By Evan King
In the aftermath of the 2016 Peace Accords between the FARC and the Colombian government, Colombian human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, Afro-Colombians and campesinos continue to be targeted and even tortured, disappeared, and displaced mainly by FARC-dissidents, and right-wing Neo-paramilitary forces in collaboration with the Colombian military.
In 2017, COCCAM (National Coordination of Small-scale Coca, Marihuana and Poppy Farmers) was formed by campesinos, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombians working towards alternative sustainable development projects in areas hard-hit by the internal armed conflict as well as by aerial glyphosate fumigations, and forced eradication tactics.
The purpose of COCCAM is to create a national network of rural communities that discuss alternatives to growing coca, marijuana and poppy crops in the country, in order to build sustainable peace and uphold the comprehensive rural reforms set up in the 2016 Peace Accords. Rural communities saw the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord as an opportunity to overcome the vast marginalization and political violence that has plagued rural Colombia for decades, through economic alternatives in areas most affected by the 53 year-old civil war.
One such alternative is known as the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS), a cornerstones of the Colombian peace agreement, aimed at putting an end to the country’s 53-year armed conflict. The substitution program is part of a broader rural development agreement aimed at alleviating the social and economic inequities that led to the armed conflict. This alternative strategy sought to work hand-in-hand with small growers and rural communities across the country to manually eradicate coca plants.
The plan, which has already enrolled more than 124,000 families from 14 departments (with thousands more waiting to opt-in), would subsidize the voluntary removal of coca plants by members of the community to move towards a gradual reintegration into the legal economy. Families who enroll in the program are entitled to 38 million pesos (about $11,250 USD) over the course of two years—consisting of two million pesos ($3,750 USD) per year for voluntary eradication, paid on a bimonthly basis; 19 million pesos ($6,000 USD) to help them develop alternative economic projects; 1.8 million pesos ($562 USD) to promote food sovereignty, and three million pesos ($950 USD) in technical assistance towards alternative economic projects.
However, continued threats towards COCCAM's leadership have forced to 5 of the 12 members of the political commission to leave their communities. To date, 53 members of COCCAM have been murdered, including Iber Angulo, who was killed last year in the Naya River, in a case that garnered international attention.
As Leider Valencia, a spokesperson for COCCAM, explained while on tour with Witness for Peace Midwest earlier this year:
“Since the signing of the peace accords in 2016, there have been over 500 social leaders assassinated. Within the organization of COCCAM, 53 social leaders nationwide have been killed. In the department of Cauca alone, more than 20 campesinos have been killed. One campesino leader was murdered today as I am here speaking to you.”
Attacks against COCCAM members have continued unabated as President Ivan Duque and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, have signaled their support for forced eradication and aerial glyphosate fumigations.
On September 28th, campesino and social leader, Jairo Javier Ruiz Fernandez, was murdered in Balboa, Cauca. He was a member of COCCAM and enrolled in the national substitution program.
On October 12th, social leader and human rights defender, Luis Helmer Fernandez Noscue, candidate for the municipal council of Miranda for the Partido Alianza Verde, member of the National Federation of Farm Workers Unions (FENSUAGRO), as well as a social and political organizer for Marcha Patriotica received death threats intended to intimidate his campaign.
On October 22nd, at least one campesino was killed and more than 30 others injured after anti-riot police (ESMAD) and anti-narcotics units opened fire on peaceful protesters demanding the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement in San Miguel, Putumayo.
On October 28th, social leader and human rights defender, Flower Jair Trompeta Pavi, member of the National Federation of Farmworkers Unions (FENSUAGRO) and a political organizer for Marcha Patriotica, was detained, tortured and killed by members of the Colombian Army in Corinto, Cauca.
On November 3rd, Indigenous leader and human rights defender, Jesus Eduardo Mestizo Yosada, founder of the Indigenous Association of Avelino UI and social and political leader for Marcha Patriotica, was murdered in Toribio, Cauca.
On November 19th, the president of the community action committee of San Miguel and member of COCCAM, Walter Enrique Rodriguez Palacio, was assassinated by armed men in Taraza, Antioquia. This comes two weeks after the Campesino Association requested additional security measures due to threats by illegal armed groups.
On November 24th, members of the Colombian security forces from the Aquiles Joint Task Force, fired live ammunition into a crowd of protesters, injuring a number of them in the municipality of San Jose de Ure in the Department of Cordoba. This came as peaceful protesters resisted forced eradication operation by the Colombian military.
Members of COCCAM have been victims of serious human rights violations since their formation in 2017. These violations include forced displacement, criminalization, death threats, torture and political assassinations. These cases have not been seriously investigated and their perpetrators have yet to be held accountable.
Many of these violations were carried out by members of the Colombian security forces, as was the case just two years ago, in 2017, when members of the Colombian security forces opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters killing 7 and injuring over 23 others. Meanwhile, the U.S government continues to send hundreds of millions of dollars to fund Colombia’s state security forces and forced eradication program, both factors in the massacre that took place in Tandil.
These events are proof that the Colombian government is willing to do anything, even violate human rights, to show eradication results to the pressuring U.S. government.
We urge the U.S. government to end all funding for forced eradication and aerial fumigation and instead support voluntary substitution of illicit crops (PNIS) in the framework of the 2016 Havana Peace Accords, investigate the killings of members of COCCAM and help fund sustainable economic alternatives in coca-growing regions. Take action now!