COLOMBIA: Threats against social leaders


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 know it”.

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 stage.”

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.