EL ESPECTADOR, September 9, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

At least 500 social organizations are presenting a detailed report today on the two years of President Iván Duque’s administration. They aren’t toning down on the management they call “misgovernment”, and they allege that authoritarianism and war are exploding in the times of the pandemic. These are the principal conclusions.

This past Wednesday, a little more than a month after the completion of the first half of Iván Duque’s administration, around 500 social organizations—grouped in three human rights platforms—will present a detailed report to the country. It evaluates the management by the President and analyzes what his government has been like in the midst of the pandemic, the resurgence of violence, and the economic situation in Colombia.

The title of the document is, first of all, provocative: “Misgovernment by the apprentice—authoritarianism, war, and pandemic.” There, in seven chapters that also cover aspects such as the crimes against social leaders, peace, and democracy, they analyze the management by the Executive from the perspective of different organizations, platforms, sectors, and points of view, also including a perspective from the countryside.

“This report continues the reflection from a year ago on the personage himself: an apprentice, an apprentice casting spells. He learned to exercise the mischief of the bewitched, but he himself does not fascinate or attract with any special force; he doesn’t bewitch, rather he generates something like rejection and incredulity (…) he’s been there two years and has two more to do what he does: misgovern,” says the report without mentioning Duque directly.

According to the authors, the misgovernment that they attribute to the President has implicated “a devastating exercise of authoritarianism and war,” all of this in the midst of the pandemic and the “exacerbation of inequalities”.  In addition, it warns that Duque “has done everything” to finish off an Agreement that would build the peace “that this country accepted, but that would exacerbate the conflict in all of its forms.” Below, El Espectador presents a brief account of each one of the chapters in the report.


The first point in the report indicates that, during the pandemic, the President has been characterized as adopting exceptional measures under his extraordinary authority in times of emergency. As a result, the report notes, he has issued 164 Decrees having the force of law during the first three months of the crisis. However, it criticizes the fact that only 11 of them are directly related to the health care system.

“This reality has had several consequences; perhaps the most important is that President Iván Duque has governed by decree in countless areas, many of them having no strict relation to the pandemic and without the respective judicial or political control, because “the public has been caught up with the goal of facilitating private enrichment. This is a situation that generates regression in the area of human rights.”

Along that line, in agreement with what other organizations have warned about, it cautions that the system of weights and counterweights in the country is also being compromised, “because now the Congress is not functioning to limit the power of the Executive, but rather as just another expression of the power of the business community.”

Furthermore, it notes the expansion of the post-demobilization armed groups, particularly in areas where the FARC are no longer present. Specifically, the report refers to paramilitary groups such as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC/Clan del Golfo), Los Rastrojos, the Conquerors of the Sierra Self Defense Forces (Los Pachenca), Los Caparrapos (successors to the United Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba), and La Constru (successors to the Southern Putumayo Front of the AUC).

“The AGC are present in 22 of the 32 provinces in this country, and in 29 of the provinces, that’s to say, in approximately 90% of the national territory, this and other organizations that are successors to the paramilitary organizations are present,” they point out.

Also mentioning that there was an inordinate use of force by the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD) during the protests about the management of the pandemic, the organizations also warn that there continues to be a situation of great impunity. Citing the Global Impunity Index (IGI), they allege that 57% of the provinces are presenting a high level of impunity. “We figure that in 71.3% of the crimes that are taking place, no complaint is filed to any authority, and when investigating the reasons for that, they found, principally, that there is a significant lack of confidence in the administration of justice and also in the operations of the authorities that receive complaints,” they explain.


In the second section of the report, which the authors titled “Pandemic and authoritarianism”, they make a specific analysis of the Duque government’s management in the five months of the health emergency caused by Covid-19. Criticizing the fact that mining continues to be almost the only driving force for development in the country, they warn that while mining has been allocated 60 trillion pesos (about USD 16,150,000,000) in credit guarantees through the financial system, only .96 trillion pesos (about USD 260,000,000) has been set aside for the Health Ministry and the National Health Institute.

