By Elisabeth Unger Bleier, EL ESPECTADOR, June 18, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Michel Forst, then the United Nations Human Rights rapporteur, was right when he stated that Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries for defenders of human rights. There are hundreds of social leaders that have been murdered for defending the rights of their communities, for protecting the environment, for trying to recover the land they were pushed off of by armed actors, for demanding compliance with the Peace Agreement, for insisting that the truth be told, that justice be done, and that reparations be provided to the victims of more than six decades of armed conflict. For defending life and peace.
Every time a social leader is killed, they are not just taking the life of a person. The perpetrators of these murders are leaving a trail of pain, of abandonment, impotence, rage and indignation for thousands of people who see their dreams destroyed and their hopes shattered of being able to live in dignity. Not to speak of the hundreds of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, orphans, grandchildren, friends, and comrades in their lives and struggles who have lost their loved ones and are weeping in silence at their loss.
Today, as we columnists from different communications media have done in recent weeks, I would like to honor and pay tribute to the life and the struggle of three of these leaders.*
Dilio Corpus Guetio was an indigenous campesino, 44 years old, who dedicated his life to farming. He was a member of the Asocordillera (Mountain Area Association of Campesino Workers), and of the Campesino Guard in Suárez (Cauca Province), and President of the Coca Growers Committee in the town (vereda) of Playa Rica. He was responsible for verifying the substitution of crops. Both his family and his friends insisted that they knew of no threats against him and that he never mentioned any threats. However, when he was going toward his job on a motorcycle with his sister, they killed him in the District (corregimiento) of La Betulia. As in so many other cases, they still don’t know who did it.
Nixon Mutis Sossa was born in El Playón in Santander. He arrived in the town (vereda) of Chaparral in Cantagallo, Bolívar Province as a displaced person. For ten years there he served as President of the Community Action Committee, and in 2015 he started to lead coca substitution projects in the municipality. He was killed on January 30, 2018 and his body was abandoned at the edge of the Cimitarra River. His wife shared his ideals and assumed the leadership of the Community.
María Yolanda Maturana was killed in Pueblo Rico, in Risaralda when she was 59 years old. She had dedicated most of her life to the care of the environment. As President of the Association of Environmentalists for Flora and Fauna, she focused her struggle of more than three decades on filing complaints about illegal mining, and contamination of the water sources in the province and in Chocó. Her colleagues told her on more than one occasion that her life was in danger. However, like so many other leaders, she had no confidence in government agencies. And she was right. She was murdered on February 1, 2018. On February 20 the alleged killer was arrested and, according to the Section Director in the Attorney General’s Office, the motive was to silence María Yolanda so that she would not disclose the name of a person who was alleged to be the killer in another homicide. Her husband had met the same fate in 2015.
Three stories, three lives cut short, and they keep on with the killing.
* Thanks to Colombia 2020 and Somos Defensores (We are Defenders) for helping me find information about these leaders.