As Colombia’s peace process falters, scores of social activists are being killed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

(IT DOES SOUND LIKE COLUMBIA’S NEW PRESIDENT IS ONLY FUEL ON THE FIRE)

As Colombia’s peace process falters, scores of social activists are being killed

Screenshot of the video “No están solos” (You’re not alone) with images of the protests in Colombia in defense of social activists. Video and images shared by Contagio Radio, a Colombian local independent radio station devoted to human rights.

Colombia, one of the most dangerous nations for human rights activists, has attempted to halt its 50-year armed conflict through a complex peace process that began in 2012. As this peace process falters, social activists including local community leaders, land defenders, gender and sexuality rights protectors, teachers and journalists are being targeted and killed at an alarming rate, and the numbers continue to rise.

Recently-elected president Ivan Duque’s government is slow to respond to these killings and sometimes denies the systematic nature of the violence, making it difficult to track and monitor these cases.

In a special report by the newspaper El Tiempo, a map of the killings reveals vulnerable areas where the armed conflict has been most active. The non-governmental organization Indepaz (“Institute of Peace and Development”) calculates that in 2018 alone, around 124 social activists have been killed, and approximately 300 social activists have been killed since the peace agreements began in 2012.

No land, no peace

Colombia’s deeply-rooted land rights conflict stems from the country’s extremely unequal land distribution. The evolving and ongoing violence is the direct result of complications from poorly implemented peace agreements that were partly designed to protect land rights.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main rebel group, has agreed to demobilize and surrender arms, but this has left a power vacuum in which some members who abandoned FARC still remain active in the conflict. Perhaps some are motivated by economic interests while others refuse to accept the uncertainties of civilian life. In fact, a number of ex-FARC members have been targeted and killed as they try to reintegrate into society. Other illegal armed groups, notably the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), are attempting to gain territorial control in the regions that were FARC strongholds.

Some civil society groups are certain that corporate entities may be behind the attacksnot just illegal armed groups. President Duque’s plans to further develop an extractive economy leaves social activists fearing for their safety as larger international corporations take a vested interest in contested lands.

In December 2017, leaders from Bajo Atrato, a northern Colombian region hardest hit by the violence, visited Congress with their faces covered with white masks after two of their leaders were killed while defending their land from palm oil and banana farming investors:

We’re the families of the leaders who have been killed in the region. We’ve all been threatened with death as a strategy put together by corporations that have already been charged by different legal institutions and business people who have already been denounced. How much longer [will this go on] and how many more [will die]?

“It’s all happening before our eyes…”

La Pulla, an opinion-focused Youtube channel, produced  “I’ve just heard about it” (Me acabo de enterar) to explain the context of these killings using some characteristically dark humor. They describe the murdered social activists as people who “demanded a few basic little things: land to farm, schools, medical centers, potable water, roads…Oh! And peace…”

The presenter continues:

These people are the thorn in the flesh for the armed groups’ interests: the control of the land, illegal mining and drug trafficking routes. These have a lot of consequences; when they kill a social activist they’re killing the possibilities of change in that community, because the projects that this person was in charge of are abandoned and people are scared to continue. Often times people leave town, in fear of having the same fate, or because they’ve been threatened already. The message is well understood. That way, any opposition is eliminated and everything remains untouched. The ones who are screwed, are even more screwed, and the warlords remain the owners of everything. All of this is happening before our eyes, while the government comes up with just band-aid solutions and even dare to suggest that some of the victims are criminals.

Father Alberto Franco, from the Inter-Church Commission of Peace and Justice (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz), also worries about these new uncertainties, saying that President Duque:

represents a group that has historically opposed peace processes, land restitution and the modernization of Colombian democracy.

In July 2018, thousands of Colombian citizens took to the streets to show solidarity with social activists and human rights defenders, recognizing the need to protest loudly against extrajudicial killings.

Most of their activities, petitionsdocumentaries, and news can be followed through #NosEstánMatando (#They’reKillingUs) and #NoEstánSolos(“You’reNotAlone), trending hashtags devoted to denouncing the killings and telling the stories of victims to keep their memory and hard work alive.

Pope Francis And Donald Trump: One Man Of Faith And One Without Any?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Aboard the papal plane (CNN) If US President Donald Trump considers himself “pro-life,” he should reconsider his decision to end a program that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, Pope Francis said.

“The President of the United States presents himself as pro-life and if he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected,” Francis said.
The Pope’s comments came during a news conference Sunday aboard the papal plane, as he returned to the Vatican after a five-day trip to Colombia. In the wide-ranging Q&A with reporters, the Pope also said history will harshly judge deniers of climate change.
The Pope acknowledged that he was not familiar with the specifics of DACA. “I think this law comes not from parliament but from the executive,” the Pope said. “If that is so, I am hopeful that it will be re-thought.”
Trump and the Pope have tussled over immigration before, with the Pope saying last year that anyone who thinks only of building walls instead of bridges is “not Christian.”
Trump fired back, saying that no religious leader should question another man’s faith.
The US Catholic bishops have also battled a former Trump administration official on DACA in recent days.
Steve Bannon, who until recently was Trump’s chief strategist, accused the bishops of having an ulterior motive in advocating for families affected by the decision to revoke DACA. They have called the decision “heartless” and “reprehensible.”
Bannon said the bishops “need illegal aliens to fill the churches,” a charge the bishops called “preposterous” and “insulting.”

