75 coordinators of crop substitution murdered from 2016 to 2020

The scale of violence impacting communities working on crop substitution programmes contained in Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement was been revealed in an alarming new study by Colombian social organisations Somos Defensores, Corporación Viso Mutop and Asociación Minga.

Between the agreement’s signing on 24 November 2016 and 30 June 2020, there were 75 murders of people working on the programmes, at least four of whom were women. According to the report, in 46 per cent of cases the culprits were unknown but that paramilitaries were most identified as responsible.

Security forces killed at least twelve people, including peasant farmers Digno Emérito Buendía and Alejandro Carvajal two months apart in Catatumbo, northeast Colombia, last year. The report also documented the massacre carried out by police in Nariño in October 2017, when seven peasant farmers were killed. Most killings were carried out amid protests over security forces continuing to forcibly remove crops in operations which appear to contravene the terms of the peace agreement.

While killings were recorded in twelve of Colombia’s regional departments, four out of five cases were recorded in just five departments: Antioquia, Cauca, Norte de Santander, Nariño and Putumayo. All five regions have high levels of illegal economies and structural poverty, where paramilitary and other armed groups have targeted social activists and human rights defenders.

The peace agreement’s focus on voluntary crop substitution recognises the importance of coca-growing communities themselves removing illegal crops and replacing them traditional alternatives, while also receiving state support to implement the programmes. In many cases, rural communities had little option other than to grow drugs-producing crops due to trade deals under which Colombia imports large amounts of food. Unable to compete economically with multinational companies, they were forced to turn to coca (the base ingredient in cocaine) or marijuana cultivation.

Around 99,000 families enrolled on the crop substitution programmes, with the vast majority complying in full with the terms. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, there is only a 0.2 replanting rate of illegal crops following voluntary removal. This contrasts with a far higher replanting rate in zones where security forces have continued removing them by force.

Despite these figures, the Colombian government has continued to deploy security forces to forcibly remove illegal crops, while it is also pushing to reintroduce aerial spraying of glyphosate. The chemical was previously banned due to the harm it causes to the environment and people’s health.