[News] Colombia's Largest Right-Wing Paramilitary Group Labels Human Rights Defenders 'Military Targets'

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 11 11:04:52 EDT 2017


  Colombia's Largest Right-Wing Paramilitary Group Labels Human Rights
  Defenders 'Military Targets'

May 10, 2017

“The only way to finish off all these plagues and rats is to exterminate 
them,” threatened a paramilitary pamphlet distributed in Colombia, 
referring to anyone ranging from human rights activists to land 
defenders to left-wing politicans.

This is just the latest indication that right-wing political violence 
isn’t only keeping pace with war-time levels despite a historic peace 
agreement — it’s actually surging.

The malicious one-page call to arms, signed by the Gaitanista 
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym AGC — one 
of the offspring of the notorious right-wing paramilitary group the 
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia 
known as the AUC — went on to “promise” a violent campaign of “torture 
and death” in the name of showing “who rules this country” and proving 
that the syndicate does indeed continue to operate in full force.

“We declare as military targets all human rights organizations, unions, 
land activists, defenders of FARC and ELN prisoners, those who do 
reports on human rights, members of political organizations of the FARC, 
the congress of the people, Patriotic Union, Patriotic March,” the 
pamphlet stated,**including at the end of the list an organization**that 
has already warned of a new “political genocide” 
against its members.

“Death to all those gonorrhea-infected motherfucking toads who are 
fomenting and supporting increased violence,” the statement, dated May 
2017, continued. “We inform you that as of this date you are declared 
military targets.”

The pamphlet — acquired by the Washington Office on Latin America and 
distributed on social media by human rights lawyer and social justice 
advocate Dan Kovalik — comes amid distressing levels of violence against 
human rights defenders in Colombia despite the signing of a historic 
peace agreement last year between the government and the country’s 
largest left-wing rebel army, the FARC. According to the United Nations, 
at least 41 social activists were killed 
in the country in the first four months of 2017 alone.

“I think it is very clear that they (paramilitaries) are more emboldened 
both in terms of their threats and actions,” Kovalik, who teaches 
international human rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of 
Law, told teleSUR Wednesday. “It definitely appears that as the peace 
accords were advancing and were agreed to there's actually been 
heightened killings by right-wing paramilitaries of various social leaders.”

The “military targets” identified by the AGC paramilitary group have 
already been victims of what appears to be a targeted campaign of 
political violence. According to official statistics, in the 14 months 
between Jan. 1, 2016, and March 1, 2017, a staggering 156 social leaders 
were killed 
including rural activists, Indigenous leaders and human rights 
defenders. Recently, even two members of the FARC — whose more than 
7,000 troops are currently in the process of laying down their arms at 
transition camps across the country — were assassinated 
while preparing to reintegrate into civilian life.

Human rights organizations have pegged the blame for the surge in 
violence that has claimed the lives of dozens of social leaders in 
recent months on right-wing paramilitary forces like the AGC, warning 
that the resurgence of paramilitary activity poses the greatest threat 
to upending the still-fragile new era of peace.

Kovalik argued that the paramilitary threat poses a “fatal risk” to the 
country’s budding peace, adding that during a recent visit to Colombia 
with a U.S. congressional delegation in solidarity with local peace 
activists, he observed a “unanimous feeling” among social organizations 
that right-wing paramilitary groups were “gaining strength.”

One danger, he pointed out, is the prospect of emboldened paramilitaries 
going after demobilized FARC members — a target the AGC clearly 
identified in their pamphlet. The threat, combined with the trend of 
violent attacks against peace activists and progressive leaders, recalls 
the history of the violent extermination of the left-wing political 
party Patriotic Union 
— founded by members of the FARC and the Colombian Communist Party — 
beginning in the 1980s during a previous attempted peace process.

But despite the dark shadow of death squad violence, the government has 
long refused to acknowledge the paramilitary problem. Instead, both U.S. 
and Colombian authorities label the paramilitaries as “criminal gangs,” 
effectively depoliticizing their violence and downplaying their role in 
a spiral of targeted attacks and violent harassment of mostly poor, 
rural communities.

“The Colombian and U.S. governments are denying the nature of 
(paramilitary) force, which obviously has right-wing political goals and 
which targets particular social leaders as opposed to being merely a 
criminal organization,” Kovalik said, adding that by doing so 
authorities offer their “tacit assent” to paramilitary activities. “I 
think both the Colombian and U.S. governments are happy for the 
paramilitaries to wipe out the left in Colombia.”

In the early aftermath of the official end of the more than half 
century-long civil war, tackling paramilitary violence is more paramount 
than ever. After the FARC left its jungle and mountain camps to 
demobilize once and for all, large swathes of territories the rebel army 
long controlled have been transformed into power vacuums 
that threaten to give rise to a new resurgence of paramilitary groups 
eager to gain power in post-conflict Colombia.

Local communities have already noted an increase in paramilitary 
activity, including a proliferation in various parts of the country of 
graffiti and threatening pamphlets imposing curfews and announcing plans 
to carry out “social cleansing.” The AGC has previously distributed 
hostile pamphlets heralding plans to “control, organize and recuperate 
from the FARC.

And the paramilitaries are no minor force, underlining the urgent need 
to treat them as a major armed group in the peace process and develop 
concrete strategies for dealing with their violence. The AGC is the 
country’s largest illegal armed force, with an estimated 3,000 members, 
according to the National Police. However, the paramilitary force claims 
to boast a membership of 8,000, which would make it comparable in size 
to the FARC at the end of its 52-year life as an armed movement.

Refusal to recognize the AGC and similar syndicates as paramilitaries 
with a political right-wing political bent, Kovalik argued, allows the 
U.S. and Colombian governments to “turn a blind eye” to the crisis, 
allowing paramilitary incursions on civilian populations — such as 
Afro-Colombian communities in the poor and deeply victimized department 
of Choco 
— to go ahead unchallenged despite the fact that they happen under the 
nose of the Colombian military.

Colombia’s landmark peace agreement with the FARC was widely heralded as 
bringing an end to the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere, 
but the dark underbelly of the country’s incomplete and delicate peace 
has gone comparably unnoticed, even as the bodies of human rights 
defenders continue to pile up.

Kovalik argued that international mainstream media 
has failed in its moral responsibility to inform the world of Colombia’s 
crisis, revealing a tendency to fixate day after day on the political 
situation in Venezuela while scarcely covering events next door in 
Colombia or speaking truth to power in Bogota.

“What we are talking about in Colombia is many times worse than what is 
happening in Venezuela. You don't have the wholesale murder of human 
rights leaders in Venezuela,” he said. “The disparate treatment of those 
two countries … is stunning.”

Paramilitary groups 
are said to be responsible for some 80 percent of civilian deaths in the 
country’s more than half-century-long civil war that has claimed the 
lives of some 260,000 people and victimized millions more.

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