Colombia peace with FARC under pressure over paramilitary-like violence

by David Maas

A surge in killings of human rights defenders put pressure on Colombia’s conservative opposition politicians who are accused of inciting and condoning political violence.

Three human rights defenders and members of the leftist organization Patriotic Mach were killed and two barely survived assassination attempts over the weekend.

The leader of Colombia’s Patriotic Union (UP) party, Aida Avella, claimed that in the last four years 124 members of the Patriotic March have been killed in different regions of the country at the hands of paramilitary groups and some members of the Democratic Center, El Mundo reported.

Avella was recently offered a formal apology by President Juan Manuel Santos over the state’s responsibility in killing thousands of UP party members.

Amid the heightened tension, Avella accused the mayor of San Vicente del Caguan, Humberto Sanchez, of being responsible for the “massacre of peasants” in his municipality. Sanchez is a member of the Democratic Center, the hard-line party of former President Alvaro Uribe.

Sanchez, who has been a strong critic of the peace process in line with former president Alvaro Uribe, blamed the attacks on the FARC’s absence in the area, which “logically [has resulted] in new homicides,” reported weekly Semana.

Avella’s Patriotic Union was co-founded by the Marxist FARC guerrilla group in the mid-1980’s, and was subsequently subjected to the mass killings of thousands of its members by paramilitaries and members of the security forces.

By the end of the 1990s the party had all but become extinct and in 2002 even saw its legal status removed by the Uribe administration for failing to have enough active members or supporters, since so many had been assassinated or in were in exile.

Only in 2013 was the UP legally reinstated after Colombia’s Peace Commission acknowledged the extraordinary circumstances faced by the party.

The weekend’s assassinations, along with the apparent advancement of the AGC into provinces vacated by FARC rebels, has many in the country fearing a return to the unchecked violence at the hands of paramilitary groups not seen since the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) formally demobilized in 2006.

With 6,600 FARC fighters in the process of demobilizing and disarming, the AGC is now the country’s largest illegal armed group.

Colombia’s interior minister Juan Fernando Cristo said that “he worries enormously how [the murders] might affect the implementation of the post-conflict and the development of the peace process in departments such as Caqueta,” El Pais reported.

Meanwhile, in a public statement addressed to President Juan Manuel Santos, the FARC said “it is public knowledge that those who are behind these selective and politically-motivated assassinations are the ones who have harvested money, power and privileges, thanks to the fratricidal war that for more than 52 years has bled the country; they are the same for whom there is no agreement of peace that will prove satisfactory, however good it may be, because what they want is for the war to continue, so they can continue to see their privileges and power increase.”

There are currently 21 investigators looking into the weekend’s attacks.

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