History will judge climate change deniers

As the papal plane prepared to cross over Hurricane Irma’s path on its way back to Rome from Cartagena, Francis issued a stern warning to climate change deniers.
“If we don’t go back, we will go down,” the Pope said, referring to a study which suggested the world must reverse course within the next few years or suffer dire consequences.
Francis said he was particularly struck by news last week of a Russian boat that managed to go through the North Pole without an icebreaker.
“Whoever denies it has to go to the scientists and ask them,” he said. “They speak very clearly, scientists are precise.”
“Then they decide and history will judge those decisions.”
When asked why some governments refused to see the importance of the issue, Francis quoted the book of Psalms in the Old Testament.
“Man is a stupid and hard-headed being,” he said.

North Korea

Francis said he did not fully understand the crisis in North Korea. “I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t really understand the world of geopolitics,” he said. “I think what I see there is a fight for political interests.”
Francis’ message throughout his five-day visit to Colombia had been one of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is a hard message for many Colombians, who still have the trauma of kidnappings and killings fresh in their minds, but one which seems to have already had an important effect.
The leader of the guerrilla group FARC, Rodrigo Londono, asked forgiveness on Friday for the suffering his group caused to the Colombian people, in an open letter to Pope Francis.
“Your repeated expressions about God’s infinite mercy move me to plead your forgiveness for any tears and pain that we have caused the people of Colombia,” Londono wrote.

Colombian rebels ask Pope for forgiveness

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Colombian rebels ask Pope for forgiveness

Colombian President: Pope has ‘tremendous leadership’

Villavicencio, Colombia (CNN)Amid lush greenery and tropical humidity, Pope Francis touched down in Villavicencio on Friday, bringing his message of peace to one of the most notorious sites of guerrilla warfare in Colombia for the past 50 years.

Here, in one of the last major cities before the vast expanse of the Amazon, the Pope listened to powerful testimonies from ex-guerrilla fighters and from victims of their violence, such as Pastora Mira Garcia, who lost her father, husband and two children during the civil war.
“Do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it,” the Pope told them. “It is time to defuse hatred, to renounce vengeance.”
It is a message the Pope has echoed throughout this five-day visit in the country, aiming to help Colombians, many of whose memories are still fresh with crimes committed against them, embrace the historic peace agreement reached in December 2016.

Rebels ask for forgiveness

There are signs that Francis’ words may be having an effect.
In an open letter to the Pope published on Friday, Rodrigo Londono, former leader of the leftist guerrilla group FARC, asked for forgiveness from Francis for the actions of his group during five decades of war.
“Your repeated expressions about God’s infinite mercy move me to plead your forgiveness for any tears and pain that we have caused the people of Colombia, Londono wrote.
At a Mass on Friday, Pope Francis beatified two Catholic priests who were murdered during the years of the civil war, calling their martyrdom a sign “of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness.”
Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca was kidnapped and shot twice in the head by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989.
The Rev. Pedro Maria Ramirez Ramos, known asNM! the “martyr of Armero,” was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948. The conflict claimed an estimated 220,000 lives.

Pope meets Venezuelan bishops

On Thursday, in an unscheduled private meeting, Pope Francis briefly spoke with bishops who had come from Venezuela.
Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, told reporters in Bogota that the bishops had come to ask the Pope for help for the “desperate situation,” in their country.
“There are people who eat garbage,” Urosa said, “yes, the garbage, and there are people who die because there is no medicine.”
“So we want to remind the Pope of this again and especially the serious political situation, because the government is doing everything possible to establish a state system, totalitarian and Marxist.”
Francis continues his visit in Medellin on Saturday and Cartagena on Sunday, before returning to the Vatican later that evening.

Colombia’s Congress Ratifies Peace Deal With FARC Rebels

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS AND REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

NOV 30 2016, 10:46 PM ET

Colombia’s Congress Ratifies Peace Deal With FARC Rebels

BOGATA — Colombia’s Congress approved a new peace deal with FARC rebels late on Wednesday, despite objections from former President and now Senator Alvaro Uribe, who said it was still too lenient on the insurgents who have battled the government for 52 years.

The agreement was approved in the lower house by 130-0, a day after the Senate ratified it 75-0. Lawmakers from Uribe’s Democratic Center party left the floors of both houses in protest just before voting began.

COLOMBIA-FARC-PEACE-ACCORD-PARLIAMENT-DEMO
A woman shows the picture of a missing relative during a demonstration to demand the immediate endorsement of the new peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla outside the Colombian Congress in Bogota, on Nov. 30, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

The ratification — and signing last week — begins a six-month countdown for the 7,000-strong FARC, which started as a rebellion fighting rural poverty, to abandon weapons and form a political party.

Related: Colombia’s Government, FARC Rebels Sign Modified Peace Deal

President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Rodrigo Londono signed the revised accord last week in a sober ceremony after the first deal was rejected in a national plebiscite.

Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in October for his peace efforts, wants to get the deal implemented as quickly as possible to maintain a fragile ceasefire.

Uribe’s supporters argued the deal offered too many concessions to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and did not serve as a deterrent for other groups involved in crime.

“Let’s not forget what we are doing today, we’re trying to end more than 50 years of war,” government negotiator Sergio Jaramillo said.

The new agreement to end Latin America’s longest insurgency was put together in just over a month after the original pact — which allowed the rebels to hold public office and skip jail — was narrowly and unexpectedly defeated in an Oct. 2 referendum.

Play
OCT. 03: Colombia Narrowly Rejects Historic Peace Deal 1:51

While the government says the accord includes most of the proposals put forward by those who rejected it, the new document did not alter those two key provisions. That angered many among Colombia’s largely conservative population, who are also furious that Santos decided to ratify the deal in Congress instead of holding another plebiscite.

The government and FARC worked together in Cuba for four years to negotiate an end to the region’s longest-running conflict that has killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions in the Andean nation.

An end to the war with FARC is unlikely to end violence in Colombia as the lucrative cocaine business has given rise to criminal gangs and traffickers.

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