On Dec. 2, farming communities in the Cesar department in northern Colombia were again rocked by paramilitary violence. Around noon, a farming community in the municipality of El Copey was invaded by a group of heavily armed men in uniform who identified themselves as members of the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), the largest armed group currently present on Colombia’s Atlantic coast.
This time they targeted one of the leaders of the local victims’ association “Tierra de Paz.” After invading this person’s home and taking his phone, they held him for hours and interrogated him about his political affiliation before he finally got off with a scare. A few days earlier, a young man had been killed in broad daylight in the neighborhood as part of a “social cleansing operation” announced by this illegal armed group. This violence is reminiscent of recent previous waves of paramilitary violence in this region.
Truth, recognition and reparation
The victims’ association of the threatened social leader is affiliated with the Asamblea Campesina del Cesar, a regional organization of victims of forced displacement that PAX has supported for many years and which fights for the right to truth, recognition and reparation in the face of the abuses inflicted on the peasant population of the Cesar coal region in recent decades. As a result of the events described above, several leaders of the Asamblea Campesina have taken temporary refuge in the departmental capital, Valledupar, with the assistance of PAX.
Extensive official warnings
The events described above are not isolated and are part of a pattern of violence that has plagued civilian populations in isolated rural areas of Cesar and other parts of northern Colombia for years. The risks to civilian security posed by the presence of the AGC have been the subject of extensive official warnings from the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Colombia. So far, public forces (police and army) have failed to control the presence of this and other illegal groups in the region.
Conditions for dialogue
As a peace organization, PAX calls for the urgent need to protect the lives and safety of peasants working for peacebuilding. Since the Petro government has called for peace negotiations with Colombian organized armed groups, including the AGC, PAX urges these groups to comply with the conditions for dialogue proposed by the new government: do not kill, do not threaten, do not kidnap, do not torture.
We also call the attention of the regional authorities to accompany the peasant communities of El Copey, who have been affected by the situation that has generated fear and anxiety in the population.