Centro Pazifico and Alliance for Global Justice
Today, November 24, 2021, is the fifth anniversary of the implementation of the peace accords in Colombia. Since that time, according to Indepaz, there have been 1,270 social movement leaders assassinated, and another 299 signers of the peace accord killed. At least 250,000 persons have been forcibly displaced, and at least 4,000 social movement leaders have been threatened, affecting 500 organizations.
But there is good news. Political killings in 2021 have dropped significantly since 2020, when political violence claimed victims at the rate of one per day, a rate that continued well into the first half of 2021. Why the change? We see three main reasons, two negatives, but one that gives us real hope.
One is that many of the goals of the enemies of the peace have been achieved. The government of Colombia, with urging from the US government, has failed to honor agreements concerning land rights, crop substitution, and rural development. Killings took out many rural leaders and their absence is felt profoundly. Another reason is, of course, the pandemic, which slowed the activity even of death squads.
Most important has been the struggle in the streets and the countryside. Popular movements and international solidarity activists brought worldwide attention to the human rights crisis in Colombia this year. Thank you for all you have done to help diminish this tide of blood. The tide is still rolling, but it is clear that your actions make a difference. You make a difference. Let’s keep it up!
Especially significant has been a shift of the locus of struggle to urban areas with the National Strikes of 2019 and 2021, each involving millions of supporters. It was with the onset of the 2020 strike that we first saw a significant decline in rural killings. Repression of the National Strike was brutal. But more impressive were the victories that derailed government austerity measures and put a spotlight on people’s struggle. People power has grown immensely and could well bring about a New Colombia.
Nevertheless, we mark this day with a profound sense of concern for the safety of human rights defender, Darnelly Rodriguez. On November 19 she received the second of two death threats in two weeks. A translation of the threat is available here. Darnelly was listed along with other movement and union leaders in a pamphlet that was left under the door of Cali’s largest labor federation. Darnelly is the coordinator for both the Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network (REDDHFIC)’s Valle Del Cauca chapter and the Centro Pazífico (Human Rights Center of the Pacific). Threats against Darnelly increased over the past year, and already last February, she had to change her residence because of paramilitary messages left at her door while she was inside sleeping.
We are also celebrating another anniversary — the founding of the Centro Pazífico in Cali. Following is an abridged interview marking that occasion.
INTERVIEW WITH DARNELLY RODRIGUEZ
Interviewed by James Patrick Jordan
The Centro Pazífico or, by its full name, the Pacific Center for Human Rights, was founded with the help of AFGJ in the Fall of 2020 in Cali, Colombia, Department of Valle del Cauca. The goal of the center is to provide office, meeting, and training space for regional popular movements, and short- and medium- term housing for threatened social leaders and human rights accompaniers.
Question: When we opened the Centro Pazífico, we were in the worst days of the pandemic. However, almost from the beginning, it was necessary to give shelter to 15 individuals displaced from a neighborhood in Buenaventura (a mostly Afro-Colombian city that is the country’s largest port on the Pacific). Can you talk a little bit about this experience? How did you organize so quickly with so few resources to receive them? What caused their displacement?
Answer: These 15 social leaders (including two youth) are from Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca. Their displacement is due to their organizational work so that minors of age can avoid recruitment by armed groups. They have community processes that present theater, dance, music, among other art forms to prevent the dispersion of children and young people in the municipality and from becoming armed actors.
Because of this work, the armed groups considered the community leaders a danger due to their activities, and they began to make threats and carry out assaults against them, shooting at some of them at their homes, disappearing the family members of others. They recruited four of another man’s son and two of them were returned to his house in plastic bags. This is why the 15 leaders had to leave.
Receiving them was not easy. First, we had to go to friends in other social organizations to ask for their solidarity, in order to buy tickets from Buenaventura to Cali for these persons. That was very difficult because of the pandemic. There was no public transportation, so that we had to find private transportation, which was triple the normal costs. Additionally, we had to buy food for these persons. Once we were able to get them out of Buenaventura to our house of refuge, at first, some had to sleep on the floor, on blankets and mats, since we didn’t yet have all the beds for them. Later, we received donations from people (blankets, sheets, towels, among other things).
Q: Has the Centro Pazífico continued to offer shelter to people displaced or threatened by political violence? Can you give another example to help our readers understand the nature of this service?
A: Yes, at the Centro Pazífico we have constantly received comrades in complex and risky situation. An additional case I could mention is the following.
A young human rights defender is falsely accused of being an insurgent. They make an illegal raid of his house, stealing his computer, cell phones, documents, the same with his housemate. They begin surveilling his house, they threaten the owner of the house so that she will not rent to him so that he has to urgently leave this place.
For his security he takes shelter in the Pacific Center for Human Rights [Centro Pazífico], where he continues his activities as a Human Rights defender for one month, and subsequently he was able to secure employment to be able to find another place to live.
Q: We, as internationals, looked on with horror at what happened in Cali with the repression of the National Strike. Is this something you experienced directly and personally? Can you tell us a little about the statistics—how many people were assassinated, detained, disappeared? Can you tell us something about the victories the people were able to achieve?
A: The National Strike began on April 28, 2021, and Santiago de Cali was a strong city in the strike and counted 23 “Resistance Points” (Puntos de Resistencia, where they had concentrations of protesters throughout the day and during all the three months of the National Strike.)
