Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque 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." 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. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Gilberto Valencia, a young Afro-Colombian cultural worker, became 2019's first casualty of political violence in Colombia, when a gunman opened fire on a New Years party he was attending in his village in Cauca region. As the death toll from around the country mounted over the following weeks, the UN Mission to Colombia warned President Iván Duque that he must address "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." Colombia's official rights watchdog, the Defensoría del Pueblo, acknowledges that there was an assassination on average every two days in the country last year—a total of 172, and a rise of more than 35% over 2017. (Photo via Caracol Radio)
Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office pledging to unite the country. As he was sworn in, thousands marched in Bogotá to demand that Duque respect the peace pact with the FARC, and address the ongoing assassination of social leaders—thought to number 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. Exemplifying the depth of the crisis, days before the inauguration armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, near the Venezuelan border. Among the slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Thousands of Colombians took to the streets July 6 to protest the mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders in the country. The protests and vigils were largely ignored by the country’s political leaders, who have come under international pressure for their failure to respond to the wholesale killing that has claimed the lives of 311 community leaders since 2016. Days after the mobilization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights issued yet another call for the Colombian government to take urgent measures to call a halt to the ongoing attacks. Opposition leaders charge that the assassinations are a "systematic" campaign, and that authorities must break up resurgent paramilitary networks rather than just arresting individual sicarios (assassins). (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Despite peace accords with the FARC guerillas, remnant right-wing paramilitary forces remain active across Colombia, and are escalating their reign of terror against indigenous and campesino communities. Several families have been displaced from the Afro-Colombian community of Juan Santos since an April attack by a group of gunmen who abducted three residents. In May, three indigenous leaders in Cauca region were assassinated by gunmen who invaded their communities. A leading rights group reports that Colombia has seen a spike in assassinations of social leaders this year. A total of 46 social leaders have been killed so far in 2018, up from 26 in the same period last year. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement calling on the government of Colombia to "take urgent measures" to protect social leaders and human rights defenders in response to the wave of assassinations over recent months. The statement asserted that 22 rights defenders had been killed in Colombia in the first two months of the year, and over 100 more threatened with death. The assassinations come in an atmosphere of violence across much of the country's rural areas, with some 2,500 displaced in recent months. Despite government denials, community leaders insist resurgent paramilitary networks are behind the attacks. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. But violence in the countryside across Colombia remains at an alarming level, as social leaders are targeted for assassination by paramilitary factions. The ELN guerilla organization—which, unlike the FARC, remains in arms—released a statement noting that January had seen an assassination every day across the country, and charged that rightist paramilitary networks are carrying out a "systematic genocide."
Four armed men attacked the cabildo (town hall) in the indigenous reserve of Pioyá in Colombia's Cauca department, killing Eider Campo Hurtado, a young activist with local media collective Pelsxhab Stéreo. Pioyá's Indigenous Guard mobilized in response to the attack, and apprehended four men said to be members of a renegade FARC faction that has refused to lay down arms and abide by the peace accords. The four are being held by Pioyá indigenous authorities; it is unclear if they will be turned over to state security forces.
Colombia's ELN guerillas carried out a string of attacks in a new offensive aimed at shutting down the South American country, mostly targeting transportation infrastructure. The four-day "armed strike" was called weeks after a ceasefire broke down and days after the government suspended peace talks with the ELN. Bogotá has responded to the campaign by issuing arrest warants for ELN leaders, including two top negotiators at the suspended Quito talks. The new violence has also occasioned the latest inflammation of Colombia's ongoing tensions with Venezuela, as Bogotá's defense minister Luis Carlos Villegas charged migrants from the neighboring country with involvement in the ELN attacks. Caracas, in turn, accused Colombia of preparing a "military invasion." (Photo: Colombia Reports)
Despite the peace process with the FARC rebels, rural unrest persists across Colombia. Recent weeks have seen a wave of peasant strikes across several regions of the country to demand a voice in the peace process for campesino and indigenous communities, and attention to their demands on land restitution and rural development. The National Minga for Life, Territory and Peace was repeatedly attacked by the security forces. (Photo: El Orejiverde)
Colombia's government—under Washington pressure—is pushing ahead with plans to forcibly eradicate 50,000 hectares of coca leaf this year, despite mounting resistance from peasant growers. Violent confrontations between cocaleros and eradication forces are reported across the country. Even "voluntary eradication" is meeting protest, as campesino communities are flooded with National Police troops, in violation of their pacts with the government.
The wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia persists in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22.