22 August 2017
COLOMBIA: Threats against social leaders
by Marcos Knoblauch
In Barrancabermeja, paramilitary structures exercise direct and
open territorial control. The inhabitants of this city witness how
paramilitarism has infected the different spaces of the communes through
selective assassinations and micro-trafficking. These illegal armed groups,
acting as rulers, operate in the territory trying to perpetuate their control
over illegal markets such as micro-trafficking.
We must not confuse ourselves: these groups should not be simply
typecast as mere criminals. Paramilitaries are organized structures and, as
such, support their activities outside the law based on systemic violence and
the ineffectiveness of the State, and even with its complicity.
CREDHOS leaders have received repeatedly death threats. Photo: Marian DeCouto/CPT
In a national political context focused on post-agreements with
the FARC, Barrancabermeja is the battle arena for the control of the various
illegal groups. Whoever raises his or her voice against violence and in favour
of human rights will be, in the eyes of these paramilitary groups, an objective
on which they will discharge their violence.
Recent national statistics speak for themselves: since last
November, more than 180 attacks against leaders, leaders and human rights
defenders have been registered, of which 55 were killings. The violence has not
ceased but rather has been transformed and intensified.
In Barrancabermeja, the Regional Corporation for the Defense of
Human Rights – CREDHOS, for its name in Spanish – and its members are subject
to various and repeated threats. On Friday, July 28, the director, received a
direct telephone threat. Listen to the phone recording (in Spanish):
On Monday, July 31, several local organizations received a
declaration of war signed by one of these paramilitary structures, the
Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia.
Pamphlet with threats against social
and human rights organizations, and social leaders.
The signing paramilitary group calls itself Autodefensas
Gaitanistas de Colombia. The pamphlet is directed to “syndicalists, [human
rights] defenders and communists” and calls for a “Colombia without tyranny.
Freedom or death.” The violence in the text does not diminish but increases as
it says that “the FARC-Santos (sic) combatants brought into work in state or
private companies will be returned in plastic bags, chopped in pieces”. It
gives also the names of several human rights and social organizations,
syndicates and political parties, categorizing these groups as “high level
military objectives”. Five individuals – social leaders – are targeted
alongside photos of two of them. “For your information, this is not a threat
but a declaration of war. We are already in the area, you and your families
By intimidating and threatening those who raise their voices in
defense of the fundamental rights and throughout the Magdalena Medio region,
the AGC arrogate an ideological lineage that undoubtedly remains large. On its
own website it can read:
“In the words of [Jorge Eliécer] Gaitán Nothing more cruel and
inhuman than a war. Nothing more desirable than peace. But peace has its
causes, it is an effect. The effect of respect for mutual rights. For the
rights of the most forgotten communities to be valid, we are on the national
The Christian Peacemaker Teams stand with and accompany the
people, communities and organizations that raise their voices for the
construction of peace, without systemic violence by armed groups, within the
marvelous diversity of thoughts present in this country.