A rural organiser who was working to implement the 2016 peace agreement was murdered on Sunday 17 March, the latest victim in the wave of violence targeting social leaders and human rights defenders in the country.
Argemiro López Pertuz coordinated crop substitution programmes to replace coca plantations with traditional crops, a core component of the peace process. He was killed in Tumaco, Nariño, a region which has remained severely affected by violence and instability despite the signing of the agreement in November 2016.
Armed men broke into Argemiro’s home in the village of La Guayacana, where they attacked him and his family. Both his partner and his mother were injured in the attack.
Tumaco produces more coca – the plant ingredient for cocaine – than any other municipality in Colombia. Several social leaders have been murdered in the zone, which has a high paramilitary presence due to its illegal activity and strategic location for trafficking contraband.
According to the COCCAM association for coca farmers, more than 30 people working on crop substitution programmes have been killed since November 2016. Colombia has seen a high increase in coca production during that time.
The United Nations recognised the severe threats facing coca-farming communities in its human rights report published last week, in which it addressed the case of a social leader murdered in July 2018:
‘The victim promoted the implementation of the Comprehensive National Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS), which was established under the peace agreement. According to information received, the motives behind the killing were related to that activity. Three months earlier, the families who had signed the voluntary substitution agreements and the community leader received threats, which were reported to the authorities. Like many other people in the same situation, the leader was seeking viable and legal economic alternatives for his community, given the high levels of multidimensional poverty there. The lack of opportunity and the high rates of poverty had led the community to engage in illegal economic activities as a means of survival, exposing them to violence by the illegal or criminal groups who controlled those economies.’