By Sebastián Forero Rueda, EL ESPECTADOR, March 26, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The We Are Defenders program, the Viso Mutop Corporation, and the Minga Association are presenting a document today about the attacks on this population ever since the signing of the Peace. The attacks have left voluntary substitution backed into a corner. The forced eradication of the coca plantings is the government’s principal commitment.
Around 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon of June 26, 2019, the campesino Manuel Gregorio González left his parcel of land in the District (corregimientoj) of El Palmar, in the Municipality of Montelíbano, in southern Córdoba Province. He was going to get some groceries for his family. Nobody saw him again until the next day, when some people in the area found him dead, with his hands tied and showing signs of torture. A little more than a week later, on July 6, the campesino Manuel Osuna Tapias was found in his home in the District (corregimiento) of Versalles with his throat slashed. Versalles is in the neighboring Municipality of San José de Uré. Both of the laborers had been active members of the Campesino Association of Southern Córdoba (Ascsucor) and had been promoting voluntary substitution of coca plantings in that region.
Counting those two murders, to date there have already been 15 beneficiaries of the National Integrated Program for Substitution of Crops Planted for Illegal Use (PNIS), —created by the 4th point of the Peace Agreement—murdered in southern Córdoba since the program was undertaken in 2017. The case of the attacks against Ascsucor is included in the report that the We Are Defenders, the Viso Mutop Corporation, and the Minga Association are presenting today. It documented the attacks and the persecution of the leaders of crop substitution in Colombia since the signing of the Peace Agreement in November of 2016.
The document reveals that from the signing of that Peace Agreement until June 30 of 2020, 75 leaders in the program for substitution of coca plantings in this country were murdered. The murders occurred in 12 provinces, and 82 % of the cases took place in just five provinces: Antioquia, with 24 killings; Cauca, with 18; Norte de Santander, with 8; Putumayo, with 7; and Nariño, with 5. The year in which the most of these killings were registered was 2018, with 27 murders; followed by 2020, in which only between January and June, 20 murders were confirmed; next was 2019, with 16 cases; 2017 with 11; and 2016, when there was one case.
Among the murder victims documented in the report, there are four women who had been leading the voluntary substitution of coca. On March 30, 2018, María Magdalena Cruz Rojas was murdered. She was promoting substitution in the town (vereda) Brisas de Iteviare, Inspection Station, Rincón del Indio, in Mapiripán (Meta Province). Armed men went to her farm and shot her to death in front of her husband and her son. On April 7, 2019, Lucero Jaramillo Álvarez, Secretary of the Community Action Board in the town (vereda) of Puerto Valdivia in Curillo (Caquetá Province) was shot and killed. He was participating actively in the process of substitution of coca plantings in his town. The authorities said at the time that the crime had been committed by the #1 Front of the FARC dissidents.
The other two cases were registered in 2020. First, the leader Gloria Isabel Ocampo was killed in her home in the town of La Estrella de Puerto Guzmán (Putumayo Province) on January 7, and the next one was in that same province, Leidy Viviana Trompeta, 24 years old, an indigenous guard in the Nasa Juesh Kiwe Council of Bellavista, in Orito,
which is part of PNIS. The killer had hanged her on June 9.
Also in the report, they investigated those responsible, and they found that even though in 46% of the murders it was not possible to identify the killer, in 28% of the cases, it could be established that it was paramilitary groups either the AGC or others not fully identified, and in 13%, it was dissidents of the prior FARC; in 9%, the ELN guerrillas, in 3%, the Armed Forces, and one case was attributed to the EPL.
Why is it so serious that they are killing the leaders of crop substitution? The case of the leader in Puerto Asís (Putumayo Province) Marco Rivadeneira, detailed in the report, is illustrative. This laborer was killed on March 19, 2020 in the Puerto Vega-Teteyé Corridor in Puerto Asís when he was attending a meeting with campesinos from towns in the area, to explain the progress in the round table discussion where they had been able to get the government to look for an alternative for those who had been left out of the PNIS. Rivadeneira was the President of the Campesino Association of Puerto Asís (Asocpuertoasís), spokesman for the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination, Director of the National Agrarian Coordination, and of the Congress of the People.
After he was murdered, another Director of the Association, Deobaldo Cruz, and the Secretary of the discussion roundtable with the government, who was with Rivadeneira that day, were forced to leave Puerto Asís, and they both are still keeping a low profile to this day. As a result of that, the advances made in the roundtable discussions were slowed down and, even though they have met a few times, they did not continue on the work plan that they had agreed upon, because of the risks in traveling to the towns in the Puerto Vega-Teteyé Corridor. Besides that, Deobaldo Cruz is a victim of the forced eradication operations by the Armed Forces, because in June of 2019 he lost his left eye when he was hit by buckshot fired by Esmad (Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron) in the midst of a campesino demonstration opposing those operations.
The clashes that took place between the Armed Forces and the coca-growing campesinos were also collected in the report that is being presented today. It’s a different form of persecution of the laborers that live on that crop. The document cites a study by the Observatory of Restitution and Regulation of the Right to Agricultural Property. The study registered 95 incidents between campesinos and the Armed Forces between 2016 and the first half of 2020. The study mentioned 12 campesinos or indigenous people that were killed at the hands of anti-narcotics soldiers or police.
Some of those cases are documented in this report, such as two that took place in Norte de Santander. The case of Digno Emérito Buendía, a campesino leader in Catatumbo who took part in a protest against eradication and was shot dead, apparently by a member of the Hermógenes Maza Battalion in a rural area of Cúcuta. Two months before he was killed, there was another killing, also by a shot fired by an Army soldier, this time by the Ground Operations Battalion No. 9 of the Vulcan Force. It was Alejandro Carvajal, who was promoting a substitution project of cane for coca in Sardinata.
Besides those cases in Norte de Santander, the case of the Campesino Association of Southern Córdoba, and the case of Marco Rivadeneira, the report also examined, as an emblematic case, the massacre at El Tandil, in Tumaco (Nariño Province). It took place in October of 2017 and seven campesinos were shot to death, allegedly by Anti-Narcotic Police that were carrying out a forced eradication operation.
That event remains in impunity to this day, as no one has been convicted or punished for what happened, in spite of the fact that there is an open disciplinary investigation in the Inspector General’s Office, and the case is now in the military criminal justice system. In fact, at the end of last year, the victims and their representatives requested that the case be investigated in the ordinary justice system. And the fifth case that the report includes as emblematic is the military deployment in the Guayabero River basin, where the communities have been complaining about excesses by the soldiers of the Omega Joint Task Force. The complaints have come about, according to the accusations, because campesinos have been injured by their gunfire, houses have been burnt down, cattle stolen, and private property destroyed, among other things.
Added to the bleak picture of attacks on promoters of substitution, is the precarious implementation of the PNIS, in which 99,000 families are signed up, in 56 municipalities in the country. According to the report, in June of 2020 the payments for food assistance had reached 74,199 families and 62,183 families had received technical assistance. Meanwhile, the productive projects were hovering at around 1% progress in the whole country. “The outlook indicates that some families stopped receiving the economic support without receiving technical assistance or accomplishing the projects that are stipulated in the Agreement to guarantee a different kind of campesino economy.” According to the report, that has resulted in a number of the families having to go back to replanting the coca, and because of that, they are expelled from the program. That situation is getting worse, because up to now there is no Statute for Differential Criminal Treatment for Small Farmers. It has not been passed in Congress, and continues to be an unpaid debt to the 4th Point of the Havana Agreement.