2019 proved to be one of the deadliest years on record for human rights defenders in Colombia. At least 250 social leaders lost their lives while fighting to protect the rights of their communities. Despite these challenges, millions of Colombians continue to work everyday for a more peaceful future. Our Colombia International Team worked alongside local partners to document the harmful effects of U.S foreign policies and corporate practices on grassroots social movements struggling to build peace, justice and environmental sustainability.
In January, our Colombia Team accompanied CONPAZ and Mujeres AINI alongside a group of activists from New York to produce a documentary film counteracting the harmful narratives surrounding the Naya River basin communities. The group documented stories of resistance by women in Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities impacted by the U.S-led “War on Drugs”.
In February, our Colombia Team accompanied Afro-Colombian leader, Daira Quinones, alongside John Walsh and Witness for Peace Southeast Board Member, Chelsey Dyer. The group travelled with Daira to the Consejo Comunitario, La Nupa, a community she helped create and has been leading through the process of receiving a collective land title. Daira was forcibly displaced from her community of La Nupa in 2001 and has been unable to safely return since. Our physical accompaniment enabled Daira to visit La Nupa and strengthen the communal process in face of exacerbating violence against environmental protectors and human rights defenders in Colombia.
In March, our Colombia Team accompanied the Cuaca Department Victims Committee (MDV). The MDV was established after the signing of the Victims Law of 2011 and negotiated on behalf of the victims during the 2016 peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla organization, to oversee the implementation of points regarding State guarantees to truth, reparation, and non-repetition for victims of the armed conflict. The Department of Cauca was one of the hardest hit regions by the armed conflict with hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes in the midst of the armed conflict. Since the signing of the 2016 Peace Accords, members of the MDV have received death threats by armed groups who wish to deter victims from speaking the truth and accessing their rights to reparations in the form of land restitution.
In March, the Colombian team also accompanied CONPAZ to Mapiripan, Meta for the commemoration of of Dumar Aljure, Ana Felisa Peña, Asael Peña, Floresmiro Peña and Ana Felisa Peña who were killed by the national army 51 years ago. The purpose of the commemoration, which was also accompanied by the Truth Commission and the Search Unit for Presumed Disappeared Persons, was for the Aljure Martinez family to begin the process of clarifying the truth, recognize the responsible actors and reconcile with the actors responsible for the murder of 11 relatives.
In May, our Colombia Team led a group of U.S-based activists to the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca to learn about the connections between the U.S “War on Drugs” and economic liberalization through Free Trade Agreements like the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) signed by the Obama administration in 2011. Since the signing of the 2016 Peace Accords the largest left-wing guerrilla group, FARC, has become a political party and laid down their weapons. This has created a power vacuum, quickly being filled by right-wing paramilitaries and their corporate backers, leading to an explosion of violence against small-scale farmers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in northern Cauca.
In June, our Colombia Team accompanied Edwin Mosquera from CONPAZ (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios) to the community of Blanquita-Murri. In light of the lack of implementation of the 2016 Peace Accords by the Colombian central government, the community has organized the first-ever inter-ethnic peace committee, designed to tackle the points laid out in the historic agreement. The community faces stigmatization and harassment by various illegal armed groups as well as the Colombian Army.
In July, our Colombia International Team traveled to Argelia, Cauca to accompany La Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz for a commemoration for the victims of the armed conflict.The event was led by community leaders and organizations such as La Mesa Municipal de Víctimas de Argelia. During the march, the Colombian military co-opted the event, and commemorated one of their fallen soldiers, proclaiming that they were also victims of the armed conflict. The community meeting following the march took place in a school. Against international law, the armed military entered the school building and stayed throughout the duration of the meeting. This put everyone at risk, especially the children who were present. This area has increasingly been militarized due to the coca cultivation campesinos depend on. There have been countless assassinations and forced disappearances due to outside actors vying for control of land and illicit coca crops that campesinos depend on.
In July, our Colombia Team led a group of environmental activists and students to the department of La Guajira to learn about the devastating impacts of Cerrejon, the largest open-pit coal mine on the planet, on the traditional ways of life of the Wayuu Indigenous people and Afro-Colombian communities located near the colossal mining operation. Delegates learned about the struggles taking place in La Guajira since Exxon-Mobile began exploration in the 1970s and how it connects to environmental justice movements in their own communities.
In August our team participated on a verification mission to Pichima Quebrada. The mission accompanied the Wounaan community of Pichima Quebrada back to their homes after being forcibly displaced by confrontations between armed groups. While there our team was able to document the inhumane conditions in which the community was forced to live while baring witness to the lack of guarantees by the Colombian government.
During the month of October, Evan King, a member of our Colombia Team, travelled to the Midwest Region with COCCAM spokesperson, Leider Valencia, to discuss the impacts of U.S foreign policy the efforts of small-scale farmers to build alternative economic models, while resisting State repression and resource extraction by multi-national corporations.