What happened in Colombia in 2019?

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JFC Ebulletin: What happened in Colombia in 2019? 

Throughout 2019, as in previous years, the British and Irish trade union movements demonstrated their strong tradition of international solidarity by unequivocally supporting Justice for Colombia and our work in defence of peace, human rights and labour rights in Colombia. The peace process offers hope of a better future to millions of people and the international community continues to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Colombians as they work to improve conditions in their communities and to hold the government of President Iván Duque to account.  

Overall, however, it was a tough 2019 for the peace process, as well as for workers, indigenous people, activists and all those hoping to put decades of conflict behind them. The country suffered high levels of violence, with the worst affected regions the same ones which have suffered historically from conflict, inequality and state abandonment. 

Iván Duque’s government faced major protests over planned economic policies which would entrench inequality and its failure to properly implement the peace process. The military and police were involved in a series of major human rights violations that killed several people: concerns are that while the country struggles towards peace, the state remains on a war footing towards civil society and public protest.

Issues around human rights, equality and international support for peace in Colombia will remain integral to JFC’s work in 2020. JFC would like to thank you for all the support you have given us over the years and which we know we can count on in the times ahead!

Here is a summary of the major developments in Colombia throughout 2019.

January 2019

  • It was a terrible start to the year with five social activists murdered in the first six days of 2019.
  • Human rights groups criticised the promotion of Colombian army general Edgar Rodríguez Sánchez, who is implicated in extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations.
  • The FARC and other political parties made renewed calls for implementation of the peace agreement after a bomb attack in Bogota killed 20 people. 

February 2019

  • Colombia’s main teachers union, FECODE, staged its latest strike in a long-running dispute over chronic underfunding and poor conditions in the public education system.
  • The USO oil workers union denounced a campaign of threats, harassment and aggression against one of its organisers, Dibeth Quintana.
  • Paramilitaries in the Chocó region of eastern Colombia continued to threaten and displace communities while seeking to take control of natural resources and illegal economies.

March 2019

  • Mayoral candidate, health worker and feminist activist Zonia Rosero was murdered in Putumayo, southern Colombia.
  • Opposition politicians, former government ministers and peace negotiators wrote to the United Nations over concerns for the peace process caused by President Iván Duque’s attempts to unilaterally change the agreement’s truth and justice component.
  • Despite Duque’s attempts to change its functioning, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) opened investigations into major human rights abuses committed during the conflict, including the murders of thousands of Patriotic Union members and supporters during the 2000s.  

April 2019

  • The Parliamentary Friends of Colombia group of British MPs and Irish TDs wrote to the Colombian government to express concern at ‘the serious damage that changes to the JEP’s structure and functioning would have on the Colombian Peace Agreement’s implementation’.
  • Seven-month-old Samuel González became the youngest victim of attacks on social activists and former guerrillas when he was killed in an attack on his parents, both FARC members, in La Guajira, northern Colombia.
  • Colombian soldiers deliberately killed FARC former guerrilla Dimar Torres in Catatumbo, eastern Colombia, and attempted to cover up the crime.

May 2019

  • A team of FARC former guerrillas went to Australia to take part in the World Rafting Championships, where they had been invited to promote peace in Colombia.
  • A shocking report published by Colombian human rights organisations found that 702 social activists and 135 FARC members had been murdered in Colombia since the start of 2016.
  • The third delegation of the JFC Peace Monitor visited Colombia to observe implementation of the peace process and the assess the broader human rights situation

June 2019

  • The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Agnes Callamard, called on the Colombian government to ‘stop inciting violence’ against the FARC following the murders of several former guerrillas.
  • The International Trade Union Confederation found that murders of trade unionists more than doubled from 15 in 2017 to 34 in 2018, accounting for almost two-thirds of worldwide cases.
  • The murder of land activist María del Hurtado cast human rights into the national spotlight after her young son was captured on film screaming next to his dead mother’s body.

July 2019

  • There were new fears for the peace process after it was announced that the Duque government was planning to cut funding in 2020. 
  • British and Irish politicians and trade unionists signed a public letter denouncing the drastic increase in murders of trade unionists in Colombia.
  • A global day of action was held on 26 July to show support for Colombia’s peace process and demand an end to the murders of hundreds of social activists.

August 2019

  • The Parliamentary Friends of Colombia wrote to President Duque to express their concern over attacks and intimidation against human rights lawyers with the Lazos de Dignidad foundation which represents FARC members in the peace process.
  • Opposition parties in the Colombian congress released a report criticising the Colombian government over its failure to implement many core areas of the peace agreement, including compensation for victims, land reform and security for FARC members.
  • The government agreed to extend the 24 FARC reincorporation zones, where former guerrillas receive training and support as they transition to civilian life, by at least a year after local communities and authorities said they had generated economic opportunities and improved security.

September 2019

  • The murder of three more FARC members took the number of former guerrillas murdered to at least 142 since the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016.
  • Britain’s Trades Union Congress unanimously passed a motion condemning the rise in violence against trade unionists in Colombia and giving full support to the peace process.
  • Executive committee members of the FECODE teachers union, the largest trade union in Colombia, received paramilitary threats over ongoing strikes and disputes involving teachers in the public education system.

October 2019

  • Three young peasant farmers were murdered by paramilitaries in northern Colombia over their work on programmes replacing illegal crops with traditional ones under the terms of  the peace agreement. 
  • Three left-wing political parties suffered attacks on their offices in Bogota ahead of the first regional and local elections since the peace agreement was signed.
  • The elections saw strong performances by pro-peace candidates and a series of defeats for the governing Democratic Centre party seemingly in response to the human rights crisis impacting the country.

November 2019

  • Colombian trade unions and social movements staged a National Strike in opposition to economic inequality and in support of the peace process which spiralled into the largest protests seen in the country in decades.
  • The police killing of 18-year-old Dilan Cruz, who was shot as he fled police attacks on demonstrators, sparked outrage across Colombia and led to calls for the ESMAD riot police unit to be dismantled.
  • Colombia’s defence minister. Guillermo Botero, resigned over a series of human rights scandals involving the military, including the murder of FARC member Dimar Torres in April and the military raid which killed at least eight children in August.

December 2019

  • The Irish government, which has been a strong supporter of peace in Colombia since before the current peace process began, reiterated its view that full implementation of the 2016 agreement is vital for the future of Colombia.
  • The National Strike continued, making it one of the biggest protest movements in Colombia for decades and generating renewed fears over police brutality towards civil society.
  • The murder of FARC former guerrilla Manuel Santos Yatacué Ramos meant that more than 170 FARC members have been killed since the signing of the peace agreement just over three years ago.