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Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of Genocide

After the first Colombian peace agreement was narrowly voted down in a nation-wide referendum in October, the Colombian Congress approved a revised peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.  While the extreme right-wing in Colombia has tried to stir up fear about the peace process, arguing that it gives too much amnesty to the left-wing FARC combatants, and while Human Rights Watch has amplified these concerns, it is indeed the left which is being threatened and attacked in Colombia.  Specifically, the left is being attacked by the right-wing paramilitaries who see the peace between the government and the FARC as both a threat to their alleged raison d-etrê of allegedly fighting the guerillas, as well as an opportunity – to wit, the opportunity to wipe out the left as the FARC disarms.

Anyone who knows about Colombia is painfully aware of the historical precedent for such attacks upon the left during the cessation of hostilities between the government and the FARC.  As The Miami Herald explains:

For many in Colombian politics, the recent spate of killings seem depressingly familiar. In the 1980s and 1990s, anywhere from 1,000 to 3,500 members of the Unión Patriótica party were assassinated.

That political group drew followers from across the left, but its primary purpose was to give the FARC, which had signed a ceasefire at the time, a vehicle to participate in politics. In the succeeding years, however, UP members were indiscriminately murdered, including presidential candidate Jaime Pardo in 1987. The ceasefire collapsed, the FARC resumed fighting, and most of those murders were eventually pinned on right-wing paramilitary groups.

Others put the death toll of the assault against the UP (Patriotic Union in English) at well above that estimated by The Miami Herald.  Thus, as Telesur recently reported,

[Aida] Avella is the president of the Patriotic Union, a party that saw no less than 5,000 of its supporters, including sitting politicians and presidential candidates, killed by the state and its paramilitary allies in what was deemed a political genocide.

“I don’t think another genocide is starting, rather it is a continuation of the genocide against opposition sectors. That’s because the paramilitary structures have not been dismantled, they are completely intact,” Avella told Contagio Radio.

Avella makes a good point about the persistence of the paramilitary assault on Colombia’s “opposition sectors.”  Just this year alone, 72 social activists have been murdered in Colombia.    And, in the four years of its existence, the peace movement known as the Marcha Patriotica has lost 125 members to assassination by the paramilitaries.

Such violence has only accelerated in recent months as the peace process has approached final agreement.   Thus, in November alone, at least 12 leaders from the peace, indigenous and labor movements have been murdered. And, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear of more death threats and attempts against leaders of organizations I work closely with in Colombia.  Meanwhile, as the Washington Office on Latin America has reported, “the neo-paramilitary group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) circulated a flyer warning of a major ‘cleansing’ in December of the very leaders who will be key to achieving peace in Colombia.”

Colombia does not receive near enough attention in the press as it deserves, especially given its dire human rights situation and its being the recipient of nearly $10 billion in military assistance from the U.S. since 2000.

In terms of human rights, Colombia is now the Western Hemisphere’s leader in disappeared persons with well over 92,000 persons disappeared – this according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) back in 2014.    This is over three times the figure for Argentina – the country which usually comes to mind for most people when thinking about the phenomenon of disappearances in Latin America.  And yet, when did you last hear of the disappearances in Colombia?  It is the almost complete news blackout on Colombia which allows the unprecedented political violence there to continue.  Indeed, as the head of the ICRC himself decried, “[t]he problem of missing people in Colombia is as widespread as it is silent.”

Those of us who want peace for Colombia cannot remain silent as the number of victims continue to mount even as our tax dollars continue to support a military which is still entangled with the paramilitary death squads committing the lion’s share of that country’s violence.