Last week, the Colombian government announced it had reached a “permanent and bilateral” cease fire with the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla group, celebrating a major milestone in the resolution of the country’s 50-plus years of armed conflict. It is an unprecedented, historic effort that many Colombians welcome. However, the cease fire was borne of a negotiation between the government and FARC alone, and there are many other players fanning the flames of Colombia’s national armed conflict.

The cease fire, while undoubtedly a step in the right direction, will do little to put an end to the displacement, kidnappings and murders of human rights activists, including –among others– journalists, environmentalists and people living in rural communities.

colombia cease fire

Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos, Cuba president Castro and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez

Guerrilla Groups
The FARC is not the only guerrilla group in Colombia. A remnant of the EPL (the Popular Liberation Army), a Marxist-Maoist group founded in 1967, currently controls the Catatumbo region, even though it was supposed to have disbanded in 1991.

The group, which is said to manage the drug trade and other illicit activities in the region, is not considered by the government to be a guerrilla group. To the government, the EPL is a criminal gang, so it was not included in the cease fire negotiations despite the group’s request to be included. The residents in the region fear that the government’s cease fire with the FARC will provide an opportunity for the EPL to expand.

The ELN (the National Liberation Army), meanwhile, is in peace talks with the government, but is not included in the FARC agreement. Still, the government has been actively going after this guerrilla group – at times intentionally targeting the wrong suspects, who are subjected to intense harassment.

Just last year, for instance, a group of more than 10 people was detained and accused of detonating a number of bombs in Bogota and of being members of the ELN guerrilla.

Pato, a prominent member of Bogota’s political punk scene and a journalist for news agency Colombia Informa was one of the detainees. “The media insisted that we were guilty of detonating bombs in Bogota, and that we were part of the ELN,” he explained. “People making those assertions in the media included Colombia’s deputy attorney general, the general of the National Police and even the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos.”

Pato said the police raided their homes, taking computers, books and anything that made the slightest reference to leftist politics, including a Che Guevara baseball cap. As a journalist covering human rights issues, Pato was a prime target for repression.

More than 150 journalists have been killed in Colombia since 1977.

Pato and the others were in jail for more than two months, alongside dangerous drug traffickers, murderers and former members of right-wing paramilitary groups who have killed hundreds of people.

During that time, the detainees’ families were persecuted. “There were two unmarked vehicles parked in front of my girlfriend’s house taking photos all the time. Different men followed her when she would go home from work. This happened to all of our families,” he said.

Eventually Pato and the others were released. The whole case had been a farce to intimidate those who don’t toe the right-wing, pro-corporate ruling party line.

Paramilitary Groups
Paramilitary groups are also another piece of the puzzle that was not included in the cease fire agreement. These groups have often acted as mercenaries hired by landowners –including natural resources corporations – who want to displace people living on the land in order to make its commercial development possible. These groups have also been notorious for assassinations of civilians, guerrillas and left-wing political leaders, and for their ties to military and government structures.

Paramilitary groups killed about 156,000 people between 1980 and 2004.

In 2003, during former president Alvaro Uribe’s first term, tens of thousands of right-wing paramilitaries were demobilized. But according to human rights activists, even before the demobilization process had concluded, armed groups linked to drug trafficking and other illegal activities started to sprout in places formerly controlled by the paramilitary groups. The correlation is obvious.

Nowadays there are several active neo-paramilitary groups. One of the largest groups, Los Urabeños or Gaintanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia – descendants of the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia– is reportedly already in control of parts of northern Colombia.

On the same week the cease fire was announced, the Farmers Association of Southern Cordoba denounced that that the neo-paramilitary group had been threatening members for holding educational talks about the peace process.

But again, because the government considers former paramilitaries to now be common criminals, they were not part of the cease fire. The government has vowed, however, to eradicate them.

Government and Corporations
Even governmental institutions and the country’s largest corporations have a hand in the decades of violence Colombia has suffered.

Miller Dussan Calderon is a professor at Universidad Surcolombiana who has been denouncing the environmental, social and economic damages caused by the construction of the El Quimbo hydroelectric dam in Huila.

Dussan has been the victim of constant legal persecution from Emgesa –Colombia's second largest power generation company and developer of the dam– and the local district attorney.

In a letter to the International Commission of Human Rights written in June, Dussan requests that the organization protect him against the district attorney's constant harassment on behalf of Emgesa.

In fact, the International Commission of Jurists said in its March report on El Quimbo that "several activists have been subject to criminal complaints by Emgesa management. The most recent one was a complaint against [...] Miller Dussan. These complaints could be considered attempts to criminalize the legitimate exercise of social protest and the work of human rights defenders."

But the repression of activists goes beyond legal tactics.

It is estimated that more than 80,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the Cauca River and Cordoba regions alone to make way for infrastructure projects including dams and power plants.

Moreover, between 2010 and 2015, 105 environmentalists were killed in Colombia, according to non-governmental organization Global Witness. Colombia ranks as the third deadliest country for environmentalists in the world.

Hopefully, still, the cease fire will prove to be but the beginning of a more inclusive peace process.

As a Colombian citizen said in a blog post the other day, “[we have to] understand the conflict as a sum of many issues that can’t be reduced to the violent confrontation between two sides.

T. Rosa

T. Rosa

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