ByÓscarParra, EL ESPECTADOR, January 1, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator
In “Rutas del Conflicto”we closed out an intense year in 2021. We were working on a journalistic agenda that covered the tough year that the country experienced, not just with the increase in violence, but also with the intensification of social conflicts. This is a brief review of the five principal findings from our investigations.
The first has to do with the persistence of the violence. During nearly a year and a half, I and my colleagues from Rutas del Conflicto have accompanied the dialogs with the communities that the Truth Commission had organized in several areas of the country. The people repeated hundreds of times that the violence isn’t stopping and that it’s because the government has not appeared in any integrated manner in their communities, and when it does, it mainly comes with police and military who look at them as if they were enemies.
The people in regions like Arauca, Bajo Cauca, Catatumbo, northern Cauca, and Bajo Atrato were crying out for farm-to-market roads, for basic services, and for the government not to turn its responsibility over to an extractive company or the industrial agriculture of the moment. In those and many other areas, the historic social conflicts are continuing to be “solved” at gunpoint, and the stigmatization of the communities by the Armed Forces is persistent.
On that same journey, the “La Paz en el Terreno” project of Rutas del Conflicto, Colombia + 20, and Fescol, we constructed a kind of atlas of the violence against social leaders in this country, based on the voices of the representatives of the communities. In several multimedia specials, the leaders have described with deep concern the connections that these political and business actors have with the violence that threatens them, displaces them, and kills them. This situation is very worrisome because of the election of the special circumscriptions for peace, which will take place for the first time in 2022.
The second finding is related to the new actors in the violence. Even though the administration insists on talking about the FARC as a current armed actor, the fact is that there now exist a great variety of armed groups that were born and evolved out of the remaining groups of “paras” (mainly AGC), the FARC (La nueva Marquetalia and the fronts close to Gentil Duarte), and the EPL, along with the local fronts of the old ELN guerrillas.
During the investigations that we did to document the more than 90 massacres committed during 2021, the reconfiguration of these actors was evident. They are fighting each other in some regions for the control of drug trafficking and other illegal economies. With these wars going on, forced recruitment has increased, and they have killed some of the people that live in the communities, accusing them of supporting their enemies.
It’s not clear how far this new cycle of violence will go. It appears to have marked differences with the recent armed conflict, without the FARC, without the paramilitary groups that had such a visible and public face a couple of decades ago.
The third is the persistent and growing violence by the government against the complaints from the public. Not just in the protests in the National Strike, but also in the rural regions, the Police and the Army have responded with killings, disappearances, and abuses of civilians to complaints led by campesinos, and ethnic communities. The data base that we have constructed contains information of 80 crimes during the Strike that are the responsibility of government actors, and a large percentage of those are homicides.
In regions like Catatumbo in Norte de Santander, the Ariari in Meta Department, and the jungles of the Amazonas National Parks, the Army and the Attorney General’s Office have carried out operations in which they have attacked and criminalized the campesinos, accusing them of being complicit in the drug trafficking and responsible for the deforestation. Also in southern Santander, the people complained of terrible abuse by the Police in the protests by the campesinos against the Ecopetrol Company, in charge of transporting petroleum in the area.
The fourth finding is growing tension between business owners and the campesino and ethnic communities over access to land and environmental damage. During 2021, we covered, particularly in the Eastern Plains, a number of cases complaining about the accumulation of land at the cost of ancestral territory belonging to indigenous communities that right now are living practically in a situation of indigence. We saw that in our investigation of the Mennonite communities, which have turned into one of the largest landed estates in the country. They own more than 30,000 hectares, and there are complaints that they are burning the savannah woodlands.
The Mennonite case is one of the many cases we have been documenting that show a clear pattern of land accumulation with the support of the government, harming the campesinos, the indigenous, and the Afro-Colombian people. In the second season of the series, “Who’s taking our land away from us?”, produced with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, it showed the difficulties that the communities have in reaching the lands that they claim, once the companies have got their business up and going on their land.
The fifth is the enormous environmental damage being done in the Amazon area. In several investigations we have done jointly with our ally, Mongabay Latam, they build roads that serve as hubs for incredible deforestation. The government keeps on insisting it’s the drug traffickers who are mainly responsible, but they don’t say much about the legal businesses that are doing it. The increase in cattle ranching, for example, palm plantations, land accumulation, and mining, legal or illegal, is being extended on the rivers in the region.
We say good-bye to this difficult year with the commitment to keep covering in 2022 the roadmap of the social conflict and the violations that the victims of this violence continue to suffer, with no end to its recycling. I am grateful to my comrades in Rutas del Conflicto; I have nothing but gratitude for the work they have done this year. I know that the times have been difficult for many of you. I admire and appreciate all of your commitment to keeping on delivering the journalism that we do in Rutas del Conflicto.
 Rutas del Conflicto (Roadmaps of the Conflict) is an independent communication medium that collects trustworthy information about the armed conflict in Colombia.
 Fescol (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung en Colombia) is a nonprofit cultural institution committed to the principles and basic values of social democracy.
 Chapter 2 of the Peace Agreement requires the creation of 16 special congressional districts for representatives of victims’ organizations. They are to last for eight years, or two four-year terms in the Chamber of Representatives. See https://www.wola.org
 Mongabay Latam is an independent communication portal for environmental journalism.