[News] Colombia’s Killing Fields - Brazil’s War on Activists

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 20 11:25:18 EST 2018


  Colombia’s Killing Fields

by Eric Draitser <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/eric-draitser/> - 
December 20, 2018

In Colombia, the last week has been a particularly bloody one for 
indigenous leaders. In the state of Cauca, just south of the major city 
of Calí, the indigenous governor Edwin Dagua Ipia was assassinated 
after having received numerous death threats from paramilitaries in the 
area. He is one of at least ten indigenous people murdered in the 
country just in the last week.

In fact, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 
more than 100 assassinations 
of human rights advocates and members of marginalized and oppressed 
communities have taken place just in 2018. There is a sense among 
observers that the killings have escalated since the election of Ivan 
Duque, the young right wing president and close ally of former president 
and international criminal Alvaro Uribe.

In a damning report <http://www.codhes.org/> published by the 
Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), the human rights 
NGO noted that 35% of the social leaders and activists murdered belonged 
to ethnic minorities (19% Afro-Colombian, 15% indigenous), a staggering 
figure which demonstrates just how targeted those groups are, 
considering the proportion of violence with which they’re targeted 
versus their total share of the national population. Moreover, CODHES 
indicated that:

    “Approximately 50 percent of the victims were authorities or
    representatives of ethnic territories and organizations. Another 36
    percent were community or union leaders, 8 percent land rights
    claimants and 6 percent are members of the family of women social
    leaders. The worst affected regions in order of total numbers were
    Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, Chocó, and Córdoba.”

The continued killings have drawn the attention of the United Nations, 
though little has been done to stem the tide, particularly as the 
government of Ivan Duque has slithered into power. Luis Guillermo Pérez 
Casas, a lawyer with the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo 
(CCAJAR) <https://www.colectivodeabogados.org/>, explained in a report 
jointly submitted with the European Center for Constitutional and Human 
Rights, that the killings, and total impunity due to government 
inaction, rise to the level of crimes against humanity.

He told the Guardian 

    “The murders of our colleagues must stop…We hope the Office of the
    Prosecutor of the ICC will warn the Colombian government that if the
    impunity persists, they will be forced to open an investigation into
    those responsible, at the highest level… The peace process is
    failing because there’s a lack of implementation of the agreement.
    The process that was agreed upon has not been delivered.”

International human rights organizations have also raised the alarm 
about the violence and assassinations in Colombia. In early 2018, after 
the killing of 10 human rights activists, Amnesty International issued a 
which called on the Colombian government to protect at-risk activists, 
especially those in remote parts of the country, who face extraordinary 
risks from paramilitaries and contract killers. Similarly, Human Rights 
Watch called on the Colombian government 
<https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/24/colombia-activists-risk> to do more 
to protect activists after a very bloody 2016. Sadly, the situation has 
only gotten worse.

*Brazil’s War on Activists*

The election of the fascist Jair Bolsonaro, the man who as candidate 
promised to open up the Amazon to mining and other environmentally 
harmful, extractive industries, has sent a very dangerous signal to 
indigenous and peasant groups in Brazil that the impunity that has long 
existed will only expand further while their rights are curtailed.

Bolsonaro represents a unique threat to activists from all spheres, 
especially indigenous and peasant communities who stand in the way of 
the right wing goal of stripping land rights from those groups in the 
interests of corporate investors and international financiers. And 
unlike the somewhat more muted (though no less destructive) rhetoric 
from the traditional neoliberal right, Bolsonaro and his far right, 
fascist politics will likely escalate the war on oppressed groups from 
simmering to white hot.

Speaking of the potential impact of Bolsonaro on the already ghastly 
violence against activists, Brazil-based independent journalist Michael 
Fox explained to me that:

    “It’s still very early to tell the effect his election has had.
    Violence spiked in the lead-up to the second round vote, but there
    has been a lull since the election while people regroup The recent
    killing of [two] Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) leaders was very
    likely a sign of things to come.”

Fox’s analysis, which is no doubt accurate, reflects the general sense 
of anxiety about the future, especially in the wake of the most recent 
assassinations which he referenced.

On the night of December 8, 2018 two leaders of the Landless Workers’ 
Movement (MST) were assassinated 
in the state of Paraiba in the Northeast of the country. Their deaths, 
in an area regarded as a traditional stronghold of the left, have left 
many asking just what the future holds for activists in Brazil.

