Interview. ‘Since the signing of the peace deal in 2016, according to our calculations, around 550 social leaders and 150 former FARC fighters have been murdered.’ And the government has shown no interest in protecting them.

There’s no peace in Colombia

With the signing of the peace agreement between the government and FARC in 2016, everything could have changed in the history of Colombia. Although the contradictions inherent in the process quickly came to light, there was still a lot of hope for a peace that wouldn’t be contingent on the interests of the eternal powers-that-be.

Now, three years later, that hope is reduced to a mere glimmer, stifled by the lack of enforcement of the peace deal and the systematic murder of social leaders and members of the former guerrillas (two more were killed on July 9 alone). Even the only achievement that seemed secure—the end of the hostilities—appears to be in question once again, given the decision, born of desperation, by many former fighters betrayed by the government to go back into the shadows.

Everyone is wondering whether Jesús Santrich, the former FARC leader, made this choice himself after he was arrested in April 2018 on charges of having participated in a cocaine trafficking operation and then released on May 30 this year. After he took up his seat in the new Congress, reaffirming his commitment to peace, he seems to have vanished without a trace by June 30, failing to appear at his hearing before the Supreme Court on July 9 (in his ongoing trial for drug trafficking).

We talked about all these aspects with the Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo of the Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular, an organization which has been working to defend human rights in the country for more than 30 years.

How is Iván Duque’s government reacting to the ongoing extermination campaign against social leaders and former fighters?

It’s not taking any measures and it’s not showing any interest. Since the signing of the peace deal in 2016, according to our calculations, around 550 social leaders and 150 former FARC fighters have been murdered. Despite the protests by the popular organizations, the murders are continuing relentlessly. There are new cases every week.

So it’s not true that paramilitarism has been dismantled.

In the first stage of the conflict, which started off in Colombia in the ‘60s, it was the military who were conducting all forms of repression, torture and murder, openly and in broad daylight, without fear of any consequences. This was the official policy of the state. It was only in the ‘80s, when the complaints from the international community began to be felt, that the paramilitary groups entered onto the scene, from Águilas Negras to the Clan del Golfo, claiming they could offer a collective identity outside the state apparatus. They acted undisturbed until the beginning of the new millennium, when the government started a campaign to eliminate the use of word “paramilitary,” in an attempt to convince society that such groups were not in any way linked to the military, the state or private enterprise, but were merely criminal gangs engaged in run-of-the-mill crime.

The situation has not improved with the signing of the peace deal.

Since the signing of the agreement in 2016, those responsible for the assassinations have been acting in total anonymity: they hide behind hoods, they arrive on motorcycles without license plates, they shoot and run away, and they don’t put out any claims. No one can see them, no one can identify them and nobody knows why they killed their victim. However, when the investigation begins, it turns out that the victim was actually engaged in some activities contrary to the interests of the government, whether denouncing the conduct of a multinational company or a mining company, claiming the land that had been taken from them or organizing people.

Is this a repeat in another form of the political genocide against the Patriotic Union in the ‘80s?

Back then, the persecution was directed against the political left, such as the Patriotic Union, or against the unions. Today it has a wider scope. Most of the victims belong to Acción Comunal, a grassroots model of organization active mainly in rural areas, in the small villages.

What will become of the peace agreement, especially in the face of the systematic murder of ex-combatants?

During the election campaign, Duque’s party, the Democratic Center, announced that it would “tear up” the agreement. Once elected, the president spoke in more moderate tones, giving reassurances that only a few points would be changed. In fact, the boycott of the peace process has been mostly passive, in the sense that what had been agreed upon is not being implemented. None of the predicted social reforms, for example, have been carried out. This has meant that many former combatants, disappointed, left to themselves and exposed to the danger of losing their lives, have taken the path of returning to arms, forming what is called the dissident FARC. And even some former guerrilla leaders have gone back into hiding, including the chief negotiator of the agreements, Iván Márquez.

What is your opinion regarding the case against Santrich? And how can we interpret his disappearance?

I am convinced that it was a setup: the charges against him, coming from the American DEA, are unfounded. Regarding his disappearance, the version coming from those who were closest to him was that, as he was visiting a space dedicated to the reintegration of former combatants in the Cesar region, on the border with Venezuela, the Bolivarian intelligence services warned him of an imminent attempt on his life, and they advised him to go into hiding. Some say that he is in Venezuela.

Is there any hope for Colombia?

I think there are small windows of hope, starting from the growth of the mass popular movements, of the indigenous organizations and those of the farmers. Even though the act of protesting has always been strongly repressed in Colombia and continues to be so, the country has witnessed a lot of strikes and demonstrations lately. A nationwide march in support of the peace and against the assassination of social leaders is planned for July 26.

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