Army kills young peasant farmer in northeast Colombia

The Colombian army killed a young peasant farmer, 20-year-old Alejandro Carvajal, in Catatumbo, northeast Colombia, on Thursday 26 March. Social organisations said the killing was committed amid local protests over the military’s ongoing forced removal of illegal crop plantations in the region, a practice which contravenes the 2016 peace agreement.

Alejandro was the nephew of a well-known community leader and had been working in crop substitution programmes to replace illegal crops with traditional alternatives, one of the core aspects of the peace agreement. He was married and had recently become a father for the first time. Reports said he was killed inside his home.

In a joint statement, the Catatumbo Association of Peasant Farmers (ASCAMCAT), which has worked with JFC for several years, and the COCCAM coca growers association said that soldiers had threatened to open fire on community members protesting against the army forcibly removing crops.

Forced eradication has continued despite the peace agreement’s stipulation that farming communities themselves are responsible for removing illegal plantations. This has generated tensions between the army and rural communities in different parts of Colombia. In the most violent instance, soldiers killed at least eight peasant farmers in southern Colombia in October 2017.

ASCAMCAT and COCCAM also called for an urgent investigation into the killing and for those responsible to be held to account. The organisations urged the United Nations, the Attorney General’s office and regional authorities to send representatives to the zone to ascertain the events around Alejandro’s death. 

Catatumbo has seen recent protests over security forces’ ongoing forced eradication of illegal crops. ASCAMCAT and COCCAM said that, in addition to violating agreements over crop substitution, the army’s presence in the region was undermining health measures imposed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

The army has been involved in a series of human rights scandals since President Iván Duque took office in August 2018. Last April, Colombian soldiers committed the premeditated murder of FARC former combatant Dimar Torres, with one soldier subsequently jailed and a number of others on trial. Shortly afterwards, it was revealed that military leaders had ordered a higher number of enemy kills and reduced standards of engagement to achieve new targets, raising concerns over further extrajudicial killings. In November, Defence Minister Guillermo Botero was forced to resign after it was revealed that the military had killed at least eight children in raids three months earlier.

Both ASCAMCAT and COCCAM have suffered high levels of violence since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016. More than 30 COCCAM and several ASCAMCAT members have been murdered nationwide in that time. In August 2018, a delegation of the JFC Peace Monitor visited Catatumbo to hear from representatives of both organisations about the many challenges they face around security and implementation of the peace agreement.