Colombia sliding deeper into internal war

Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)

The contraband economy certainly plays a role in the violence. As Duque convened his meeting, campesinos in Corinto municipality, Cauca department, were reporting armed clashes in several communities. While it is not entirely clear who the rival gangs were, community leaders depicted a four-way conflict for control of the area's drug-crop cultivation between "dissident" elements of the FARC guerillas who remain in arms despite the peace accords, the rival National Liberation Army (ELN) and Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) guerillas, and Los Pelusos paramilitary group. A school building in the community of El Crucero reportedly came under fire in the fighting, with some 30 children inside. The area is part of the region of north Cauca known as the Golden Triangle for its lucrative coca leaf and cannabis production. (El Espectador, Feb. 1; El Colombiano, Feb. 2; Semana, Jan. 30)

Assassinations of social leaders continue
Campesino leaders involved in the official crop substitution program aimed at weaning communities off illicit crops continue to be especially taregted. On Jan. 17,  Luis Alfredo Contreras, leader of an initiative to substitute coca crops with cacao in Las Mercedes corregimiento, Sardinata municipality, Norte de Santander department, was found dead. He had been tortured and disfigured with acid thrown in his face.   (Contagio Radio, Jan. 21)

Maritza Ramírez Chaverra, involved in a crop substitution effort in Agua Clara corregimiento, Tumaco municipality, Nariño department, was beaten to death by unknown assailants Jan. 24. (Prensa Rural, Contagio Radio, Jan. 25)

However, it is clear that the narco economy is but part of a greater nexus of forces that fuel the relentless terror—all related to protecting rural land empires and intimidating the peasantry.

Alberto Santos Fuentes, a community leader in Río Viejo municipality, Bolívar department, was slain by armed men who arrived at his agricultural plot Jan. 27. He had recently filed a complaint with the government's Land Restitution Unit, established to restore campesino holdings usurped by armed groups. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)

Dilio Corpus Guetio, a community leader in Santa Bárbara vereda, Suarez municipality, Cauca, was killed in a drive-by shooting Jan. 29. He was a local leader of the National Unified Agricultural Union Federation (FENSUAGRO), and a member of the Guardia Campesina, a community self-defense patrol. (Contagio Radio, Jan. 29)

Jorge Herney Castrillón Gutiérrez, a campeisno leader and mayoral candidate in San José de Uré, Córdoba, was found slain in a rural area of the municipality on Jan. 31. In his campaign, he had denounced activity by armed groups in the area, especially the Clan del Golfo cartel. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 1)

Menacing leaflets proliferate
Menacing leaflets and communiques, a favorite tactic of the right-wing paramilitary network, continue to be left across the country. In one particularly ominous development, the Gaitanista Self-defense Froces of Colombia (AGC) issued a communique naming several social leaders in diverse areas of the country, and pledging to "continue building by arms the social equilibrium so desried by good citizens." The Gaitanista are said to be the armed wing of the Clan del Golfo. Named were seven local social leaders in the departments of Caquetá, Huila, Norte de Santander and La Guajira, (El Espectador, Jan. 31)

Leaflets threatening student leaders were left on the Medellín campus of the University of Antioquia in the name of the "National Anti-communist Brigade 18." (Contagio Radio, Jan. 30)

In La Guajira department, leaflets signed by the Black Eagles paramilitary group threatened the life of Armando Valbuena, a maestro de la sabiduría (keeper of traditional wisdom) of the Wayúu indigenous people. The leaflets, left around Valbuena's community of Manaure, also mentioned his family members by name. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 3)

In Cauca, veterans of the Quintín Lame Movement, an indigenous guerilla group that was active between 1984 and its 1991 demobilization, issued a statement denying responsibility for leaflets calling for the Nasa indigenous people of the region to again take up arms. The veterans' statement asserted that the region's Indigenous Guard is not an insurgent organization but is committed to keeping the peace in north Cauca. It said the leaflets had been produced by "those who seek to deepen the war instead of reconciliation."  (Contagio Radio, Jan. 30)

The Nasa Indigenous Guard, or Kiwe Tegnas, armed only with bastones or traditional staffs, is policing the territory against all armed actors. According to the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of North Cauca (ACIN), in 2018 it confiscated 28 firearms as well as eight metric tons of cannabis, which was destroyed. (El Espectador, Feb. 3)

FARC 'dissidents' still active
On Feb. 3, the Colombian military announced it had killed one of the leaders of a "dissident" FARC faction in Caquetá department. Rodrigo Cadete, slain by government troops along with nine of his followers, actually took part in the peace talks in Havana, but refused to accept the deal. He was considered second in command in the group of "dissidents" led by Gentil Duarte, who was expelled by the FARC in 2016 for refusing to demobilize. (BBC News, Feb. 3)

Yamir Arles Moreno, a local resident who was cooperating with the Fiscalía against the principal "dissident" FARC leader in Antioquia, Ricardo Abel Ayala AKA "Cabuyo," disappeared near his home on the outskirts of Medellín Jan. 24, and is believed dead. (El Colombiano, Jan. 24)

Photo via Contagio Radio