By María Teresa Ronderos, EL ESPECTADOR, February 28, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In Colombia, last year, criminals committed 76 massacres of unarmed people, the worst statistic in six years. Six young girls were among the victims, states a recently issued report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

How could such an increase be explained, just in the year when months of obligatory closings gave the government’s security forces greater space in which to act?

The UN report denounces the murder of 133 human rights defenders. One out of every five victims was an indigenous leader. These social entrepreneurs are promoting development, the protection of the environment, the resistance to illegal plantings and drug trafficking, and combating corruption in the countryside. Every one of these deaths takes us further away from the solution to our problems.

But the agents of the government don’t always see social leaders as allies. The UN states that actions by police and soldiers controlling public order or crime have ended up killing 73 innocent people, including children, and they tortured a young man for being gay.  What legitimate action could cost the lives of seven children and the suffering of a person whose liberty the government itself ought to be protecting?

The criminal groups have caused the displacement of 25,000 people. In Ituango there have been several such displacements. Campesinos leave everything behind because some of the armies that they see going by every day, they’re called dissidents, or Caparrapos (and even, sometimes, members of the military task force), terrorize them. The government has known for a long time that the gangs are fighting each other for control of the drugs that they take out of Bajo Cauca and then to Córdoba, but it can’t change anything. It’s as if Ituango’s destiny, the same as that of El Tambo in Cauca or Quibdó, were cast in stone, and if you live where the majority are poor and survive on illegal business, you are surely going to lose your home or your life.

Ivan Duque’s administration was elected in 2018, thanks to the fear he inspired in the people: Fajardo would be too weak to bring security, and with Petro the guerrillas would rule the country. The irony of life. Two long years later, criminal gangs and dissidents rule in most regions of Colombia, and there is not any strategy for how to confront the expanding violence.

Multiple organizations and think tanks have recommended a way out: use government intelligence to interrupt the coordination of the criminal groups, keep them from hiring hit men everywhere, and dry out their financing. Create real options for education and employment for the young people in the villages condemned to the violence, so that they won’t be more cannon fodder. Eliminate every rule that still supports the paramilitaries, and forcefully separate every public official implicated in that. Maximum limitation on possession of firearms by the civilian population. And send the message, without any equivocation, that indigenous leaders and human rights defenders are the allies of democracy and social progress in the countryside. Supporting them has to be the responsibility and priority of private business, public officials, churches, and other social actors.

For now, they are lighting their fires underwater. The President knows how to dress like a soldier and repeat, echoing the head of the party, droning on that democratic security is that same as hating the FARC. The more they show how ineffective they are in confronting the real violence that is taking over the country again, the more they whip up the ghost of the now-defunct guerrillas as the origin of everything that’s going wrong, to disguise their failure.

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