The assassinations are certainly not the first high-profile killings of 
social movement activists in Brazil in recent years, though they have 
received some added attention given that they come on the heels of the 
Bolsonaro victory – a worrying signal for some that the horrendous 
violence is only going to escalate.

To put it in perspective, the Brazilian religious advocacy group 
Comissão Pastoral da Terra – CPT (Pastoral Land Commission) released a 
thorough report which found that:

    The brutal reality of Brazil’s rural areas has become increasingly
    harsher since 2013, back when 34 murders were recorded. In four
    years, these figures have increased by 105%, reaching 70 executions
    in 2017 –  a 15% increase over 2016.

It should be noted that, of course, this shocking rise in volence cannot 
be attributed to Bolsonaro himself, but rather to deeper structural and 
economic factors, in particular corproate privatization. As CPT 
coordinator Ruben Siqueira explained 
to Brasil de Fato:

    We see this as a new land rush, in which land is a means of
    production, a store of value, like wood, water, ore, agribusiness,
    expansion of land-based businesses. This has to do with the
    financial crisis that started in 2008 with the speculative bubble.
    Since then, the hegemonic capitalist sector, which is financial
    capital, is looking for backing, something that can support this
    international speculative game

Indeed, it seems the escalation of violence against indigenous and 
peasant activists is directly connected to the growing need for 
consolidation of land and natural resources resulting from the econmoic 
downturn of the last ten years. However, it is perhaps even more precise 
to pinpoint the drop in commodity prices, most conspicuously the 
collapse of oil prices in 2014-2015, as one of the primary drivers of 
this renewed push for capital accumulation.

And though this process was jumpstarted during the tenure of Dilma 
Rousseff and the Workers’ Party (PT), it has picked up momentum under 
the right wing Temer government. And it’s about to go into overdrivwe 
with Bolsonaro taking power. For it is Bolsonaro himself who has 
promised to open up as much protected land as possible 
to big business.

Indeed, within days of Bolsonaro’s victory, reports began to circulate 
that indigenous lands were being invaded and/or seized, with all the 
attendant violence one would expect. As Beto Marubo, a native leader 
from the Javari Valley Indigenous Land in Brazil’s far west, explained 
to National Geographic, “Many brothers tell us there are invasions, 
people entering the territories with no regard for the rules and no fear 
of the authorities.” This final point is critical because while impunity 
has long been the norm in Brazil, the utter disregard for any semblance 
of governmental or law enforcement oversight will likely increase underr 
Bolsoanro who has all but given his blessing to displacement and 
violence against these groups.

Ultimately, the struggle is about land rights, especially for the 
indigenous peoples who have fought for official demarcation of lands for 

Dinamã Tuxá, Coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples 
(APIB) summed it up neatly 

    This scenario is totally heartbreaking. Bolsonaro has made clear and
    consistent declarations about ending the titling of indigenous
    lands, which are completely opposed to our rights. His racist,
    homophobic, misogynist, fascist discourse shows how Brazilian
    politics will be in the coming years… His discourse gives those who
    live around indigenous lands the right to practice violence without
    any sort of accountability. Those who invade indigenous lands and
    kill our people will be esteemed. He represents an
    institutionalization of genocide in Brazil.

Of course it must be remembered that Afro-Brazilian communities will be 
targeted as well. Marielle Franco’s assassination in March 2018 was in 
many ways a watershed moment for the social movements in the country. 
However, rather than driving positive political change on the national 
level, Brazil has instead elected a fascist leader who praises the 
extrajudicial methods historically employed by the dictatorship and its 
enablers in the country.  It remains to be seen how the left can 
regroup, respond, and reestablish its political power.

One thing is certain in both Brazil and Colombia: the far right is in 
power, and that means the war on social movements and activists is only 
just getting started.

And while it may seem bleak as we read about seemingly daily atrocities 
visited upon the indigenous and poor of these (and other Latin American) 
countries, we cannot simply despair. Instead, we must organize and 
mobilize. For those of us in the Global North, that means doing what we 
can to be in solidarity with these activists, helping to build power 

Duque, Bolsonaro, and the far right of Latin America may have ascended 
to power, but they are not omnipotent.

Now is the time for organizing; the time for struggle; the time for 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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