In that line, they explain that the economic crisis caused by the virus results in a contraction in the GDP of 5.5%, a budget deficit of 8.2% of GDP, and a level of debt at 65.6%, which will translate into the worst recession in the history of the country. “It looks as if it’s even more worrisome to be aware of the government’s priorities in the face of this situation. They are putting the financial entities in the top position, the business interests in the second position; micro businesses, small businesses, and mid-size companies (MIPYMES) are in third place, and there is no clear place at all for workers.”

The document points out the little attention for the MIPYMES, in spite of the fact that they represent 96% of all businesses in Colombia. It also criticizes the financial brokering that has resulted in banks using public resources “in credit with rates amounting to usury, widening their profit margin at the exact moment of such high economic vulnerability.”

Add to that the fact that the Executive has only spent 12% of the budget allocation for staving off the crisis: of the 29.6 trillion pesos (about USD 7,970,000,000) allocated, only 3.6 trillion pesos (about USD 970,000,000) has been spent, and of that, 2.3 billion pesos (about USD 620,000,000) was spent using financial brokerage. “It’s not possible to find a reasonable explanation that would excuse the low amount of budgeted funds used to attend to this crisis. The Treasury Ministry has 26.3 trillion pesos (about USD 7,000,000,000) frozen, which would finance three months of basic income for some nine million homes.”

By the way, the report recalls that basic income has constituted an important social necessity during this period, and there are now four legislative bills with this purpose, but none of them have been approved “because of the indolence of the Congress and the absolute lack of interest by the national government,” it adds, calling attention to the fact that in April, 5.5 million people were unemployed.

In addition to that, it alleges that the measures taken on the subject of health have remained in private hands (particularly the EPS) and has not been taken on as a public responsibility. “The reason for that is that no effective method exists for massive contact tracing, so the diagnoses are partial.” The report also points out that, even though increasing the number of intensive care units (ICU) has been prioritized, the public health measures that contribute to early detection of cases and prevention of spreading have been put aside.

“Even though, technically speaking, the government has paid attention to the pandemic, in practice, it has not attended it directly, but rather has left the job in the hands of third parties. Neither have there been differentiated measures, in accord with the specific necessities of the more distant regions that have more limited access to effective health services,” states the document. The report also recalls that the pandemic has revealed “the deplorable working conditions of the people who deliver health services.”

Moreover, regarding the measures adopted to guarantee access to water, the report states that they have paid no attention to community procedures and they have given privileges to private suppliers, and besides that, it’s been impossible for the citizens to participate during isolation. “We find ourselves with at least 23.8 million people tha. don’t have access to Internet in Colombia. (This situation is worse in rural areas.) And that has reduced public access to systems for citizen control, prior consultation, and to immediate processing of applications for access to surface and subterranean water supplies.”

In education, the report alleges that the Education Ministry has not implemented initiatives to carry out the special and unique needs required by the pandemic, especially in the rural context. The foregoing, considering that there is not just lack of Internet access, but also the absence of technological equipment. Besides that, it indicates that the insistence on returning to school is worrisome, given that “there are no basic conditions for protection in the schools where there are situations of overcrowding, lack of potable water, and hygiene and disinfection equipment, not just for the students, but also for the teachers and other staff.”

Finally, a section is dedicated to the situation in Amazonas Province, a province where, according to the report, “it has always been characterized by living in daunting abandonment by the government, manifested, among other things, in the deplorable situation of health services in the province.” They point out that while there is only one intensive care unit (UCI), on June 25 there were 2,113 virus cases in Leticia and 107 in Puerto Nariño. Of these figures, 711 cases were among the indigenous people.

“In the communications media, they have tried to defend the idea that the cases had come across the frontier from Brazil, and the government’s response to the crisis was to send a thousand soldiers to ‘guard’ the frontier, in place of responding directly with health measures,” the report points out.

  • Violence

In considering the violence in the two years of the Duque government, the report recalls that 2019 was the most violent year against human rights defenders in the last decade. Using statistics from the We Are Defenders Program, it shows that during 2020 there have been 844 individual attacks (threats, disappearances, assaults, among others). Of these, 124 were murders. This figure shows a 4.8% increase from 2018 when there were 805 attacks.

