By Clara López Obregón, SEMANA, June 16, 2010
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The murder of leaders that doesn’t quit and isn’t stopped is the mirror into which this government and its agencies need to be looking. Their failure is inexcusable.
Throughout the years, too many people in Colombia have been immunized in the face of the killing of innocents. Unimaginable statistics on forced disappearances, kidnappings, and degradations like the false positives and the extermination of the Patriotic Union Party have eroded the capacity for indignation that the murder of one single person ought to provoke, as has happened with George Floyd in the United States. Martin Luther King hit the nail on the head when he stated: “What is most worrisome is not the wickedness of the bad people, but rather the indifference of the good people,” and I would also add the fear.
Since the Peace Agreement was signed, 500 leaders have been systematically murdered. These people are out of the ordinary. Their vocation of service has brought them to embrace collective causes in a world that is more and more insular and lacking in solidarity. When they kill a social leader, one who demands restitution of their land, or a defender of human rights, they are beheading a community, a cause, and with enough of them, a whole generation, in order to dominate with the fear that is blended with indifference.
Michel Forst, the United Nations rapporteur, made no mistake when he pointed out last February that Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the defense of human rights. The statistics alone do not reveal the human tragedy that is behind each case. Because of that, a group of us columnists would like to recover the faces and the lives of some of the murdered leaders and tell their stories.
María Magdalena Cruz Rojas was a woman of character, recognized in her community for the social initiatives that she led. She had promoted associations of women to carry out projects in the town (vereda) where her people had already chosen her twice to serve as Secretary of the Community Action Committee. When she was murdered on March 30, 2018 by two masked men, in the presence of her husband and her child, she was leading a movement for voluntary substitution of illicit crops in her town (vereda) of Unibrisas de Iteviare, in the municipality of Mapiripán, in Meta, painfully notorious for the massacre carried out by the Castaño brothers’ paramilitaries in 1997.
She was 52 years old and she had told the Mayor about the threats she had received from an armed group that was opposed to crop substitution. After she was killed, other substitution leaders belonging to the National Coordination of Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana Growers (Coccam in Spanish) abandoned the area, and that meant that the substitution process they were working on was abandoned too.
Emilsen Manyoma was an Afro-Colombian human rights defender from the District (corregimiento) of Bajo Calima in the port of Buenaventura. She was brutally murdered, together with her husband, Joe Javier Rodallega, on January 14, 2017. At 33 years old, Emilsen had filed complaints about human rights violations in the District (corregimiento) of Bajo Calima, and had supported several community efforts against petroleum exploration and against the location of a sanitary landfill with the Bajo Calima Community Council, of which she was a member.
Emilsen had started her work with the accompaniment of the NGO Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace, and later she had become the local spokeswoman for the Communities Building Peace in the Territories Network, (Conpaz). According to her organization, the recent events she complained of had been tied to alleged paramilitary organizations in Buenaventura. They had controlled free movement of the people who lived in the area, trying to control the drug trafficking route that leads to the Pacific, at the mouth of the San Juan River. “More people are dying from lead around here than from Covid-19; we are a city with neither God nor law. There are no authorities that require obedience to the laws,” a social leader in the port said in April.
The murder of leaders that doesn’t quit and isn’t stopped is the mirror into which the government and its agencies need to be looking. Their failure is inexcusable. Leaders are not born every day, yet they are killed without any respite. Going this way, peace will be a shipwreck, democracy will be a shipwreck, and Colombia will be a shipwreck.