most significant power gaps in the country.
Who is killing them?
According to an investigation by SEMANA magazine and the same Attorney General's Office's data, most of the authors are paramilitary groups. Yes, those who, under the presidency of Álvaro Uribe, demobilized in 2006. It is worth noting that since 2006, no government has recognized the presence of paramilitary groups as such.
What social leaders live in Colombia is not only "painful", as is customary to say in this country accustomed to violence, but especially dark, scandalous, intolerable. But we Colombians forget these murders just as any other news fill the headlines.
Violence, which became part of our daily lives for so many decades, is now reluctant to abandon us: we are so used to it.