By Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
The human rights and social organisations have expressed their concern and consternation in the wake of the recent wave of murders of social leaders in the country just when it seems that we are at the end of the peace process with the FARC and about to begin implementing the accords.
Although the murders are shocking, it is not a new phenomenon. When the FARC commenced their process, the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March) suffered a series of killing before and after the dialogue with the FARC started. The Polo Democrático (Democratic Pole) Senator Iván Cepeda has, in declarations to the press, stated that “since 2012, 123 members of that political movement (bold in original) have been murdered and of them 16 took place this year”  and we also have to include the murders of members of other social movements such as the Congreso de los Pueblos (Peoples’ Congress), unions, student organisations, opposition to mining. In a nutshell, state terrorism has given no quarter throughout this process.
In the department of Cauca there was another wave of killings this year. Then, the press tried to claim that the ELN were responsible for those killings, even when they occurred in areas where they have their social base and there is no apparent motive for the ELN to do so. You just can’t blame the paramilitaries. The official discourse is that we are at peace and the future is shining and if there are violent acts, then they must be the actions of the other guerrilla organisation with which they haven’t been able to make progress with. In an act of political sectarianism and servility to the cause of the state, Carlos Lozano, the director of the Communist Party’s newspaper, Voz, also accused the ELN. He issued an open letter criticising the elenos for the alleged murders of communists in the department of Arauca. The ELN denied it. There is not sufficient room to go into detail on Lozano’s allegations, but the Harry Potter novels are closer to reality than the communist leader’s outburst. Lozano enjoys a certain amount of credibility amongst the left and even the bourgeois press and he could have used his position to denounce the paramilitaries, but he preferred to score points against the ELN, doing his pals in the FARC a disservice. It is worth reminding the reader that Lozano will go down in history, not as an opposer of the state, but rather as the “communist” who testified in favour of César Pérez, the paramilitary and intellectual author of the massacre of 43 people in Segovia, in the case taken against Pérez, where he was sentenced to 25 years.
So, notwithstanding the declarations of Pérez’s little friend, we have to seek out those responsible for these murders. The most recent wave cut short the life of a leader of the Marcha Patriótica, Erley Monroy in the department of Caquetá, where the ELN does not have any presence. The press, given that there are no elenos in the area, instead of pointing to the paramilitaries, talk of a mystery and that the police are investigating the matter. It is worth remembering that when the guerrillas attack the army, a short while after they can name even the particular unit of the guerrilla front that carried out the act.
They do not wish to acknowledge that the paramilitaries never went away. We can expect little else from the Colombian press. Meanwhile various left-wing politicians have not doubted the paramilitaries’ responsibility. The problem is not that they point to the paramilitaries, but rather they don’t tell us why. For many of them, the murders are an attempt to hinder the peace process in its final stage with the FARC. According to this version, the paramilitaries are enemies of the process, which may be true, and that this explains the violence. If this were true, the main argument would be to advance as quick as possible in the process and that ELN signs up to what the FARC have agreed to, with a view to bringing the violence to an end as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that violence cannot be explained in those terms and it will not end with the implementation of the Final Accord with the FARC nor through the process with the ELN.
Guatemala, shows us clearly what we can expect from the peace process in terms of a reduction in, or ending of violence against social movements. This year Guatemala celebrates 20 years since the signing of the peace agreement with the guerrillas of the URNG. Just like in Colombia they promised a land of milk and honey, an end to the violence and prosperity. There is a tendency to see violence in that country and also in El Salvador as part of a process of social decay, and without a doubt, criminality, poverty and drugs play their role. But here we want to focus on political violence, state terrorism (a phrase that is no longer in fashion either there or here).
According to the Protection Unit of Human Rights Defenders-Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), between 2000 and October 2016 there were a total of 4,958 aggressions against activists in the country. Of those, 205 took place this year and the worst year was 2014, when 813 aggressions took place, amongst them intimidations, legal action, house searches, murder attempts and of course murders. According to the same source, the environmentalists are one of the main targets. This is no coincidence. Guatemala is one of the countries most open to foreign investment and this has undergone a dramatic increase through the construction of hydroelectric dams and also mining. The current mining legislation in Guatemala is the result of the peace process and was enacted during the first so-called post-conflict government (Álvaro Arzú 1996-2000) and reduced the royalties from 6% to 1%. The resulting flux of mining companies towards the country increased social conflict and the conflicts surrounding land use and consequently there was an increase in the murders of environmentalists and community leaders in the areas subjected to the depredation of mining. One such example is the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam, financed by the World Bank and the European Union. Yes the same EU that says it wants peace in Colombia! This project did not have the permission of the indigenous community nor were they consulted and six indigenous people have been murdered in an attempt to intimidate the community. Two of the dead are children, both of them nephews of a leader in the area who was in a meeting with the Rapporteur from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the time of the murders at the hands of an employee of the company.
When we ask about the waves of killings that have taken place in Colombia from the beginning of the process with the FARC, we should look at what is taking place in those regions, what are the interests at stake. Before, the Left and the human rights NGOs, would almost do that as a reflex, applying the old refrain of following the money. Not now, a leader is killed and they ask why? And to that question we can only reply, isn’t it obvious? It is for the same reasons of yesterday and yesteryear and the same reasons why soon they will murder others. The killings do not contradict the peace process, they are an integral part of the process and the post-conflict. Capitalism won and feels the need to continue killing the opposition, just like they continue to do in Guatemala, 20 years after finishing the process with the URNG.
In the same month of November, when the Colombian social organisations protest about the recent murders, in Guatemala they are protesting about the murder of the trade unionist Eliseso Villatoro and the journalist, Hamilton Hernández and his wife. And on November 12th the assistant to the General Board of the Centre for Legal-Environmental Social Action of Guatemala (CALAS), Jeremy Abraham Barrios Lima was shot to death in the Guatemala city.
Let’s not fool ourselves, these murders will continue and the fans of the process will forget them, just like now they forgot the killing spree that the peace process began with. We should mourn these leaders, but we cannot accept that their murders represent an obstacle to the peace process. The fans of the process have already shown that they are willing to sign anything put under their noses. These murders are an integral part of the process and they will continue for many years after, because triumphant capitalism needs to guarantee its stability. The social organisations cannot let down their guard, not now, nor after the implementation of the accords and they should pay no heed to the fans of the process who promise an end to state terrorism. It is not in their power to bring end to such violence.
- Denuncian proceso de genocidio contra Marcha Patriótica www.caracol.com.co 21/11/2016
- The audio of Lozano’s testimony is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SABoNFMzg1E
- See http://udefegua.org
- Vandenbroucke, E. (2008) Environmental and Social Impacts of Mining in Guatemala: The Role of Local Communities and the Ecological Justice Movement, VUB.
- There are many reports available on mining and human rights in Guatemala, one such one the reader can begin with is Amnesty International, AI (2014) Mining in Guatemala: Rights at Risk, amr 34/002/2014 www.amnesty.org
- Artur Neslen (2015) ‘Green’ dam linked to killings of six indigenous people in Guatemala www.theguardian.com
- See http://udefegua.org op.cit.
- Amnesty International, Urgent Action AMR 34/5144/2016
By Gearóid Ó Loingsigh