By Gloria Árias Nieto, EL ESPECTADOR, June 9, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The numbers have no soul, but the stories do. For that reason–and because United Nations rapporteur Michel Forst is right in saying that Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to defend human rights—several of us columnists wanted to join our words together to honor the voices of those who gave their lives to defend the dignity of their communities.

I begin by telling you that Aquileo Mecheche Baragón is dead, but not buried. They planted him between a borojó tree and a palm of Christ, up there, in the same mountains where they take the umbilical cords of the newborns.

Aquileo lived and died in Chocó, a province filled with rivers, jungles, oceans, and children, because bringing new lives into the world is their way of betting on survival; it’s their cry not to let themselves be overcome by death.

He was the Rector of a Jagual indigenous school, President of the Superior Indigenous Council of Bajo Atrato, and one of the Emberá leaders of the Chocó Minga. He lived in the Reservation called Río Chintadó, which means river of stars. And that is what he was: a light of words, of ancestral wisdom, the light of his people. He knew he was in the sights of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces and that they were going to kill him. He knew that, in that great corridor of drug trafficking, timber, influence and land, there were ELN and paramilitaries.

The community, which is brave and resilient, tried to protect him with their staffs; but the violence is stubborn and devastating, and on April 12, 2019, they killed him.

The semitrailers loaded with hundreds of tree trunks, the devastation of the territory, threats, murders, and displacement, make you think that there, where the boats and the sunsets have the most beautiful colors in the world, cutting life short is a constant.

Just as death is a contradiction, the “comunero” Éder Cuetía Conda was murdered by a hit man in the neighborhood known as La Paz (Peace). He had always defended human rights, natural resources, and the safety of the campesinos, and a masked man hit him with two shots to his head on the last Sunday of February in 2017. It happened in Corinto, the municipality in Cauca where intimidation does more than the heat, and the houses stay with their doors and windows closed, so that the pain and the violence don’t get in. Éder belonged to the Lopez Adentro indigenous reservation and to the Community Action Committee of the town (vereda) of La Siberia. His father and the Nasa community led his funeral march. In Cauca alone, in that couple of months in 2017, they had already murdered three social leaders and in 2016, they had killed 22. As always, denying the tragedy is the first requirement for perpetuating it.

Holmes Alberto Niscué, a teacher and the secretary of the Gran Rosario Indigenous Reservation in Tumaco, Nariño, did not see his two Awá children grow up. “The pamphlets said ‘We have to get rid of that council’. Holmes was working to prevent recruitment of children and he was in his 9th semester of studying for a degree in Education. He had received so many threats against his life that in Pasto they gave him a bulletproof vest and a cell phone. But alias Guacho had condemned him, and in August of 2018 they killed Holmes, there in the pool hall in Guayacana, just 200 meters from the Police station.

Since 2016, 627 social leaders have been murdered in Colombia; 56 between January 1, 2020 and April 19, 2020. We couldn’t stop the bullets; those who could have done that, didn’t. We are writing as a complaint that will interrupt the silence and put a stop to the forgetfulness.

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