“ Most of these attacks were against leadership related to the defense of the land and the territory and, as a result, there was an increase in attacks against indigenous leaders (271 cases)” adds the report. It points out in addition that there were 33 massacres in rural areas in the provinces of Antioquia, Cauca, and Norte de Santander. 2019 was also one of the most violent years for women that were defenders of human rights (104 attacks), plus a 50% increase in murders, in comparison with 2018 statistics. Regarding protection for the LGBTI population, the report complains that, even though the Interior Ministry is required to prepare an action plan for public policy, there is still no approved plan of action.

“This can’t be considered just a result of apathy or slowness by the government, since ever since Iván Duque was inaugurated, the Human Rights Office has been in the hands of representatives of the same fundamentalist sectors that oppose efforts to guarantee LGBTI rights,” the report insists.

With regard to social protest, it recalls the national strike at the end of last year, conceived for the rejection of a series of regressive labor and pension reforms and because of the failure to implement the Peace Agreement. However, it complains that the wave of social mobilization was forcibly repressed.

In addition, it warns that during the Duque government there have been persistent illegal practices of controlling the population, using the Armed Forces. They used illegal intelligence operations and information they obtained through irregular means. All of that, “as a device used to persecute the political opposition, human rights defenders, and journalists.”

In this regard, the report recalls scandals like the “Walking Cane Operation”, about corruption in the Army, which splashed onto 16 generals, nearly 230 officers and noncoms, leaders of the Democratic Center Party (The current President is a member.), drug trafficking organizations, paramilitaries, the Clan del Golfo, the Envigado Office, the ELN, and the FARC dissidents.

Nevertheless, the report declares that, after the scandal, the government’s answer was to threaten anybody that leaked information to the press or to the journalists that had carried out the investigation. In another operation they profiled 130 people, and they reactivated the stimulus for “operational results”, an act that, if it had been carried out, would have produced an exacerbated increase in extrajudicial executions.

Finally, the report criticizes the fact that, with the excuse of saving lives, “they justified the use of technologies to capture and process huge quantities of data on health and mobility,” all by means of the application CoronApp. Nevertheless, it warns that these data systems could be used as illegal means of watching people. “There has not been any clarity about how information obtained by the government through the use of this technology will be managed.”

  • & 5. Democracy and the War

In their report, the social organizations refer to the journalists’ revelations that point to an alleged financing and vote-buying by the campaign of President Iván Duque Márquez by José Guillermo “Ñeñe” Hernández, who has been accused of being a drug trafficker. They point to evidence of “the relationship between political élites and drug trafficking.” And they emphasize the regional elections in 2019, where, it’s true, that participation increased to 61%, and they point to the low participation by women. “The participation by women continues to be significantly low, since, even though there are regulations that require that there be at least 30% women candidates, this measure has not been translated into an increase in the numbers of women elected,” the report indicates.

With regard to that, the report emphasizes that the campaign carried out in elections in the countryside in 2019 was crisscrossed with violence. “The campaigns happened in the midst of a difficult security situation, where for the three months of campaigning there were 135 acts of violence against candidates,” says the report.

According to the social organizations, “the lack of democratic guarantees affecting voting by the opposition is reflected starkly in the murders of social leaders and former FARC combatants.” In Point 5 of the report, it notes the risky situation in which the former FARC combatants are found. It makes clear that, even though the murders of former combatants did not begin in the current administration, President Duque has maintained “a passive attitude toward those acts of violence.”

“Between January 1, 2020 and June 30, 25 former combatants have been murdered, 220 since the signing of the Peace Agreement, with 39 attempted murders and 14 forced disappearances of former FARC combatants who signed the Agreement,” claims the report, and it calls attention to the situation of more than 180 former combatants that are still in prisons.

Regarding the implementation of the Peace Agreement, the document indicates as follows: “The greater quantity of resources were allocated to Point 4, on Solution of the Problem of Illegal Drugs, while for Point 3, End of the Conflict, which includes the measures for economic, political, and social reincorporation of the former combatants in the FARC-EP and the guarantees for their safety, only 3.4% of the resources that are coming from international cooperation have been allocated.”

On this point, the report considers that there is “not much transparency” with respect to the specific uses of the resources allocated for peace. “It’s difficult to identify in all of the cases an articulation of the expenditures toward what was established in the Implementation Framework Plan and the substantive contents of the Final Agreement. Three years after the signing of the Agreement, we can say that only 4% of what was agreed upon has been completed and barely 10% more has been undertaken. Of the remaining 86%, little or nothing is being done. Point 1 (Integrated Rural Reform) of the Final Agreement has the lowest indication of implementation.”

