EL ESPECTADOR, December 27, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
According to that research center, the murders of social leaders, with 168 cases, were reduced by half in comparison with the previous year, as well as the killing of former FARC combatants, with 48 murders. These are the statistics for violence in Colombia during the year.
The first massacre was registered only a little more than a week into the year 2021. In the morning of January 10, four armed men burst into a chicken house in the district (corregimiento) of Santo Domingo in Morelia (Caquetá Department) and they opened fire on anybody present at the site. The total: three people killed and seven injured. Just a few hours later, the news media reported another massacre: “Second massacre in a day” ran the headline. That one happened in Betania (Antioquia Department) and the three victims were a 23-year-old man, his mother and her partner.
From those massacres that started off the year, until the one in Ábrego (Norte de Santander Department) on last December 24, which left three dead, there were a total of 92 massacres in Colombia in 2021. That statistic is the final report of the Human Rights and Conflict Observatory of the Institute for the Study of Peace and Development (Indepaz), which makes a careful study of violent events in this country. The Institute released the report this past Monday.
Indepaz found that those massacres resulted in 326 fatalities. In some of them, three persons were killed, but in the most appalling, on May 31 in Algeciras (Huila Department), nine people were shot to death at a farm in a rural area. Half of the massacres, according to the report, were concentrated in only four departments: Cauca (14), Antioquia (14), Valle del Cauca (12), and Nariño (9).
Compared with 2020, the number of massacres remained almost exactly the same, as 91 massacres were registered that year. For Leonardo González, who heads the Observatory at Indepaz, the fact that this phenomenon is perpetuated in Colombia is due to the national government’s misguided response.
“The armed group is not working alone. It’s part of a macro-criminality, made up of economic and political interests, and when from the Attorney General’s Office, to the administration, or the Defense Ministry, they just try to attack one part of the macro-criminality, that response is ineffective,” he explained. Besides, he added, it’s further evidence of their failure to implement the Peace Agreement, partly point 4 of the Agreement, the one on illegal drugs. By not implementing it, they help the illegal crops to flourish, and that guarantees the presence of armed groups.
Murders of social leaders have been cut in half.
Since the Peace Agreement was signed in November of 2016, the number of social leaders murdered every year has always been above 200 according to Indepaz registers. In fact, in 2020, the number reached its peak and totaled 310, in the midst of the pandemic. Nevertheless Indepaz registers in 2021 showed that the number had been cut in half, with 168 leaders killed this year.
The most recent death was Gustavo Orozco Ramírez, President of the Community Action Board in the town (vereda) of San Perucho, in Andes (Antioquia Department). On the night of last December 23, as he finished praying the novena with the community, armed men shot him to death. A similar case, of a trans leader, Christina Cantillo, in Santa Marta, on the Day of the Little Candles, on December 7, as she was preparing to light the lamps. According to Indepaz registers, she was one of the 26 women leaders murdered in Colombia in 2021.
Just as in the case of the massacres, the murders of social leaders were concentrated in the same four departments: Cauca (31), Antioquia (23), Nariño (16), and Valle del Cauca (15).
For Leonardo González, the decrease in these cases is owed to at least four reasons: The first is that “the strengthening of organizations in connection with the National Strike, which led to the empowering of campesino, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian security workers for defense and self-protection in the territories.”
As a second reason, González mentioned the change in command at the Western Joint Command of the FARC dissidents, which was particularly noticeable in the southwest (Valle, Cauca, and Nariño) where the violence has generally been concentrated. “Before, there were some young guys like Guacho or Mayimbú, kids without much experience, and their way of exercising control of territory was by violence. Now there’s been a change, and there are more experienced commanders, and that has changed the relationship that the groups have with the civilian population.
The third factor is that, in a lot of the territories, the leaders and human rights defenders have been displaced from their communities, and the groups have taken over those areas almost completely, exercising territorial, but also social control. And the last reason for decrease, according to González, is the humanitarian agreements that are made inside the communities and social organizations to sideline the armed groups.
All in all, according to Indepaz, between the signing of the Peace Agreement and December 24 of this year, 1,283 leaders were murdered in Colombia. It’s important to emphasize that the numbers registered by Indepaz from those kept by We Are Defenders, an NGO that also follows closely the numbers of social leaders killed. Their record is 682 cases from the signing of the Peace Agreement until September of this year. This is a difference of nearly half, although it reflects the same tendency: a peak in 2020, and a decrease in 2021.
Murders of former combatants have also decreased.
While the year 2020 ended with a massive pilgrimage of former FARC combatants to Bogotá from all over the country in order to denounce the murders that had exploded, this year ended, according to Indepaz, with a reduction in killings of nearly 35%. According to the Institute, 48 former guerrillas who had signed the Peace Agreement were murdered in 2021.
As was the case with the massacres and the murders of social leaders, the department where the highest number of killings of former guerrillas took place was Cauca, with nine cases. There, for example, was the emblematic slaying of Yorbis Valencia, or Anderson, a former combatant from Buenos Aires (Cauca), killed in July of this year, in the midst of persecution of former members of the FARC in that municipality in northern Cauca.
This year there was continual progress in JEP court-ordered protection for signers of the Peace Agreement, focusing in particular on the southwestern part of the country.