By Andrea del Pilar González Peña[1], El Espectador, March 25, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

At the end of 2019 the worker support centers called workers together for a National Strike to protest changes to worker rights and pensions. Different progressive sectors joined together for this initiative, and that was the beginning of a huge national mobilization. It resulted in a number of marches and demonstrations, and in them rejection of the systematic murder of social leaders was an outstanding feature.

Nevertheless, in spite of society’s rejection of the murders of social leaders, in every one of the first 30 days of the year 2020 in Colombia, we got up with the news that one or more social leaders, former combatants, or politicians were murdered or threatened with death. This situation proves not just the lack of security and guarantees out in the territories, but also the absence of the Colombian government’s intention to protect its citizens and the group of people who laid down their arms and had confidence that the government would protect them.

This raises the question of why the government and its military apparatus have not been able to control the situation. The agencies do not respond, and those whose job it is to face up to the situation give ambiguous answers that generate more worry and despair. Even while the statistics demonstrate an evident problem, the Colombian government (or its representatives) does everything possible to deny or minimize the systematic killings; it shows no “truthful/believable” intention to develop an effective public policy to protect this population.

The government is well aware of the characteristics of the vulnerable population and in its Plan of Timely Action for Prevention and Protection of Defenders of Human Rights, Social and Community Leaders, and Journalists (PAO in Spanish), it admits that: “The fight for territorial and social control in strategic zones to obtain domination of illegal economies, which has intensified in the last two years, added to other factors of illegality specific to each territory, has placed the lives, well-being and security of the communities that live there at risk; particularly the lives of defenders of human rights, social and community leaders, and journalists.”

Because of that, the Colombian government—headed by President Iván Duque—has concentrated its action on the development of different strategies, including the PAO.

This plan has three main strategic ideas for the formulation of a public policy of prevention and integrated protection with different focuses on ethnic and territorial fairness. These strategic ideas are: articulation and re-engineering of agencies; strategic activities in the territories; and communication and skill-building strategies. However, it appears that the strategy designed by the Duque government has not worked. Rather, on the contrary, it has stigmatized and exposed the population to even greater risk.

Besides that, the Armed Forces have lost credibility out in the countryside: for one thing, due to their proven support for illegal groups and for another, for being the ones who have turned to violence. This situation has raised the risk for people who dedicate their lives to the defense of human rights or to being leaders on local issues.

This being the case, the inability to defend their lives, the indignation caused by the double-talk of the government—which while it announces measures, at the same time can’t carry out its declarations—, and bound to the stake by their stigmatization, the social leaders found some hope in the collective action and decided to join the National Strike that began last November 21, 2019. In this mobilization they found an opportunity to make known the tragedy that they and their families are living through. Along with that, they have been able to reinforce their leadership and find support in different sectors that had been unaware of what they are experiencing. In spite of all that, the killings and the government’s failure are continuing.

[1] Ph.D. in government, University of Essex, Associate Instructor, Central University. Investigator at the Center for Development Research (CID). With Julio César Chamorro, doctoral student in economics, National University, Associate Instructor, Central University. Investigator at the Center for Development Research (CID).

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