As far as statistics, unfortunately, we have to mention that just in the City of Santiago de Cali, we had the murder of 84 persons, and in the Department of Valle del Cauca, a total of 91. There was a total of 401 cases of arbitrary detentions (all are now free), and 22 persons in penal establishments who are facing judicial frame-ups on the part of the Colombian State. With regard to the disappeared, we had a total of 181 persons, of whom 104 were found.
We couldn’t get much information, either because of the fear of their families, friends, and companions, or because persons couldn’t get back to their homes and turned up later. Of these cases of forced disappearances, we had very grave cases such as the following: a girl of 17 years, detained and taken from the city of Cali to the city of Yumbo, where she was tortured, sexually abused, without food, over three days, and the fourth day, she was left in the street, without shoes, without money, and she had to walk almost 20 kilometers before she found someone who would help her.
Yes, I personally lived through many situations in the National Strike, the most grave, and the one that almost caused our deaths, was the following [she provides a copy of the alert released by REDDHFIC]:
At around 8:40 p.m., a verification mission composed of… delegates from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [UNHCHR], the Attorney General’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, and human rights defenders Darnelly Rodríguez (REDDHFIC, Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network), Ana María Burgos (FCSPP, Committee in Solidarity with the Political Prisoners Foundation), Ana María Burgos (FCSPP), James Larrea of the Human Rights Committee of the Congreso de los Pueblos [People’s Congress] and the Human Rights Committee of the CUT Valle [labor confederation], Rubén Darío Gómez coordinator of the…archdiocese of Cali….
Once the verification was done… a police officer asked the UN and the Attorney General’s Office to verify the police officers who were apparently injured…. The human rights defenders James, Ana and Darnelly were left behind…. Immediately, barracked police officers began to come out of the police station and surround the human rights defenders…. Then, frightened, the human rights defenders… left the place….. Some people from the street… accompanied them in a human chain to stop the aggressions…. Meanwhile, the police officers threw a stun grenade… and continued firing into the air…. Dazed, the two human rights defenders…
Darnelly Rodriguez and Ana Maria Burgos ran away, [but]… Darnelly Rodriguez received two impacts with what was apparently a blunt force weapon…. At that precise moment… Darnelly Rodriguez received what apparently was a blow in her coccyx, which prevented her from moving normally. Then a police officer arrived at the scene and took them away, running, and told them, ‘Get out of here because these people are very emotional, and anything could happen’.
Because of these aggressions, I have a spinal injury, a herniated disc, for which I have to undergo surgery.
Q: Were Centro Pazífico groups involved in the National Strike? Many of us contributed to funds for the street medics, funds that were distributed by Centro Pazífico members and allies.
A: Yes, fortunately we had your help…. The Pacific Center for Human Rights served as a warehouse for the collection of food and medicines to assemble the first aid kits that were delivered during the national strike to all the points of resistance…. Likewise, the Centro Pazífico was our meeting place, where we slept to be able to cover the points of resistance. Approximately 20 human rights defenders would sleep there. It was where we were planning for the next day, where we received the information coming in from the street, where we were making declarations, where we held press conferences, among other activities. The role of the Centro Pazífico was fundamental….
Q: The repression of the strike was made possible by bullets and guns and helicopters and tear gas from the U.S. government. As we prepare for a season dedicated to peace and good will to all, do you have any final words in closing on the importance of international solidarity?
A: First, we would like to thank the Alliance for Global Justice for their constant support…. International solidarity has always been so important for us…. because it makes our situation visible in their countries, and we put an end to the lies that the national government is telling about Colombia. The solidarity shows the social and political reality, and that is very brave and important for us. We hope that this support continues for a long time and that we can help many social leaders in Colombia, especially here in the Southwest where the repression is so heavy.
Colombian Human Rights Defender Darnelly Rodriguez
In Danger! Please take action!
We are very worried for the safety and security of Centro Pazífico coordinator, Darnelly Rodriguez. On November 19 2021, she received the second of two death threats in two weeks. She was listed along with several other social movement and union leaders in a pamphlet that was left under the door of Cali’s largest labor federation. Darnelly is also the coordinator for the Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network (REDDHFIC)’s Valle Del Cauca chapter. Threats against Darnelly have increased over the past year, and already last February, she had had to change her residence.
Please send the following email to the authorities to demand adequate protection for Darnelly and all the persons who were threatened along with her.
English translation of email to authorities:
I demand immediate and adequate protection for Darnelly Rodriguez, coordinator of the Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network – Valle del Cauca, and for all social and union leaders recently threatened in Cali, Colombia, by the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) on November 18, 2021. In the case of Darnelly Rodriguez, the security system provided is not adequate. For example, the vehicle provided by the UNP for Darnelly has required 6 complex repairs in the last 6 months of the program.
The November 18 death threat is the second death threat Darnelly has received in the last 10 days, but they are not the only ones. What’s worse, some of these threats have been delivered directly to Darnelly’s home and some of her family members. As one of the most active human rights defenders in Cali, Darnelly needs a security scheme equivalent to the number and type of death threats against her. Therefore, I demand
1. That the UNP provide Darnelly Rodriguez with an adequate vehicle for her transportation and protection,
2. That the case of Darnelly Rodriguez and the threats against her be reviewed by the Risk Re-Assessment Committee due to the recent attacks, her vulnerability as a mother, and the general situation of violence against women in Colombia,
3. That the Colombian government open real investigations to determine the material and intellectual authors of the threats received against social leaders and human and labor rights defenders.