Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now

More than two years after the signing of a peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government, lawyer Diego Martínez is under attack. In a recent open letter to Colombia’s attorney general, he protested against possible legal action against him and surveillance of his movements. He reported threats of violence against him appearing in an email message from a paramilitary group. Martínez also mentioned an undetonated bomb found in the parking lot near where he works.

Martínez served for years as executive secretary of the Permanent Committee for Human Rights. He represented the FARC on a legal commission providing peace negotiators with technical advice. He is now the Technical Secretary of the agency charged with monitoring implementation of the peace agreement known by its Spanish initials as CSIVI. He serves as lawyer for ex-FARC combatants charged with crimes who appear before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a court established under the peace agreement for deciding upon punishment or pardon.

The purpose of this communication is to help build support for Martínez. I was with Diego Martínez in Colombia for a week in 2012.  In Colombia our group of U.S. and Canadian solidarity activists met with political prisoner David Ravelo in La Picota prison in Bogota, with the prisoner’s family and colleagues in Barrancabermeja (where Ravelo led resistance to paramilitary attacks), and with a variety of defenders of Colombian political prisoners. Martínez had arranged our meetings and shepherded us throughout the week. Our delegation was united in admiration of his expertise and dedication to a cause we shared.

Martínez’s record of defending human rights in Colombia and crucial role in advancing the peace process lend high profile to threats against him. What he reports illustrates apparent failings of the peace agreement. Former combatants and others are under siege. Threats against JEP independence have mounted. Action under the agreement toward agrarian reform and substitution of legal for illegal crops is non-existent.

In April the government jailed FARC peace negotiator Jesús Santrich as a prelude to his extradition to the United States where allegedly he is charged with drug trafficking. Lead FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez, fearing for his safety, has disappeared.

While Martínez labored at implementing the agreement, specifically from January 1, 2016 to October 3, 2018, unknown assailants killed 343 Colombians, according to the government’s Office of Public Advocacy. They included human rights defenders, community leaders, and former guerrillas.

The killings recall those of the past when collaboration flourished between private and public military forces   Government statistics show that between 1958 and 2012, 177,307 civilians were killed as the result of armed conflict, also that paramilitary forces and Colombia’s Army together accounted for most of the deaths. The Colombian state showed its hand in the impunity killers enjoyed and in the Colombian military’s collaboration with paramilitaries.

Paramilitaries remain active in Colombia and are implicated in the recent spate of killings. They may be acting against Martínez now: his letter mentions hostilities coming from two directions, government and paramilitary.

We take exception to Karl Marx. Referring to Hegel’s notion of “world-historic facts and personages” appearing twice, Marx claims they show up first “as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Wrong: it’s tragedy both times. Martínezwould agree.

The long-running drama features the Patriotic Union. Demobilized FARC guerrillas joined that left-leaning electoral coalition after its establishment in 1985. Candidates competed for votes at every level, from the municipal to the residential. Massacre of members and supporters has taken an estimated 4000 lives. Blame falls on paramilitaries.

In his letter Martínez asks the Attorney General to inform him of any criminal investigation of his activities. He says he would clarify things if such exists, but calls for investigation of “threats and illegal surveillance” if it doesn’t.

Readers are urged to inform the Colombian Attorney General that they know what’s happening to Martínez and are on his side. They can do this by emailing Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martínez, care of the Colombian Embassy in the United States. The address is: Either English or Spanish is acceptable. Brevity is fine. And use Martínez’s full name, which is Diego Alejandro MartínezCastillo.   

Update: A prosecutor on October 11 indicated Martínez was not being investigated. Surely, despite the claim, Martinez remains on the hook.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.