Today’s victory by Egan Bernal, a 22 year old Colombian, in the Tour de France, is reason for celebration. In his second Tour Bernal showed great talent and an attractive personality. He displayed a wonderful work ethic and camaraderie with his teammates. Many Colombians at the race showed their pride in being Colombians.
For those of us who, like myself, have followed developments in Colombia for many years, the great achievement of the young Mr. Bernal brings us to wondering why his homeland continues to suffer from so much violence. We hoped that with the signing of a Peace Agreement between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government armed conflict in the countryside would end. Instead, murders of members of human rights organizations, local leaders of Community Action Boards, ex-combatants of the FARC, labor union members, and journalists have continued and even accelerated.
As the celebrations for Egan Bernal’s great achievement continue, it’s high time for the Colombian government to work seriously to reduce violence in the countryside, by doing the following:
- Extending government services to rural areas by building local farm-to-market roads, establishing clinics and hospitals in communities where no such health services exist, and building schools in places where no such facilities are found. The Duque Administration has failed to follow through on commitments made by the Santos government for funding these essential services. Instead of alleging that money from the coca trade was funding local leaders’ work in human rights —which is false— the Duque Administration should be assigning needed funds for the missing rural services.
- Protecting water supplies from the devastating effect of mining carried out by multinational corporations under incredibly favorable terms given to them by the Colombian government. As an example, U.S.-based Drummond Coal Company each year removes millions of dollars of coal from Colombia, but pays effectively no taxes or other charges for these very valuable resources.
- Protecting campesinos and people living in small rural communities from having their lands flooded by hydroelectric projects undertaken by the government without their consent and without effective compensation to them for the losses they suffer.
- Ending collaboration between Colombian military units and paramilitary forces. A notorious example of this collaboration is that of the Seventeenth Brigade of the Colombian Army with paramilitary forces in Uraba, which threaten the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. It is time for the Colombian government to act responsibly and end collaboration between Colombian Army units and personnel and paramilitary organizations. The Duque Government needs to stop making excuses for this collaboration and seriously address the need to end paramilitary activity.
- Drug-trafficking needs to be seriously addressed. Years before he became President of Colombia Ivan Duque noted the potential solution which the government in Portugal was showing—a combination of government establishment of control of the cocaine market in the country and treatment for drug addicts. There is no doubt that the coca trade serves many interests in the country, including participation in it by politicians, large landowners and industrialists, but the damage it causes is so substantial it cannot be tolerated.
While for many of us who have worked in the human rights community, this day of wonderful accomplishment by a young Colombian on the world stage is cause for celebration, it is also an opportunity to consider what this great and beautiful country, Colombia, needs to move beyond violence and murders to promotion of peace and justice for all of its citizens.
Colombia Support Network