EL ESPECTADOR, October 15, 2021
Translated by Beatriz Vejarano Villaveces, CSN volunteer translator
The promise to hold elections where weapons, threats and harassment will not play a role remains unfulfilled. When the campaign for the 2022 legislative and presidential elections has not even officially begun, reports by civil society observers of political violence are alarming. If we add this to the numbers of assassinations of social leaders and former combatants, the people who are betting on democracy in the most vulnerable territories continue to be targets of violence. We cannot speak of a stable democracy when we continue to witness these events.
Between March and August, according to data from the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Pares), every four days there was a victim of electoral violence in Colombia. Now that Pares has updated its report with data up to October 7, we have hard numbers: 62 violent events that have resulted in 79 victims, all related to political actors who have been persecuted. Moreover, the attacks have occurred in 21 of the 32 departments plus Bogota, with two clear leaders: Valle del Cauca (11 events) and Antioquia (six events), departments that were also protagonists of political violence in the 2019 regional elections.
These figures worsen when crossed with the data within the framework of the Peace Accord. This week, before the Security Council of the United Nations (UN), Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, was clear: “286 men and women who laid down their arms have been killed by the actions of armed actors”. According to the latest information from the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz), 131 social leaders have been killed in 2021 alone. In the Pares report, 11 people were murdered and 68 were threatened.
All these murders and threats share one characteristic: the perpetrators usually remain unpunished. In the case of the political violence exclusively studied by Pares, in 70.9% of the cases no perpetrators have been found. In the rest, they have been associated with the presence of illegal armed groups and drug trafficking cartels.
This institutional inability to prevent violence and reduce impunity rates is the main risk for next year’s elections. After the Peace Accord, one of the main promises was to be able to have a more stable democracy, where differences would not be solved with weapons. But the outbreak of violence, the absence of the state in several territories, the strength of the drug cartels, the refuge of FARC dissidents in Venezuela and the constant stubbornness of the Eln make us live in a chaotic moment. We are already seeing the consequences. In Colombia people continue to be killed for political reasons.
The damage of each murder is felt for years, not only by the direct victims, but by the whole society that succumbs to fear. How can we tell someone to bet on democracy, to participate transparently in politics, if we cannot guarantee security? We must redouble our efforts so that violence is not the protagonist of the elections.