Goldman Award Winner Francia Marquez Targeted in Colombia Attack

May 7th, 2019 - by Adriaan Alsema / Colombia Reports

Bodyguards Injured in Attack on Afrocolombian Leaders in Southwest Colombia

 (May 4, 2019) — Armed men attacked Afrocolombian leaders who were preparing a pending meeting with the national government, they said Saturday. Two bodyguards were injured.

According to black rights organization PCN, armed men started shooting and threw a hand grenade while black rights leaders were meeting in a farm in Santander de Quilichao in the north of the Cauca province.

The bodyguards who had been appointed to protect some of the leaders, were able to repel the attack, but two were injured, according to PCN.

Some of the leaders have been threatened by the Aguilas Negras, a far-right group that opposed the ethnic minorities in land disputes with large land owners. ELN guerrillas and rearmed FARC guerrillas are also active in the area.

Among the leaders was Francia Marquez, who won the renowned Goldman prize in honor of her defense of the environment. All leaders were escorted out of the area uninjured.

The leaders are set to meet with the national government on Wednesday to negotiate improved living conditions for the ethnic minorities that live in the long-neglected and war torn north of Cauca.

President Ivan Duque has so far refused to meet with ethnic minorities that have been protesting for months.

 Social leaders throughout Colombia, and particularly minority leaders in Cauca, have increasingly been attacked since peace was signed with the leftist guerrilla group FARC in late 2016.

The guerrillas used to control much of the area, which has become virtually lawless after the government failed to assume territorial control.

Social Activist Slams Duque after Assassination Attempt

Adriaan Alsema / Colombia Reports

(May 6, 2019) — Little more than a year after being awarded the world’s most prestigious environmental award and a day after she almost was assassinated, Francia Marquez urged the government to embrace the country’s peace process.

Marquez had received the award for her tireless efforts to end illegal mining in her ancestral lands in the north of Cauca, the same region where native Colombians have been protesting, or holding a “minga” for weeks.

President Ivan Duque, who has so far refused to talk to the ethnic minorities in Cauca, rejected the “cowardly attack” that left two of the social leaders’ bodyguards injured and announced investigations.

“We cannot allow the free expression of social leaders to continue to be threatened,” said Duque, who has actively tried to dismantle a peace process that would improve the security situation in areas like Cauca where Marquez was nearly murdered.

The social leader dismissed the president’s words and urged the government to execute the peace agreements made with leftist FARC guerrillas and war victims in 2016 to end Colombia’s decades of armed conflict and political violence.

If there is no decisive way or concrete will on the part of the government to stop and resolve the entire armed conflict that still persists in the country, we will continue to deplore these facts. It is time that together we build a Colombia in peace. We don’t want to continue sacrificing our lives and we want to continue walking peacefully in our territories without fear for our lives. — Francia Marquez

The renowned leader reminder the president that attacks like the one she survived has killed hundreds of social leaders during the peace process while thousands are living in terror.

This unfortunate situation we had to go through has been one of many situations that leaders in the country have to deal with. — Francia Marquez

The president was also lambasted by the labor union of National Protection Unit (UNP), which accused Duque of underfunding the unit in charge of protecting threatened civilians, putting also bodyguards’ lives at unnecessary risk.

Marquez supported the labor union and called on Duque to effectively take action against the ongoing violence against social leaders and rural communities.

We stress the government needs to strengthen collective and community protection schemes. We have not only proposed UNP security schemes, but we have also told them that we communities’ self-protection mechanisms, such as the “Cimarrona” guards, to be strengthened also through their own mechanisms. Not only the leaders are at risk, but also the people in the countryside. — Francia Marquez

Marquez and other community leaders from northern Cauca are expected to meet with government representatives in Wednesday. Duque has so far refused to meet with ethnic minority leaders.

Abuse of Power in Colombia on the Rise since Duque Took Office: Report

Adriaan Alsema / Colombia Reports

(May 6, 2019) — Abuse of power by Colombia’s security forces has increased since President Ivan Duque took office last year, according to local media.

Political website La Silla Vacia talked to 57 sources in conflict areas and found there has been a significant increase in complaints about human rights abuses ever since Duque took power.

Although there are no official consolidated figures, in all regions — except in the case of Cundinamarca— the 57 sources we spoke to agreed that since the entry of the Government of Duque more complaints have been presented against military and police forces for alleged intimidations, irregular captures, registration, searches, searches, indictments without evidence against peasants and extrajudicial executions. — La Silla Vacia

According to the news website, it was able to verify grave abuses of power, including soldiers opening fire on civilians, intimidation, arbitrary detentions, illegal searches and false claims civilians would be guerrillas.

The website did not include complaints of police brutality during indigenous protests during which at least nine protesters were killed.

The most serious complaint is that the military has stepped up assassinating civilians to present them as guerrillas killed in combat, a practice that killed more than 4,000 civilians when Duque’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, was president.

The majority of the abuses took place in the province of Antioquia, where the president ironically enjoys the highest approval rating.

None of the alleged human rights violations were reported to civilian authorities, but are subject to internal investigations by the units that allegedly committed the crimes, according to La Silla Vacia.

The Duque administration’s deteriorating human rights record is already scrutinized by Congress, where the president can count on the support of only a minority of lawmakers.

The country’s opposition last month filed a motion of no confidence against Defense Minister Guillermo Botero after he tried to cover up the murder of a demobilized FARC member last month.

Duque on several occasions vowed to respect Colombians’ human rights when taking office, but is apparently not following up on this promise.

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