In Colombia, human rights activists live in constant fear

One day after Luis Dagua, 64, last left his farm in Colombia’s southwest his body was found, his head shattered with a rock. He was a rights activist.
Around the same time, the body of Iber Angulo, an activist for black rights in the region, was found floating in a river. Colombia is in the grip of terror with rights activists the primary targets for gangs battling for control of the drug trafficking trade. Since the landmark peace deal signed between the government and Marxist guerrillas FARC in December 2016, 326 human rights activists have been killed.

One indigenous, black or peasant rights activist is murdered every three days, and many in the Cauca department where Dagua lived, in which 43 per cent of the population are indigenous or black. Military checkpoints at the entrances to Cauca warn of the dangers lurking in the region, which has accounted for 81 of the 326 murders, according to the Ombudsman’s Office. Juan Carlos Chindicue is amongst those trying to escape a similar fate. He’s come to the village of Toez, near where Dagua was found, to hide out amongst the indigenous guard — but they’re armed only with sticks.
He left behind his wife in nearby Cali, one of the most violent cities in the world, with almost 50 murders per 100,000 citizens last year.
“There’s always been this anxiety, this fear of dying in the streets, in the towns, in the country,” Chindicue said.
After taking part in a demonstration aimed at protecting a wetland, Chindicue was threatened by two men on a motorcycle and later his name appeared on a leaflet.
Terror has become an epidemic in Colombia where social and human rights activists and leaders, as well as journalists, receive threats by leaflets, social media, phone calls and SMS messages.
Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine, much of which is destined for the US market.
What’s changed since the end of FARC’s 50-year insurgency and the peace deal that turned the former guerrillas into a political party is that various dissident groups have splintered away to continue their armed struggle. “For many years we knew who was responsible for the strife,” said Eduin Capaz, human rights coordinator for the North Caute Association of Indigenous Councils.
But now, he says “it’s much more difficult to pursue and identify” members of the armed groups because “sometimes we don’t know who’s threatening us”. — AFP

Héctor Velasco