  • Security

Section 6 of the report gathers information related to security, with some notes in the margin about the situation in some of the provinces in the country because of the coronavirus pandemic. The assessment is negative and it concentrates entirely on the regions prioritized by the Peace Agreement, not even looking at the realities of the other territories that are living through the violence in silence.

This section of the document can be summed up in the government’s response to the problem of public order by using the Armed Forces; this does not translate into greater tranquility for the inhabitants of the affected communities. “We have omitted humanitarian solutions in multiple failures that people are experiencing in the regions. Besides that, we continue to see evidence of alliances and connivance between the Armed Forces and paramilitary groups.”

Next they identify one by one the territories that were hit hardest by the conflict, the same ones that were reported in the Public Defender’s Early Alerts on the imminent risk being faced by the residents because of the accumulations of problems in their territories: armed groups, drug trafficking, and exploitation of natural resources. In Chocó, states the report, more than 11,300 people were displaced in the first half of 2019, because 46% of the province was threatened by the territorial dispute for the distribution of weapons and drugs among the armed groups.

In Cauca, the situation of violence, notes the report, is made more complicated because of “ a selective action by the Armed Forces acting in connivance with illegal armed actors.” This is in addition to the mining projects that are detrimental to the communities. Regarding the efforts by the Armed Forces for the security of the regions, the document identifies a similar situation in southern Córdoba where violent acts against the civilian population are attributed to them.

In Córdoba in 2019 there have been 14 massive displacements and 23 murders of social leaders since Duque’s inauguration. “Moreover, in the framework of planning the PDET, the communities and organizations offered 1,183 proposals, and 2,046 families signed up in the National Plan for Substitution of Plantings for Illegal Use  (PNIS). However, it’s clear that the priority has been the continuation of the extractive projects, and that the government has not complied with the agreed-upon payment to the families that are in the PNIS.”

In Catatumbo (Norte de Santander Province) just like in Antioquia, the murders, threats, attacks, and displacements have been a constant for the people that live there and for the leaders that are defending the territories. In Catatumbo, between 2019 and so far in 2020, they have murdered 222 people (four cases were feminicides). There is also a problem there with the violent encounters between the Armed Forces and the campesinos who are defending their voluntary plant substitution. In the midst of these confrontations, this year three substitution leaders were killed at the hands of the Colombian Army.

The problem in Antioquia is the resurgence and re-accommodation of the paramilitary groups that are present all over the countryside, especially in the Bajo Cauca region. Between 2018 and 2020 there have been more than 630 murders, 56 forced disappearances, and 6,300 people displaced.

Since 2018 security in Putumayo has been affected by the arrival of FARC dissidents and paramilitaries. The way these armed groups operate has been reinforced by the quarantine. So far in 2020, relates the report, 13 leaders have been murdered. Finally, the document recalls the conditions that the Wayúu people are continuing to experience: “lack of potable water, (barriers to) access to health care, food, and ethnic participation: which continues feeding the situation that was declared unconstitutional in 2017.

  • International relations

Finally, the analysis of two years of foreign policy is summed up by its connection of Colombia with the government of Donald Trump, who has redefined the relationship between the United States and this country. It has been focused on that administration’s

assistance in the fight against drug trafficking and pushing for the return to policies of eradicating the illegal plantings by spraying glyphosate. Its efforts have also been concentrated on Venezuela and its intention to press for Nicolás Maduro’s exit from power.

On that issue, the document points out: “We are participating in the ideologization of foreign policy based on a left/right polarization that derails the possibilities of dialog among sectors with diverging political perspectives (Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua). In that context, the Duque government has favored United States interventionism in Latin America, especially with the excuse of achieving regime change in Venezuela.”

Finally, based on relations with the neighboring country, broken since 2019, and with the President’s order to keep the doors open for the Venezuelans, we have promoted a stream of migrants using clandestine steps, generating new illegal revenue, according to the report. At the same time this has made employment precarious in the five frontier provinces, where the rate of informal employment has climbed to 80%, 20% higher than the national average.

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