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| 8/9/2011 10:00:00 AM

Bleeding leaders

By half year in Colombia, 29 human rights activists and social leaders have been killed. What's happening?

By half year in Colombia, 29 human rights activists and social leaders have been killed. What's happening?

On March 30, at six pm, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia, rode a motorcycle on the road between La Marina and Chaparral, Tolima.

Both young, in their mid-thirties, with young children, and loved by their neighbors, because of their work in Communal Action Councils, to which they belonged. Orozco led a peasant association. He didn't had reasons to fear. The area was militarized and the Espíritu Santo crossing always had soldiers. Suddenly, no one knows who, shot them. No authority arrived. The wives spent the night protecting the bodies of black vultures. It was not until the next day at eleven that the attorney came to raise the body. There were few clues of the murderers.

The case of William Alvarez, a human rights’ leader in Carmen de Viboral, in eastern Antioquia, killed a week later, was worse: it took more than three days to do the removal. But the case of the activist Eder Verbel is even worst, he worked in an organization of victims of San Onofre, in the departament of Sucre. The authority did capture alias ‘Begueta’ and alias ‘Pólvora’, whom people identified as the gunmen. But at the end of the day, mysteriously, they were released.

Including this four Colombians, in the first six months of the year, 29 human rights defenders and social leaders in the country have been killed and three more are missing. This is documented in the semiannual report of the program "Todos Somos Defensores" that brings together three associations, and is part of the Ministry of Interior program, to protect them.

According to the report, there were 145 serious assaults against these leaders. To register each case, the researchers documented that, indeed, the person was a member of a recognized organization and that the death or the attack was likely to be because of the community service.

The figures are shocking. The number of people killed is four times higher than the same period last year and the attacks grew 126 percent. The figures are also disturbing because they reflect a political intention of attacking leaders, no matter if the perpetrator of the attack is Rastrojos, or Aguilas Negras,(criminal bands) or the FARC, or in some cases, members of the governmental forces.

If not, how is it that among those killed there are nine indigenous leaders in Cauca, Chocó and Antioquia, defenders of their territories, eight victims’ advocates and claimants of lands; four were environmentalists, one of them, Jorge Eliecer de los Rios.
The fury with which they were killed is also frightening because it indicates that even these are times of barbarism. For example, Luz Mery Roa, 35, appreciated community action leader in Putumayo, and a relative of hers were slaughtered with machete and they chopped the hands of her five year old daughter.

The Ministry of Interior protection program is not longer coping. It protects ten thousand people, according to estimates by the involved organizations. In addition, the program has its flaws, the most serious, it takes too much time to study risks, leaving the person exposed.

But as Diana Sanchez told Semana, a Todos Somos Defensores spokeswoman, "the problem is that the state has failed to build a more preventive policy, instead of a reactive one". Spokesmen of more than four organizations have been negotiating better guarantees with state agencies, led by Interior Minister Germán Vargas.

But in practice, the authorities treat these victims as third class citizens. So the police do not always make their patrols to protect them. Prosecutors and attorneys don't have in their priorities the investigation of threats and attacks. The impunity facilitates the commission of further crimes. And sometimes, as happened to the Tolima peasant and Antioquia defender, the authorities not even deign to raise the corpses quickly. It is like if they didn't understand that people like them, are the ones that legitimate democracy from the basis. Therefore, the effort to protect them should be the priority.

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